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This year’s Olympic Games marked a leap in how we watch sports. The on-demand, always-on habit that disrupted television was mirrored in this year’s Olympic Games. NBC streamed 3.3 billion minutes of Rio coverage, of which more than 2.7 billion minutes were live-streamed — a U.S. event record, according to the Sports Video Group. Just as HBO Go/HBO Now streamed Game of Thrones’s season 6 premiere to millions of viewers, the Games saw over 100 million people streaming video of the action in Rio.
This year’s live stream surpassed traffic numbers from the London and Sochi Olympics combined in just over a week — a powerful signal to the streaming video industry both around sports and other primetime content. Streaming video has brought the gametime experience, from tailgate to recap, online.
New players in streaming video investors
Streaming live sports existed prior to the Olympics, with fans tuning into everything from cricket to Gaelic football. Only in the last few years have the biggest sports in the world become available. Yahoo streamed its first NFL game last year, which drew 15.2 million unique viewers.
Until recently, media industry experts viewed sports as a way to prevent cord cutting (i.e. cancelling traditional TV or satellite services). Controlling sports, it seemed, would allow cable providers and major television networks to maintain fans’ subscriptions.
But in the meantime, non-media companies have joined the streaming video fray. Twitter’s Periscope service will stream every Thursday Night Football game this year. Sports media analyst Leslie Gittess says moves like this will ultimately change how sports are watched.
“The demographic will shift younger and we will see views increase exponentially,” she says. “Viewers will have access to their Snapchats, Twitter feeds, Facebook news, and Instagram accounts as they watch, and the data and information accompanying the stream will be as comprehensive as the viewer wants.”
The wide world of multiscreen streaming sports
Streaming video is drawing new categories of investors because there’s money to be made, and partnerships like the NFL’s deal with Twitter will continue to emerge. Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Hulu have already capitalized on on-demand streaming.
According to a 2015 Nielsen report, more than 40 percent of U.S. households have access to a streaming service and 14 percent have two or more subscriptions. Already, sports fans are willing to pay extra for access to streams –—with more than 12 percent of sports viewers now saying they would pay more than $20 a month to stream a single sport.
“Online streaming of live professional sports has made it to prime time. I see Apple, Google [YouTube], Netflix, Facebook and Snapchat entering the bidding on the next wave of live professional and college sports rights,” Gittess says. “It has made sense for so long. Enjoy the game exactly as you want — this is the future!”
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