FutureSPORT: First and Second Screens Warp Into Unified Sports Experience

Whether it’s called second screen, multiscreen, companion app, synchronous experience, or any of the other terms describing today’s media landscape, one thing is certain: sports fans are demanding a live sports experience that goes way beyond the primary television screen. A closing panel at SVG’s FutureSPORT Summit earlier this month addressed this rapidly evolving viewing dynamic, as well as the myriad challenges it still faces in terms of technology and monetization.

“I’m not sure that the term second screen is even valid anymore,” said WSC Sports CEO Daniel Shichman during the FutureSPORT session. “What I think we all need to look at now is a unified, interactive experience of all the platforms — regardless of device.”

One of the more interesting examples of a high-impact multiscreen experience occurred just a few weeks ago when injured Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted regularly (and very honestly) from the bench throughout the team’s NBA Playoffs series against the San Antonio Spurs. iStreamPlanet Director of Digital Media Solutions Eric Weinstein described the incident as a rare example of fans’ being privy to that level of intimacy during a live game.

Weinstein also pointed out that experiences like Bryant’s tweeting can more easily draw in the coveted next generation of consumers, who are already beginning to view the so-called second or third screen as their primary screen.

“I saw a stat recently that 80% of 18- to 24-year-olds are on their [devices] while they are watching TV,” said Weinstein. “So they are there and they are engaged, but you want to make sure that they are engaged in your programming and not doing something else. … It’s those kinds of experiences [like Bryant’s Twitter activity] that can engage those young viewers that are following [Bryant].”

While engaging the viewer on multiple screens is key, it nonetheless all comes down to monetization of these experiences. Alternative camera angles, social-media integration, and live stats can deliver a desirable viewer experience, but they still must — at some point — start generating a substantial return on investment rather than just retaining overall viewership.

“We are doing a lot of proposals worldwide for sports, and the big question is, How do I monetize this?” said Dan Marshall, SVP, worldwide sales and service, Elemental Technologies. “At some point, there will be some monetization, but, right now, we are consistently seeing more of a defensive strategy: How do we use this to retain the viewership? That is sad, because, as we move into the digital world, I believe this experience is much more interactive and much more valuable, and yet we haven’t figured out a way to charge for that. Maybe that goes back to that younger demographic — the 18- to 24-year-old — but it is a real issue. We are definitely seeing this as more of a defensive strategy than a monetization strategy.”

Some major sports entities, however, have seen significant revenue generation, especially when it comes to live linear audio- and video-streaming offerings like MLB Advanced Media’s MLB.tv and AtBat application or Turner Sports’ March Madness Live service.

MLBAM’s live-streaming and second-screen products have long been the envy of live-sports rightsholders, as millions of fans pony up $125 a year (full-season price is $124.99 for Premium, $109.99 for Standard) to watch live streams of all out-of-market games on MLB.tv or $19.99 annually for MLB AtBat (free with MLB.tv subscription), the league’s mobile app.

“Our CEO Bob Bowman has always said it’s not second screen for us, it’s the first screen,” said Kenny Gersh, SVP, business development, MLB Advanced Media. “We have built a pretty big business solely on what I guess would be referred to as the second screen, but, for us, it is the first screen. For us, it has been a very big business. We have 3 million or 4 million people paying us for content on digital platforms this year.”

Meanwhile, Turner has worked with co-rightsholder CBS Sports to build out one of the most robust live-sports–streaming platforms on the market for the Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. March Madness Live is a fully authenticated TV Everywhere platform via NCAA.com. Users can log in and watch all the NCAA Tournament games using their cable- or satellite-service-provider credentials.

“There is obviously a big focus on revenue for us, and, at the end of the day, we have to make the distributors happy with the March Madness Live content now being a part of TV Everywhere,” said Mark Johnson, VP, business operations, Turner Sports. “So that has been a focus for us. But sponsorship is also a huge focus for us, so we are working the NCAA sponsors to capitalize on those sponsorships.”

With March Madness Live in its second year as a TV Everywhere service, Johnson believes that the progression of this TV Everywhere model, which has been difficult for many consumers to understand and adopt, is on the brink of wide adoption.

“We saw much better adoption this year than we did two years ago,” he said. “Viewers are starting to understand the TV Everywhere process of having to dig up their credentials. It is a slow process that will probably take another year or two years. But it is definitely major live sporting events that is going to force people to understand it. The NBC Olympics [streaming service from the London 2012 Games] and WatchESPN have really helped us because it helps the fan understand the concept.”