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December 3, 2012

Digital Sport: there is no way back

by Carlo De Marchis

Let’s start with the good news!

This is clearly a very exciting and challenging period for the Digital Sports Business:

  • Online users are still growing,
  • Mobile adoption is growing very fast
  • Apps are becoming more and more relevant
  • Sport content is king
  • Live sport content is growing impressively on digital

Overall I do see better discovery, more consumption, and more reach with challenging and innovative ways to monetise. London 2012 sent us a clear message and I believe broadcasters and media should take note of the following:

“There is no way back: fans need sport, sport needs reach, and reach needs digital.”

TV

This summer’s events proved that TV is here to stay for big sporting events, but not alone, not always and not for everybody. Digital is here to complement and not to cannibalise. But watch for the new generation. They are less and less inclined to sit in front of the TV. Also watch monetisation going forward. TV audience metrics are becoming unacceptable. Finally, we are all waiting for a new disruption in the market. It may come from Apple or from Google, but it will need to include content not technology only.

3D is not really becoming a consumer trend. It was a technology trend, which became a market trend but never became a consumer trend, at least not with the current technology, even though all new TV sets have it. Some broadcaster are starting to close their 3D channels.

Connected TV is stagnating. I’m not sure anybody is really using it even if it has been sold in large number of new TV set. The biggest issue is the input mechanism with the remote control, which is not usable. It may need another disruption or it risks disappearing by being replaced by airplay mechanisms.

Second screen is the new trend. It seems to be the thing everybody is talking about and, from what I’ve heard, broadcasters are really in need for it. Broadcasters see second screen both as a threat and an opportunity, and are therefore desperate to take control of it. They understand that someone else will if they don’t. But what can they do that others can’t ? That’s the question they should ask themselves.

Second screen is normally envisioned as a tablet in front of the TV. Second screen is not one user experience, but can be many:
• Informative – asynchronous use of the mobile device for unrelated or loosely related information consumption
• Synchronised – synchronous information consumption (with watermarking or fingerprinting technology)
• Engaged Native – synchronous engagement on a specific UX built for the TV program/sport event
• Engaged Social – real-time engagement on social media
• Airplay – mobile device send video to the big screen
• TV remote control – mobile device control the TV and add synchronous content (no watermarking or fingerprinting needed)

What I noticed is that, as per the list above, everybody may use the word with a different meaning. In general, I have learned that people may mean any of the following things:

• A smartphone or mobile application that contains data or interactions related to what is shown on TV
• An application built intentionally to match and complement what is shown on TV with no particular synchronisation mechanism. Basically the data and interaction is live no matter what is on TV and one assumes that data is slower than video. The user has to select the corresponding sport event on the second screen to match the TV program manually
• A truly synchronised application – with watermarking mechanism – that is designed to perfectly complement exactly what is shown on TV and is automatically selected on the second screen to match what is on TV

4K is the new buzz, but it’s too early. At 4 times the resolution of the current HD, it is not a gimmick but seems to really provide a different user experience at emotional level. For the application value chain, it does not represent a huge shift in the User Experience.

Social TV is the new kid on the block. Applications that can bring the buzz of social media and create crossover conversation between Twitter, Facebook and the TV users are getting more and more attention. Twitter loves it because it shows the power of their platform as a natural second screen application and TV likes it because it shows they can talk and engage with the youngest generation. That said, the term does not have a well defined and accepted meaning and there’s still not a massive interest in the market.

Social

• Facebook is getting close to saturation. It is massive. Almost everybody is on Facebook but, as always, the big question is: “ok, what’s next?” Sport actors are more and more on Facebook in a meaningful way. High level clubs and players are also creating some great engagements and start to become a primary source of the “disintermediated conversation”

• Twitter is a super-niche or a set of multiple niches. Twitter is great for sport, it’s real-time, it’s simple and immediate. It is also ideal for mobile consumption. But it may miss something to really attract the masses. The engagement model has also some issues as it is not easy to have dense conversations around a live topic – exploring a hashtag is a bit for advanced users.

• Google+ is nowhere. I really don’t see Google+ having some serious traction in sport or in general, but it’s Google so always deserves our attention.

Mobile

• Multiple digital devices are used in sequence or simultaneously as we at deltatre recognised some years ago and are shaping our value proposition against. This means we should design considering the whole multi-platform landscape, not just design for the website and then think mobile etc… Use cases of computer to mobile transistions and vice versa are key to understanding how to design a successful user experience and leverage the strength of each platform depending on context.

• Smartphones are the backbone of our digital life. The smartphone is the device that is always either in our hands or in our pockets (and sometimes it drops on the floor). Many user interactions start from the smartphone.

• Tablets are an information and entertainment device. Apps and websites are both usable on tablets. Look for the form factor – 7″ and 10″. They are not exactly the same device.

• Look at the new generation. They are using less and less laptops and more and more smartphones and tablets. Soon kids will start their journey in digital natively from mobile devices.

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• Paper is dropping dramatically; TV is slowly in decline; Digital is growing but not replacing the drop in the other sector; mobile is growing in usage but cannot yet be monetised properly. Monetising mobile will be crucial for the future.

Sport Governing Bodies

• Their digital presence will be losing traction if they don’t start to focus less on their own website (comfort zone) and more on mobile and social. It has been proven that the official event app can easily dominate the market (being top featured in app stores). They need to nurture the ecosystem and get their feet in the conversation.

Rights holding broadcasters

• They are still in a limbo between the old broadcast paradigm and the new digital challenges. They still mostly operate broadcast and digital as separate tasks. They very often re-purpose broadcast content for digital, which is possibly not the best case. They understand digital but they are still unsure what to do exactly and are often driven by defensive objectives.

Sponsors

• They are becoming more and more active in digital marketing with very creative and engaging campaigns. They expect to be able to leverage sports sponsorships with a similar toolkit.

Mobile Operators and Telco

• They are seeing their positioning and revenues threatened by the big guys, including Google, Apple etc. In some cases they are starting to buy rights and are very often involved as sponsors or with media initiatives.

Other key trends

• Most broadcasters are now taking digital (multi-platform) seriously. They know they have to do something, and for the next Olympics they also understand that they cannot go back and possibly need to serve video for all sport events on digital platforms.
• FIFA announced they will provide a digital white-label service for the 2016 FIFA World Cup  in Brasil for the first time. This may become the standard solution to implement reach in all territories. Interesting opportunity for deltatre and the others.
• More federations are centralising control of their properties, including host broadcasting. They have understood that leaving the control of their major events to each local organiser and broadcaster is not the best way to increase the value of their brand and rights. The big federations have already been doing this for some years, including IOC with OBS, FIFA with HBS, UEFA internally, and IAAF now with EBC (EBU). Others will follow even if on a smaller scale.

I know this list is not exhaustive and most of the statements are provocative. This is exactly the goal of this post: to provoke a debate. My message is: “Don’t fall in love with your comfort zone. The pace of change is very rapid. Being able to adapt is more important than having a long term strategy”

Looking forward to the next exciting and challenging years!



About the author

Carlo De Marchis
Chief Product Officer

Carlo De Marchis aka cdm is the Group Chief Product Officer, responsible for Strategic Product and Technical guidance, active in Business Development and Strategic Clients sponsor.

Innovator, challenger, visionary, curious, passionate, assertive, early-adopter.

Known for his fanatical user-perspective attention to the quality and usability of what deltatre delivers to clients and end-users. He has started to work for deltatre in 1988 and has participated to every step of its impressive growth. An early adopter of the web, since 1994, he is now driving the company efforts around social media and multi-platform digital solutions introducing the Holistic User Experience concept.

Has experienced the highest level sport events worldwide under different point of views and has lately been focusing on the deltatre’s Olympic efforts.

He lately focused on achieving wider business culture attending an Executive MBA and various other higher education opportunities with HBS and FIU.

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