For UK TV viewers, this weekend has seen a smorgasbord of sporting content available to watch on free-to-air channels.
From the Wimbledon finals to the British Grand Prix to England’s triumph at the Cricket World Cup, social media has been awash with fans posting about how much they’ve enjoyed tuning in.
But as the media industry continues to fragment, and younger audiences spend more time watching online video, what does that mean for sports that aren’t considered the so-called ‘crown jewels’ – such as cricket? Do they need to be on free-to-air channels, or should they be looking past the traditional broadcasters, be that FTA or pay-TV?
MIDiA Research analyst Alistair Taylor tells TVBEurope there’s every possibility that pay-TV could be killing off some sports – including cricket. “If you look at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, they had 11.7 million viewers watching the England women lose to the USA on the BBC, whereas the average viewership for the cricket on Sky was about 660,000 for a game.
“Of the 40 per cent of UK consumers who regularly watch live sports on TV, only seven per cent are between 16 and 19 years old. So the Cricket World Cup final, because England were in it, moved to free-to-air because they conceded that they didn’t have the reach, potentially at a detriment to the sport of cricket.
“I recently read an article about an ECB grassroots event and there were children there who didn’t actually know there was a World Cup going on because they didn’t have Sky at home. How are you going to retain fans from a young age if they can’t see the content?”
Taylor suggests that while some believe sports broadcast on free-to-air channels are reaching a much wider audience (Channel 4’s coverage of the Cricket World Cup final peaked at 4.5 million), they’re still not engaging with a younger demographic: “There needs to be a blend. Some sports federations have begun questioning who they’re targeting. Is it the older demographic who are retaining pay-TV subscriptions and watching content on free-to-air TV, or do they need to go after the younger demographic, to future-proof their audience?
“Until a streaming service has exclusive domestic crown jewel rights, they will struggle to really attract a large enough subscriber base to signal to the rights holders that they are the destination where fans want to engage with sports content,” admits Taylor. “So I think free-to-air is obviously the answer if you want a wider reach, but you’re not going to target that younger demographic.”