“At ESPN we like to say sports fans are like snowflakes. There are no two that are alike,” said Flora Kelly, director, media intelligence, ESPN at the Advertising Research Foundation’s OTT-themed conference with colleague Stephanie DeVito, senior director, media intelligence at ESPN. The pair discussed the evolution of streaming and how live sports’ role is evolving in this new world of content consumption.

“By the age of 30 or 35, one pattern we see is preferences shift to watching sports on TV rather than seeing it live. And the reality is fans struggle to conceptualize streaming and sports together. When you think sports you think live games,” said Kelly. “No one is saying they are going to stream sports, or anything like that, so we have to work doubly hard to connect with the consumer in that perspective. Fans have no tolerance for buffering, which is enough for fans to potentially get turned-off when they think of streaming sports.”

Over the last three years, unlike other program categories, the preference for watching sports has not necessarily gone to streaming, according to various studies by ESPN. But the difference in value in viewing sports on cable and broadcast has declined, with viewers, particularly millennials, becoming more agnostic on how they consume content.

“The main reason why viewers choose to stream ESPN on their TV sets is that is simply where they are doing most of their TV consumption,” said DeVito. “This is becoming their new normal, and they do not want to deviate from something they are now accustomed to. But this does not mean there is no value at ESPN within these streaming services.”

With about 30 percent of Americans being avid sports fans, ESPN is first focusing on marketing as the way to showcase the network’s value within the streaming world.

“When we talk about mobile, we will talk more about sports. When we talk about OTT, we will talk more about that great TV experience,” said Kelly. “It is also important that we align sports with streaming, so we are using words like ‘bingeing,’ where we are aligning that vernacular with the sports experience to help the consumer.”

“Secondly, and from a programming perspective, we are live sports. That is our bread and butter. But we are making more plays in the on-demand space to align more with consumer expectations,” she added. “You can now, starting last week, watch on demand any of our news and information shows. And, more importantly, with our 30 for 30 series, we have aired some of that content exclusively on WatchESPN.”

“And then third, from a currency perspective, it is important that we capture this younger audience. Nielsen is now including that streaming audience within our rating,” she continued. “For a sports fan at present, there is security in watching sports on a set-top box. But I think that will dissipate with younger generations.”


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