A Wide New World of Sports Is On the Way

The demand for sports streaming is growing, but who’s got the upper hand?

Trumpets blare and the drum beat rolls. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” the familiar voice intones. ABC’s Wide World of Sports stands as a model of sports TV’s prime. The iconic program delivered a diversity of global content that spanned rodeo, jai-alai, NASCAR, and included the familiar and unfamiliar. The show enjoyed a historic run of more than three decades, including the ‘80s (formative TV years for some of us). It is also a tale of mainstream TV’s evolution into programming with a mix of content that increasingly included international features. But, ultimately, following chapters of decline, the show lost audience to a massive, rising force — cable television. So why is the Wide World of Sports’ story relevant today?

Amidst skinny bundles and live TV subscription launches, a rising force is once again set to shift an industry. The mere mention of an Amazon partnership with U.S. sports leagues has accelerated talk of on-demand supremacy.

While a big bet for pay TV’s absolute demise is premature, the table was set for long-form live TV streaming a while ago. Viewers have been watching sports in short bursts for years, and these bursts have morphed into longer engagements. We see a reflection of this dynamic in sports app growth. According to 7Park Data’s App Intelligence, over the past two years, NFL Mobile and At Bat grew double digits globally — 32% and 28%, respectively. If YouTube is any indication, the magnitude of live sports will be enormous. Today, according to YouTube’s website, more viewers subscribe to YouTube’s Sports channel than to its movie and TV channels combined. Newer services, like go90 (which stream sports, including live soccer), are also seeing robust adoption. Go90’s installs grew 176% globally over the past six months alone.


The demand for sports streaming is certainly there. Globally, a greater share of smartphone users retained the ESPN app compared to Twitter: 86% retained ESPN, while 80% retained Twitter for 10 weeks during September-November 2016.

This spells significant opportunity for sports content producers. The greatest potential firmly sits with the streaming video services. As viewership evolves, services like Hulu and Netflix are now the first choice for many viewers. Surprisingly, sports-themed TV programming accounted for less than 1% of US streams on both Hulu and Netflix during August-October 2016, according to 7Park Data’s TV Intelligence. On both Netflix and Hulu there is a scarcity of available sports TV titles (at times fewer than 50 on each service). Despite limited options, the demand for streamed sports is evident. During the same three-month period , Hulu’s actual indexed TV streams of sports TV grew 37%.

Over the years linear TV has faced an onslaught of threats and disruptors. With local news and live sports pay TV has held the line. Cord shaving rather than cutting, viewer adversity to change, and “the bundle” have all served to bar the way to wholesale disruption. But this time it feels a bit different. Awakened memories of Wide World of Sports foreshadow a massive change.

We’ll keep you posted on new developments through our research and insights powered by 7Park Data’s TV Intelligence. To learn more about the product, including published reports, please contact our team.


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