Big Live Audiences are Getting Bigger

Live Events Attract Bigger Audiences 

Despite discussion of audience fragmentation, which is occurring for news, drama, comedies, and perhaps even movies, live events are in fact attracting larger and larger audiences. For example, February’s NFL Super Bowl XLIX is expected to have reached an average of 114.4 million U.S. viewers, making it the most viewed Super Bowl game to date. The steadily climbing number of viewers is not unique to NFL games, with live events continuing to attract bigger and bigger audiences. 

While the 2015 Super Bowl was primarily mainly watched by American viewers, rotating host international sports competitions are also frequently attracting larger international audiences, notably events such as the Olympics and the World Cup. Going back to 2012, The London 2012 Olympics, for example, was viewed by an audience of more than 3.6 billion people worldwide. The 2012 London Olympics were also streamed heavily online with official broadcasting partners being responsible for 1.9 billion online video views. The year 2012 also saw the introduction of both live and on-demand Olympic Games content via an official Olympics YouTube channel, which was streamed a total of 59.5 million times, of which 34.5 million were live. 

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics also saw an increase in viewership in comparison to the previous Winter Olympics held in 2010 which acquired a total of 1.8 billion viewers worldwide; the Sochi Winter Olympics were able to draw 2.1 billion viewers. The Opening Ceremony of the games was viewed by 45.8 million people within the host country, with over 18 million video views being generated from the online coverage of the games. Within the United States over 199 million people watched at least some of the 2014 Winter Olympics and NBC Sports Digital saw one game (the men’s ice hockey semi-final between the United States and Canada) generate 2.1 million “TV Everywhere” streams, which is believed to be the largest verified “TV Everywhere” audience within the United States. 

A Number of Factors

Key contributors to the increasing audience size are many, but include: 

  • Competition with other programming has fallen. The ability to record and “catch-up” with alternative programming that airs simultaneously with live events means less competition for live programming. Many different mechanisms are available, including DVRs, operator VOD catalogs, and access via authenticated (TV Everywhere) apps or PC platforms. Viewers are therefore more incentivized to watch these live events when they happen without having to risk missing out on other content that is more a part of their routine. 
     
  • International syndication has risen. This year’s Super Bowl game was broadcast alongside seven live foreign language broadcasts with networks worldwide, making the game more inclusive. The languages offered were Spanish, Hungarian, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, and German. Increasing focus on syndicating and promoting major events worldwide has increased the globalization of content and sports. 
     
  • Multiscreen (Internet) syndication makes viewing more pervasive and convenient. In addition to the live television broadcast, NBC made the Super Bowl available to stream live on PCs and tablets. Verizon held the exclusive rights to the mobile (smartphone) streams. At its peak, the stream was viewed by 1.3 million viewers. Long, multi-stage and especially multisport events like the Olympics benefit especially from Internet syndication that allows fans to choose sports-centric viewing, country-centric viewing, award-centric viewing, etc. 
     
  • Multiscreen (Internet) syndication helps bridge the time barriers. Multiscreen viewing can be especially helpful for users who wish to access content across time zones; for example, kick-off for this year’s Super Bowl was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., in Japan the 9-hour time difference means that kick-off takes place just in time for the commute to work on Monday morning. For those who don’t drive, the morning commute can be used to view events such as these on mobile devices, or PCs at work where televisions are not available. 
     
  • Social media and international press exposure: Social media can also play a part in making events such as these so popular, the increase in social media conversation can lead consumers who might not have watched to tune-in in order to avoid being left out. Social conversation can also generate interest around live events from those who may otherwise have had limited exposure to it: for example, the Super Bowl, while primarily of interest within the United States, is becoming more popular internationally. The 2014 Super Bowl was cause for 25.3 million tweets, while official FIFA content reached 451 million Facebook users during the 2014 World Cup. 

Events Will Become the Only True "Live"

The ever-increasing audience accessing live broadcasts and streams is, of course, of great benefit to broadcasters and is in demand by advertisers wishing to increase their brand awareness. In addition to the increased viewership and opportunity for ad views and the ability to charge extremely high rates for ad slots, a study from Nielsen claims that ads shown during the Super Bowl can provide opportunities for repeat exposure that lead to memorability. NBC’s heavy promotion of The Blacklist during the Super Bowl showed immediate gratification for its heavy ad-based promotion. This follow-up content was estimated to have 26.5 million viewers, a major increase in this viewership of scripted programming. 

As history demonstrates, it is likely that the audiences for live events will continue to grow. Global events now are able to draw increasingly large live crowds, but for those who are unable to make the travel to foreign countries to participate in these events as they happen, the increasing availability of live content means that consumers are far less likely to miss out. 

From an industry perspective, virtualization is working itself into the broadcast workflow. Major broadcast organizations are finding ways to invest less in broadcast centers and have the overflow to the cloud for their largest event capacity. Amazing cloud-based workflows have been shown, such as EVS/Elemental discussing the World Cup production flow while iStreamPlanet, Adobe, Akamai, Microsoft, and others have shown workflows used in both the Olympics and the Super Bowl. 

When you put together the supply (workflow) and demand (consumer) sides of the equation, we see significant elasticity in the number of available channels on any pay TV system. Drama and comedy channels will be personalized and delivered on-demand (integrating start-over, catch-up, and VOD seamlessly), news content will be delivered in a linear channel with personalization based on specific interests, and, yes, live events will appear at the forefront of our experiences and should receive significant promotion by content holders and distributors alike. 

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