The US Open's shift to Amazon reflects a wider trend – TV is under threat from its streaming counterparts. And sports is playing a huge role.

The race for rights: why streaming is changing the face of live sports

Conrad Arnavutian

06 Jun 2019

When I discovered that Amazon Prime hadn’t bought up the rights for the French Open tennis this year, my heart sank. It is perhaps the single most absurd reaction to a first world problem since I over-lemoned the cous-cous at a dinner party not so long ago. Anyway, after what was a baptism of unholy fire for Amazon Prime when it showed its first live tennis tournament – the US Open last September – the company’s tennis coverage has since become one of its greatest assets. There’s almost always a huge selection of courts to watch live tennis from, a full replay of the day’s main matches, a highlights show and the quality of the stream is second-to-none. Naturally, the choice isn’t quite as extensive on ITV 4 and Eurosport – and even the magic red button experience is slow and cumbersome. Nonetheless, the shift to Amazon reflects a wider worldwide trend – traditional TV is under serious threat from its streaming counterparts because of the beauty of on-demand content, fast internet and choice. And sports play a huge role here.

Social media snap-ups

In the next three to five years, we’re going to see an even bigger explosion of sports streaming, with worldwide revenues from sports digital media rights growing by 11.5%, faster than any other area. By comparison, traditional TV broadcasting will grow by just 3.2%. It’s not just tennis, of course. From the 2019/20 season, Amazon will be showing 20 Premier League football matches for the first time ever. Whether you’re a life-long Manchester City fan or a long-suffering Spurs supporter if you can’t stream it on Amazon, you can’t watch it. Facebook snapped up exclusive rights to show all Spanish football La Liga matches in the Indian subcontinent this year. Last year, Twitter bought the rights to stream Major League Soccer in a three-year deal to include live matches, highlights and features, some available on demand. And they won those very rights not from BT Sport or Sky Sports – but off Facebook! One thing is clear: social media platforms are now vying to become live media platforms, obsessed with video both live and on-demand.

Primed for a streaming future

With the most recent Ofcom study showing that people are spending 50 days a year online including a week on Facebook and a week on YouTube, you can see why social media channels are increasingly looking to get a slice of the sports broadcasting pie… After all, if you think about where you catch most of your sports highlights, goals and general content, is it predominantly TV? Or is it more likely YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on your phone? Of course, this won’t be the end of traditional TV. The chances are (at least if you have BT Sport), that you watched last weekend’s Champions League final on your TV or at a pub, rather than streaming it. But in five years’ time, if you’re not an Amazon Prime member now, you might just be forced to become one. But at least you’ll get that book you probably won’t read delivered the next day.     Photo by Mitch Rosen on Unsplash