Sky Sports’ decision to make Premier League match highlights available on YouTube in the UK shortly after the final whistle raised eyebrows in some places. After all, why would a broadcaster which has paid £3.6bn (€4.09bn/$4.5bn) for rights give away the best bits for free?
But that reaction fails to consider the realities of an evolving media landscape and changing customer preferences which demand a fresh approach to building audiences and delivering revenue.
That landscape is shaped by a combination of factors – demand for shorter form content and the move away from traditional TV to other devices – which all conspire to play into the hands of YouTube which offers sports rights owners access to the younger demographic they crave.
“The YouTube demographic skews toward much younger audiences, and there is a benefit to broadcasters like Sky which can engage with a younger, often complimentary audience to the one they reach on TV and through their websites,” explains YouTube’s head of sport EMEA, Tomos Grace (pictured).
“And it is also a means of getting data on users to whom they can then market other products. There’s an audience, a demographic and a marketing benefit.”
There is also a revenue benefit to throw into the equation. The Sky Sports Football Channel on YouTube has some 1.3 million subscribers and premium product drives ad revenues which are split between YouTube and the rights-holder.
“When you are packaging and selling premium content there is greater interest and more revenue. Not only are the audiences growing quickly – 80-per-cent year-on-year – the brand interest in highlights is growing as well.
“While people recognise that, in sports, live is king, highlights is a premium product. That is why we have invested and worked with so many partners to put those highlights out there to be monetised,” Grace said.
Increasing familiarity with YouTube over the years seems to have changed the way users relate to the platform and its offering.
“What we are seeing is that users are coming to YouTube, particularly after sporting events, and there is an expectation that the highlights will be there,” Grace explained.
The suggestion is that if your highlights are not available there’s plenty of alternative content which is. And among YouTube’s young audience, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it could lead to amnesia and a lack of awareness and engagement which bodes ill for business into the future. This is, in part at least, about drawing future customers into the funnel.
“Our responsibility is to ensure there is an offer which is comprehensive, covers all of the big sports, is timely – as quickly as possible after the game – and comes from an authorised source, whether a broadcaster, federation or league,” said Grace.
“What this deal does is bring all of that together. In the UK there is nothing bigger than the Premier League and these highlights are doing very well. The top highlights are getting over one million views which is good for relatively new content in a single territory.”
Sky’s relationship with YouTube is well established. The Sky Sports Channel delivers a spread of sporting content and was even used to deliver live coverage of this year’s Netball World Cup. Beyond that, Sky’s iconic Soccer AM, which sees the game through the lens of younger fans and reflects their attitudes and broader interests, has its own channel which contains some original content.
For Grace and YouTube this is a time of opportunity.
“When I was growing up the access I had to information and media about games was incredibly limited. Now there is an explosion of content across all platforms. Sport is much bigger than it was and, as a result, you have sections of interest which are very diverse and broad.
“That’s reflected on YouTube. When it comes to something as big as the Premier League there are several different channels catering for different interests. The Premier League recently launched its own YouTube channel internationally. That sits alongside the highlights, studio content, and best moments uploaded by Sky in the UK and other Premier League broadcasters across the world.
“In addition, you have the clubs making content available and this too caters for a different audience as well as fan channels around the clubs. All of these can live alongside each other and generate big audiences and in many ways, this helps expand the appeal of the sport, the clubs and the players involved.”
The use of YouTube as a platform for live sports remains an intriguing discussion, even if any conclusion tends to be of the ‘horses for courses’ variety.
Grace naturally believes there’s room to develop relationships with rights owners in this area and points to the success of its work with BT Sport (in the UK) to make the Uefa Champions League and Europa League available to a wider audience as an example of what can be achieved.
“We would like to do more,” he said.
“There is a distinct audience on a terrestrial free-to-air channel, a different and complimentary audience on a YouTube channel. If you really want to maximise audience, you would do both. Each rights-holder and broadcaster will decide the right balance and the right fit.”