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Can Esports Actually Make it into the Mainstream?

Esports is well on its way to becoming a household name.

Almost 70% of internet users in the UK and U.S. alone have now heard of the term “esports”.

As many as half of those aged 55-64 are also aware of these competitive video game tournaments.

Sell-out stadiums and prize pools of $100 million have increased esports’ exposure and shored up any reservations over its longevity, providing a powerful reminder of how much the genre has grown since the first official tournaments took place in the 1990s.

A significant chunk of this growth has been in the last year.

Among those who say they watch esports content in the UK and U.S., more than 60% watch it at least once a week, with 3 in 10 saying they hadn’t even heard of esports more than a year ago.

2018 has witnessed major structural developments in esports, with franchised leagues bringing it closer to the model of traditional sports.

This is making esports a more cohesive and accessible genre of entertainment among new audiences, and helping to win over potential investors and sponsors anxious for signs of strong revenue generating potential.

With these structural tweaks all working in harmony, 2019 is the year esports is approaching its tipping point.

Unlocking the next stage of esports growth.

Our research identifies an important opportunity for even more eyeballs to come to esports in the next year, and on a global level.

In each of our world regions, there’s a gap between the number of people watching gaming live streams (online video where internet users watch other people play games) versus those watching esports tournaments.

Asia Pacific, where esports has been part of the cultural fabric for longer, has the narrowest gap between the two.

Since internet users are already watching other people play video games, it’s only a small jump to watch competitive matches.

Despite the cultural influence of North American esports leagues and their recent developments in this region, it’s still only 12% of 16-34 year-olds who watch esports tournaments each month. In contrast, 30% watch gaming live streams each month.

That’s just shy of the number in the region who say they watch the FIFA World Cup on TV or online (31%).

Converting those who currently watch other people play video games into those watching competitive video game tournaments on the same channels will be the key to unlocking the next stage of esports’ growth.

In a special survey conducted in the UK and U.S., we also identified those who had heard of esports but said they didn’t watch it, and asked them why they’re not choosing to engage.

A third said that they hadn’t had the chance to explore it, so finding the right means to introduce them to esports will be crucial in onboarding the currently curious.

The biggest reason for not watching esports was because respondents preferred “traditional” sports (36%).

This underlines one of the bigger challenges in advertising esports to a wider audience; some potential viewers still need to be convinced of the skill involved in playing it.

But this isn’t necessarily an insurmountable challenge.

Within this survey, we also asked current esports watchers what they most enjoyed about following it.

The top answers were “observing the skill level of the players” (37%) and “the excitement of following matches” (34%) – both factors closely aligned with “traditional” sports.

Reasons more specific to esports or gaming such as “being able to comment in real-time” (23%) were further down the list.

So while there may always be some holdouts who will never see esports on the same lines as traditional sports, pitching it with many of the same strengths and qualities associated with “traditional” athletes might break down some of this resistance.

Esports and traditional sports are not polar opposites.

Despite many traditional sports fans remaining unconvinced of esports’ close relationship with their favorite sports leagues, plenty of the sports leagues themselves have been keen to capitalize on this relationship.

It’s this increasing involvement from traditional sports organizations which will be a key impetus in the growth of esports in 2019.

Traditional sports have been involved in the esports scene since before the franchising movement in esports started to bring its league structures and revenue models closer to its traditional cousin.

Sports fans are more than 40% ahead of average for watching esports tournaments each month, at 23%.

Engaging the next generation of sports fans is a key priority in the traditional sports industry, which has been relatively slower than other categories in migrating to digital.

For many sports leagues, esports represents an important means of reaching younger fans and unlocking more revenue.

The gaming industry boasts a growing annual valuation far above even the film and music industries, providing a strong incentive for a new wave of sports leagues to join the fray.

A good example of this is the National Hockey League (NHL) in the U.S., which has announced its 2019 plans of moving much further into the esports scene, involving all of its clubs in harnessing esports to increase interest in the the NHL itself.

Amazon’s advertising ambitions matter.

Gaming live streams and esports tournaments have come to their current position through streaming platforms like Twitch (acquired by Amazon in 2014) and YouTube Gaming (soon to be rolled into YouTube’s main site).

These platforms require little hardware to set up a channel, allowing streamers to reach an audience in the hundreds of thousands with minimal investment.

Despite increasing competition, Twitch will continue to play a key role as esports expands, as its fate is bound up with parent company Amazon’s ambitions in advertising in 2019.

With Twitch being well-suited for any expansion into video ads, it’ll be in Amazon’s interests to negotiate commercial partnerships for the service.

The competition between Twitch and YouTube Gaming, along with other players like Valve (Steam Broadcasting), Microsoft (Mixer), Facebook and Douyu or HUYA in China, will be a catalyst to expand reach.

This isn’t the only competition driving viewer growth, either.

Publishers like Activision Blizzard and Epic Games are investing in licensed leagues of their games to generate the most return from their franchises.

This competition among stakeholders around the industry should help drive investment as they race to secure eyeballs and advertising dollars.

2019 will also see esports continue to make waves on traditional TV. Esports made its first bow onto an ESPN primetime slot in 2018, and it was able to piggyback on competitions with a pre-existing broadcast profile as it debuted at the Asian Games as an exhibition event.

As we saw earlier, one of the top reasons why internet users don’t watch esports is that they haven’t had the chance to explore it. With more broadcast channels at their disposal, this should become less of an obstacle.

Could esports pioneer new monetization models?

The esports audience is largely considered a hard-to-reach demographic using conventional marketing campaigns, and it’s this audience which remains the prize.

Esports viewers are mostly young, tech-savvy males with considerable spending power.

With such a desirable demographic, stakeholders in esports are keen to discover new and innovative ways of monetizing them.

Currently, advertising and sponsorship deals form the backbone of esports’ revenue generating capabilities, but our research reveals that the majority of those currently watching esports would be prepared to pay to watch their favorite esports leagues.

A third of esports fans said they would pay if it was subscription-based, and just under a fifth said they would pay if they could purchase access to individual matches.

Being such a young, agile and, above all, digitally interactive genre of entertainment, esports could emerge as a pioneer for monetization models if it’s successful in creatively generating value from its fanbase.

Microtransactions have long been a part of the fabric of esports games, allowing players to personalize their avatars with “skins” and viewers to reward their favorite players while watching them compete.

This element of interactivity holds appeal among esports fans, who throughout our global research display unique expectations from brands.

These expectations are centered around personalization, involvement with the brand and its products, and a desire to connect with other fans.

Esports also benefits from a strong suitability to new experience-based technologies spearheading their way into the entertainment scene, like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

This gives the sport more monetization opportunities as it looks to provide new and unforgettable experiences.

Will future developments in esports be well received?

As these monetization models become more innovative and sophisticated, esports will look to acquire a greater profile on TV and in real-world stadiums, and enter into more lucrative sponsorships and partnerships with larger brands.

But are these changes that its viewers will welcome?

After all, the gaming community is notoriously vocal about any controversial changes, particularly those regarding revenue models.

This, together with esports fans’ higher likelihood of using ad-blockers to avoid advertising not aligned with their interests, has led to a degree of caution in regards to commercializing the genre.

Originally, winnings in esports tournaments were provided by a group of what are often called “endemic” sponsors – businesses directly involved with the equipment and gear around gaming, usually manufacturers of hardware and accessories.

Categories like energy drinks have been associated with esports for a while, with Red Bull making its first steps into the industry in 2008, but these should be considered as near- or semi-endemic brands, still fairly close to the nuts and bolts of esports.

One of the pivotal changes on the horizon will be when more completely non-endemic brands come on board for advertising or sponsorship.

When we asked esports fans in the UK and U.S. whether they are receptive to the entry of these brands into sponsorship or advertising deals, almost 60% replied favorably.

We also saw similarly positive attitudes towards a number of ongoing developments in the industry, such as franchising leagues and enabling gambling on esports events.

Above all, however, esports fans were most enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing esports leagues on broadcast TV (71%) or in real-world stadiums near them (68%).

Only around 1 in 10 esports fans in the UK and U.S. said any of these developments would take away from their enjoyment of the entertainment.

These developments promise to inject more money into esports leagues and spur further growth.

They also promise to allay would-be investors’ concerns over the potential of esports to diversify away from its reliance on sponsorship and advertising.

But this doesn’t take away from the fact that the esports community is both diverse and relatively tight-knit, held together by interests and knowledge of particular gaming titles.

Esports may be on the brink of large scale commercialization, but putting this sense of community front and center will be key for stakeholders in the industry, especially as its growth is swept along by the interests of Amazon and traditional sports leagues in the year ahead.

What Does Personal Branding Mean to Different Generations?

Do you have a personal brand? For most, the answer is yes.

Even if you haven’t made a conscious effort to do so, you developed your brand the moment you stepped online.

Before social media became as ubiquitous as it is today, an individual’s “brand” was largely built around what they were like in person – how they dressed, spoke and behaved.

Today, it is easier than ever to shape a personal brand and carve your digital footprint.

To help us understand what personal branding means to different generations, we looked at some of the attitudes, interests and behaviors of Gen X (aged 36-54), Millennials (aged 22-35), and Gen Z (aged 16-21).

Generation X embrace digital change.

Gen Xers are often thought to be behind the digital curve compared to their younger counterparts. Our research reveals something different.

In fact, this group stays clued into changing digital trends and is more likely to get online via their smartphone than a PC/laptop.

Smartphone ownership is at 95% or more, regardless of age, and more than 4 in 5 Gen Xers use the internet as the first point of call for information.

Millennials feel the pressure of technology.

Interestingly, more Millennials say they don’t understand computers or new technology than Gen Xers.

34% feel that technology makes their lives more complicated.

There’s an internal conflict here for Millennials: while they say technology complicates their lives, 66% are constantly connected.

What’s more, 57% feel more insecure without their mobile phone than their wallet.

This might be a result of the fact that Millennials grew up during a period of rapid technological, economic and societal change.

They’re the generation that created social media, but they also struggle between their desire to be constantly connected and their concerns over the impact technology has on their lives.

Gen Z spend the most time on social media, but older counterparts aren’t far behind.

Over 98% of all generations access social media from any device every month.

Unsurprisingly, as the first generation who grew up as digital natives, Gen Zers spend the most time here, averaging 2 hours 48 minutes on social media on a typical day.

However, Millennials and Gen Xers closely follow, at 2 hours 35 minutes and 2 hours 10 minutes respectively.

The most popular platform for active engagement in the past month is Facebook for Gen Xers and Millennials, while YouTube takes the lead for Gen Zers.

Outside China, Gen Zers are also 52% more likely to engage with Snapchat than the average user.

Gen Z are more image-conscious and care about others’ opinions.

More than 1 in 5 Gen Zers fall into the Image-Conscious attitudinal segmentation, making them over 10% more likely to fall into this segment than the average user.

This reflects Gen Zers greater interest in subjects relating to their personal image, like fashion and style (34%) compared to other generations.

Millennials and Gen Xers are more interested in professional interests, such as politics, personal finance and investment, and news and current affairs.

Gen Z (42%) is also more swayed by other people’s opinions than Gen X (31%).

Both Millennials and Gen Zers care more about uniqueness and standing out in a crowd than Gen Xers.

Their interests are also reflected in how they present themselves online.

For example, younger generations are more likely to be concerned with how they look online, and use social media to showcase their unique personalities, meticulously curating their personal brand to reflect how they want to be perceived by others.

Their experiences are carefully styled, recorded and shared on social media.

Gen Zers are also more selective about who they share with online by actively engaging with Snapchat and Instagram more than Millennials.

Gen Z and Millennials use social media for entertainment.

Over 55% of Gen Zers and Millennials fall into the Content Networkers segmentation, including those using social media for entertaining content, to consume sports content, or following vloggers.

45% of Gen Z and 42% of Millennials use social media to find funny or entertaining content.

This is compared to 29% of Gen Xers, who are also 20% more likely to advocate a brand if they get access to exclusive content or services.

They’re also more interested in ‘viral’ celebrity culture than other generations and are more likely to follow actors, singers and musicians, vloggers and comedians.

This presents a great opportunity for influencer marketing using the likes of Snapchat or Instagram, providing brands overcome authenticity issues associated with influencers.

Influencer marketing not only provides entertaining and easily-consumed content to a group who are admittedly more easily influenced, it also taps into the community connection they desire.

Over 37% of Gen Z say they would by a product/service simply for the experience of being part of the community built around it.

Gen X are more purpose-driven in their use of social media.

Gen Xers are more purposeful in how they use social media. This is probably because the majority are professionals at the peak of their careers with families, and as a result are more time-restricted.

They use social media most to keep-up-to-date with the news (38%) and search for products to buy (28%).

They also share fewer photos/videos on social media and follow news organizations more than Gen Zers or Millennials.

Falling into the Professional Networkers, 30% follow contacts relevant to their work, clearly reflecting what life stage they’re at and the role that social media plays in their professional life.

Gen Xers’ online persona is more profession-driven and pragmatic than other generations.

Unique experiences and love for the brand are important across all ages.

Over 58% of audiences we looked at, regardless of generation, would prefer to spend money on a unique experience than a status brand.

This tells us that offering an exciting and unique experience is something that will engage these audiences.

Across all generations, 30% will engage in advocacy simply for the love of the brand.

Gen X stick to what they know while younger generations want brands to elevate them.

Gen X consumers are in their prime spending years, earning more than their younger counterparts. They’re also more likely to be brand loyal than Gen Zers.

3 in 5 Gen Xers agree that once they find a brand they like, they’ll stick with it.

Reflecting this, Gen Xers are less inclined to try new products and are more risk averse – they like to stick with what they know.

They’re also more likely to find out about brands/products via ads seen on TV and in-store product displays or promotions, compared to the other audiences.

High quality and rewards/discounts are important factors here for brand advocacy. Brands need to take this into account and act quickly if they wish to engage this lucrative audience.

For Gen Zers and Millennials, image plays a key role.

15% of both Millennials and Gen Zers say they would advocate a brand that enhances their online reputation.

17% of Millennials and 21% of Gen Zers also want brands to make them feel cool/trendy. For this reason, influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements remain significant opportunities, in particular for Gen Zers who are 40% more likely to find out about new products and brands via vlogs.

Both appearance and entertainment matters to these cohorts and dictates much of what they do online, so it’s up to brands to leverage this to their advantage.

Online behavior is largely determined by life stage.

Across generations, these consumers all care about how they “look”, but what that “look” is depends on the life stage they’re at.

For example, younger generations are more interested in what makes them cool/trendy while older generations are more practical and family-oriented, not relying so much on social media prestige.

Millennials sit somewhere in between, both age-wise and behavior-wise.

This means brands need to tailor their offering to each audience and not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Targeting any generation, it’s important that brands communicate in an authentic and transparent way.

Marketers who can earn the trust of their consumers, understand their needs and values, and fit in with their lifestyles and the image they aspire to will reap the rewards.

Campaign of the Month: Change the Facts, Not the Fro – Ogilvy

Is hair bias something you often hear about? For many, the answer is no.

But away from the media, millions are being plagued by discrimination on this very issue.

From a UK employer encouraging a staff member to disguise her “unprofessional” afro and a U.S. federal court ruling it legal to ban dreadlocks in the workplace, to schoolgirls allegedly being forced to straighten their hair in South Africa, this is a racial problem that stretches far and wide.

In an attempt to give it the attention it deserves, Ogilvy, Wavemaker and World Afro Day joined forces for a new awareness campaign.

Working to change the narrative around Afro hair, celebrating its natural beauty and inherent power, here’s why we chose Change the Facts, Not the Fro as our September campaign of the month.

Image credits: Ogilvy

The Insight

One in five black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work.

This was just one of the key insights uncovered by the 2016 Good Hair study, investigating the stigma and cultural bias experienced by women with Afro hair.

The statistics also reveal 78% of people instinctively prefer smooth hair, highlighting a serious need for change in the way female beauty and power is represented in the media.

Putting this research into action, Ogilvy UK used it to shape an impactful campaign, calling for change.

The Message

Hair is often seen as a representation of who we are, and for many, it’s a symbol of identify and culture.

Despite this, straight hair is often wrongly seen as synonymous with beauty and success.

This campaign challenges those misconceptions, urging people to think about how this portrayal affects people from every walk of life. The overarching message is a clear one:

Change the facts. Not the fro.

Launching in time for World Afro Day 2018, a global event celebrating Afro hair, culture and identity and offering education to create equality, it emphasizes the need for the Afro to be recognized in its natural glory.

As World Afro Day Founder Michelle De Leon says: “There is a huge gap in the market for a global celebration of African descent. Our culture, style, music and fashion have been trendsetting for centuries and now it is ‘time’ for our hair to take centre stage too.”

Image credits: Ogilvy

Why it Worked

Every so often, leading agencies and advocates for change come together to do something truly impactful.

This work shows the true value of what can come from using deep research to guide creative talent.

Focusing on a real world issue that’s been largely untouched by the media, the teams could reveal the truth behind the global problem, with insight that proved it.

Spreading its presence across DOOH, social, PR and online, with dedicated hashtags #WorldAfroDay and #Changethefacts, the teams gave people a reason to join the movement.

Aptly portraying the emotion at the heart of the campaign, this is data-driven storytelling at its best.

As De Leon says, “The story of Afro hair is the same in every language, culture and country. Hair that has been hidden and hurt is now out and proud. Over a billion African people, have been waiting for their ‘time’ and when we throw a party, the world wants to come!”

 

Insight for Indies: 6 Ways to Win a Pitch with Data-Driven Ideas

Every agency knows the key to winning new business and delivering successful pitches is to know your consumer in intimate detail.

But it’s not enough to rely on experience or hunches.

The only way to prove to clients you truly know their audience is to use trustworthy data, and present it so that the client can immediately see the value and ROI that can come from its use.

Here’s how to become pitch perfect and wow your clients with data-driven ideas.

1. Ensure your source is credible.

Any data source worth its salt is transparent about its methodology, allowing its users to know exactly where the information is coming from, and how it’s been harvested.

After all, the credibility and quality of data comes down to how it’s collected. Here are some key things to look at when researching your provider.

  • Team: Is there information on who the analysts are? Can you verify they’re real people who have a voice in the industry?
  • Clients: Who has chosen the business in the past? Do they align with your brand or are they ones you look up to?
  • Values: A company’s values reflect how it conducts its research. Is it respectful, ethical and open? Do they reflect your own values?
  • Transparency: Are they transparent and clear about their approach to data collection and methodology?
  • Content: Do they produce regular thought leadership and valuable content that portrays the breadth and depth of their data set?

You need to ensure you’re investing in a product that not only offers all the data you need, but that it’s coming from a credible business that will help you develop your expertise, not hinder it.

TIP: With stricter regulations on data collection, it’s essential to ensure the data provider you choose puts consent first. Here’s how we do it.

2. Find the insights your clients don’t have.

What makes you special to clients? Having knowledge and insight they don’t.

By basing your pitches on solid fact, you’re showing your value to your client, proving that you’ll bring something unique and new to their equation.

Come prepared with deep insight into their target audiences, and showcase not only your ability to generate successful campaigns, but your eagerness to know their consumers better than even they do.

3. Understand more than just behaviors.

In the past, behavioral data was enough to put together true and detailed stories about your target consumers, but this is no longer the case.

Now, your data source of choice must offer insight into not only behaviors and demographics, but motivations and perceptions.

Picture this: You know which devices they use. You know which channels and social media platforms they favor, but you don’t know what they use them for, or what they’re looking for.

You don’t know what interests them beyond what their actions say.

Without this knowledge, your marketing efforts are sure to fall short, as you’re missing an essential piece.

Why? Because people have different reasons for doing different things, and our research proves it:

Reasons for Using Social Media
Millennials To fill up spare time (43%)
Gen X To stay up-to-date with news and current events (40%)
Baby Boomers  To stay in touch with what my friends are doing (39%)

4. Visualize the journey.

The best way to win a pitch is to prove you’re an expert on the audience in question.

To do this, it means providing insight into everything from a day in their lives to their path to purchase.

This is where data-driven consumer journey maps become essential.

Consumer journey maps provide a detailed overview of the customer experience and what touchpoints really matter along the purchase journey.

This is fundamental for clients to understand, because it helps to build a foundation for their strategy.

They can take any size and shape, depending on the needs of the client, to portray any journey these consumers can take, at any stage of the funnel.

By offering clients bespoke consumer journey maps, you can prove you have an end-to-end solution – your mind is not only on landing the pitch, but actually carrying through the work to success.

5. Be a data storyteller.

Anyone can mindlessly mouth off stats, but getting the impact you want means harnessing a deep understanding of the data.

For your client to really believe in what you’re saying, it takes creating a story that will resonate, just as you might do with any campaign.

Do this by putting the insights in context, clearly outlining the story this data tells about the consumer in question – whether that’s how they spend their time online, or what drives them to get up every morning.

This not only showcases the data in a relatable way, it allows you to show off your creative side and help the client visualize the ideas you have in mind.

6. Show them the return.

In the end, it’s all about the ROI, both for you and the client.

Putting granular consumer data behind your ideas proves to the client you have a solid, reliable foundation to work from, rather than turning to educated assumption.

This will help to eliminate the risk involved, ensuring the client sees the return they want.

Integrating ad effectiveness studies in your proposal will also help you to assess uptake and offer peace of mind that the impact of your ideas will be measurable.

With this information at hand, you can make confident promises, or prove prior success to prospective new clients.

 

Insight in Practice: Katté & Co

PPC and Biddable experts Katté & Co are enjoying a meteoric rise in the agency world, having just been highlighted as one of The Drum’s Top 100 Independent Agencies.

The team knows the true value of consumer data and the impact it can have. Here’s what Jack Giddens, Head of Biddable at Katté & Co, has to say.

How do you use consumer insight from GlobalWebIndex to prepare pitches?

Getting an understanding of how consumers behave gives us real insight into how to frame a pitch. Being able to get in front of a prospective client with real data on their consumers is invaluable.

We use GlobalWebIndex to show prospective clients that we have a deep understanding of their target market, and that we have the data to prove it.

How has this strengthened your pitching?

Being an agency that prides itself on data, this information helps us highlight that and put more weight behind the pitch.

Any words of wisdom for other indie agencies?

We’d highly recommend investing in a granular consumer data source, like GlobalWebIndex, and taking the time to get to know your audience.

The more information you have on who you’re targeting, the more detailed your targeting can be and, effectively, the better your ROAS will be.

Where to start

So you want to make your ideas and decisions as consumer-centric as possible, using global and local insight to back you up. But how do you go about incorporating it into your agency?

Start by taking a closer look at the consumer, market and industry research at your disposal and assessing what’s missing.

  • Are you clued into what your consumers are doing but not so much why?
  • Do you know what channels they’re using but not which influencers they follow?
  • Do you know what kind of products they like to buy, but not what interests them?

Once you’ve identified the knowledge gaps you need to fill, you can find a solution. Using a source like GlobalWebIndex will ensure you’re clued into your audience at all times, with quarterly research that goes far beyond basic demographics.

Start asking the right questions on your audience, and give your clients the answers they can’t find elsewhere.

The Year in Review: One of the Biggest Consumer Trends to Hit 2018

A year on from our report highlighting the trends to watch in 2018, and major industry developments have taken place, adding to the story of the trends we covered.

The new kids on the block, Generation Z, have increasingly taken the place once held by millennials among marketers.

Gen Z are leading the charge towards new forms of brand-consumer relationships, based around experience and entertainment.

This is thanks to the increasing availability of tech-enabled creative tools in programmatic social ad formats, blurring the boundaries between experience and technology.

The mobile payments race has also continued at full speed, with Hong Kong emerging as one of the most contested battlegrounds in 2018 between Alibaba-owned Alipay, Tencent’s WeChat Pay and their global competitors Google, Samsung and Apple.

While Apple Pay held a firm lead in Q2 2017, its modest growth in uptake has since had to contend with as much as 140% growth from WeChat Pay, and around 380% growth from Alipay. This now puts Apple Pay firmly in fourth position in this market.

But of all the trends we covered, the migration of sports broadcasting online has been one of the most high-profile as 2018 progressed. With major TV broadcasting rights deals in the sports industry due for expiry in the near future, not to mention the much anticipated 2018 FIFA World Cup on the horizon, the evolution of sports broadcasting was certainly one to watch.

Sports Broadcasting: Late to the Digital Party?

The year in sports for 2017 saw a rising momentum of leagues and tournaments dipping their toes into online distribution channels to test the waters.

Facebook experimented with broadcasting UEFA League soccer and Major League Soccer games in the U.S., Twitter landed the rights to stream the PGA Tour free of charge, and Snapchat inked a global deal with Formula 1 to create exclusive content during the Grand Prix races, to name but a few.

These deals also served to whet the appetites of Silicon Valley companies as many sports leagues looked ahead to the next round of broadcast negotiations.

Amazon was also making its intentions in the sports broadcasting industry very clear, joining its Silicon Valley counterparts as well as traditional broadcasters at the bidding table for various rights deals with some success.

But with most of the Western social media industry throwing its weight behind bagging sports rights deals, it seemed that social media – and its vast reach – would be at the center of sports’ digital migration.

Fast-forward a year, and it’s clear that live sport is still very much governed by its appointment viewing status, and that will likely be the case for the foreseeable future.

This is clearly reflected in our data, especially when we compare our latest wave of ongoing research at the time of writing (Q2 2018) with Q2 2017 data.

When we look at the average number of sports watched online or on broadcast TV, there has been little change since 2017.

On a global scale, the average number of sports watched on broadcast TV sits at the same figure as it did in Q2 2017 (4.6), and the figure for online channels has edged upwards only very slightly. The bulk of this minor uptick for the average number of sports watched online has come from younger internet users in North America, MEA and Asia Pacific.

But that’s not to say that we won’t see more consumers turn to digital to watch their favorite sports. The events of 2018 showed us that technology brands are continuing their unrelenting march towards sports distribution.

They also showed us that Amazon is a force to be reckoned with in this space, not least by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Some of the most important of these developments were Amazon landing exclusive rights to stream 20 Premier League matches in 2019 in the UK, and Facebook fending off rival challengers to acquire the exclusive broadcasting rights for Premier League matches in Southeast Asia.

As a UK-based tournament, it’s easy to underestimate the sheer global appeal of the Premier League. But whether it’s sponsorship deals or viewership, the Premier League is one of the most successful and esteemed leagues internationally.

Of course we also enjoyed the 2018 FIFA World Cup, under which Fox Sports partnered with Twitter and Snap Inc’s Snapchat to stream coverage and showcase stories with match day highlights.

Amazon Pays Less, the Consumer Pays More

These landmark deals have helped to unshackle sports distribution from free-to-air TV broadcasters and subscription linear TV services.

The likes of Amazon, Facebook and Twitter are among the few digital disruptors with pockets deep enough to meet the high costs attached to live sports distribution, even if the Premier League package was sold to Amazon for less than expected.

Sport also has one of the strongest reputations among other entertainment genres for delivering large audiences, and these tech companies are among the few would-be disruptors with distribution infrastructures capable enough to keep up with these demands, and that really matters in sports entertainment.

As we pointed out in our annual report, rights holders and sports clubs need to deliver content to fans in the most convenient way possible.

Technology companies like Amazon and Facebook are able to deliver on this need for convenience.

You might expect sports leagues moving online to be a big win for the modern sports fan. But when we step back and consider the current situation in light of recent major deals, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Take soccer in Europe for example, where rather than having one destination to keep up with the latest leagues, consumers now overlook a fragmented landscape. Although the theory goes that increased competition in a market can have a positive impact on the price consumers have to pay, this isn’t quite the case in European sports, at least not yet.

Sports fans are now faced with the choice of paying more for separate subscriptions from traditional broadcasters and digital subscription services on the one hand, or missing out on some of the sports action on the other. In short, sports fans may in many cases be paying the same for soccer entertainment as last year, but are receiving less content overall; unless they’re already subscribed to Amazon Prime, that is.

The Facebook Approach

While Amazon’s deal will no doubt help to swell its Prime subscriber base – and by extension lead to more Prime shoppers on its retail arm – Facebook’s deal is altogether different.

Alongside its broadcasting rights for the Premier League in South East Asia, Facebook has also bagged exclusive rights to air La Liga in India, and also both UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super Cup in Latin America.

It’s also in these regions where internet users are most likely to say that watching or following sport is a main reason for using social media.

These also happen to be among Facebook’s strongest markets.

Around 90% or more internet users in markets like Brazil, India, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines are visiting Facebook each month.

Unlike Amazon’s subscription model, Facebook’s live streaming platform offers viewers the chance to watch these matches free of charge supported by advertising.

With such massive reach in these regions, it’s not difficult to see why even more advertisers might come flocking to Facebook, especially considering the wealth of data it can amass on these viewers.

While it remains to be seen if Facebook’s model would sit well in European markets where viewers remain more attached to linear TV, the increasing popularity of SVOD services in markets like the UK have allowed Amazon to gain a foothold.

If this Amazon deal proves to be a success, there’s every chance the Premier League may look towards other platforms with even more reach in the future, like Facebook.

A Potential Plot Twist

The implications for traditional broadcasters are clear. While they may not like the fact that they’re now at the bidding table with technology companies boasting vast revenue streams, this is the shape of things to come.

The complicated bidding war between U.S. media conglomerates Comcast and Disney-Fox surrounding Sky in Europe also has potential implications for consumer wallets. Comcast’s recent outbidding of Fox has sent Sky’s valuation soaring.

Sky’s presence in sports entertainment will be a welcome asset in Comcast’s existing sports portfolio under NBCUniversal, especially as competition with Silicon Valley’s ambitions ramps up.

This acquisition will also give Sky more financial security in future rights bidding negotiations. But someone has to foot the bill Comcast is willing to pay for Sky, and this often rests on the consumer.

Looking ahead, if the increasing presence of tech companies in sports broadcasting does prove successful, major leagues may look to bring in more incumbent online distribution platforms into the mix.

This success could also place a higher value on broadcast packages, even if it means more subscriptions for consumers to keep up with every event.

How ‘Social’ is Social Media?

The roots of the social media phenomenon as a societal paradigm are fascinating.

In the late 90s, the dispersion of the internet and home PCs became the new means of communication, and provided inspiration for experimentation with how we as humans connect and express ourselves.

The hype was immense – as today’s older millennials will remember – basic messaging boards and forums became interactive networks where internet users gained a voice of their own.

The social connection

By the early 2000s, it was all about the social connections.

Very few argue that not just friendships, but family ties strengthened too through social networks.

Pictures, status updates, videos – and today, the time-sensitive stories and personal lifecasting are all at the heart of how social media serves its users.

Social media has become the melting pot of all communications from peer-to-peer, to B2C and B2B… The endless variety of channels, brand communications and marketing on offer inevitably led to an over-saturated social media landscape.

To find out what ‘social’ really means in today’s social media landscape, we conducted a special study asking are internet users still enthusiastic about the social element of the networks, or has ‘social’ started to mean different things to the users as the concept matures and evolves?

What role does social media play in daily life?

In our study, we analyzed the role social media plays in people’s day-to-day lives.

50% still use social media to stay in touch with friends and family, but a very close contender is the funny and entertaining content that make people turn to social networks (42%).

The UK leads for those who use social media when they’re bored or have time to fill at 43% and 39% respectively. Overall, 51% watched/read entertaining content, 48% clicked on a post to read a news article and 37% listened to/discovered music on social media. Over 1 in 4 also purchased a product or service via social media.

All of this shows how social media’s role is no longer merely social.

Users’ daily needs and functions are both defined and serviced by how social networks position their features.

Have social networks done themselves a disservice by innovating and expanding?

Without a doubt, social media has become a ‘sensory extension’ of consumers: we see, learn, buy, recommend and showcase ourselves and our interests on social networks.

But this also means users may be overwhelmed with social content and features, and try to ‘downsize’ to do only what comes naturally to them on these platforms rather than all of the above.

We asked social media users in the UK and U.S. if they’ve made a conscious effort in the last 12 months to reduce the time they spend on social media on a daily basis, and found out that the trend is very much prominent in both markets.

The U.S. is slightly ahead of the UK with 46% of the internet population saying they’ve decreased time spent on social networks versus 41% in the UK.

Age is an important and surprising factor, too. Generation Z and millennials are ahead in making a conscious effort to decrease time spent on social media, with 58% of each cohort admitting to have done so rather than the older age groups who are getting to know the networks at a slower pace in general.

Among those who have decreased their time on social media, almost 6 in 10 have decreased their time to ‘much less’ or ‘a great deal less’.

We’re also able to make associations between gender and the reduced time spent.

Women say they use Facebook less, while men say they use Instagram more than before.

This reveals a shift in social media usage norms in general.

Craving the offline connection

We also dug deeper into the social media account deactivation or closure behavior.

Our data shows that 32% of all users in the UK and U.S. say they have deactivated or closed a social media account in the past 12 months.

More men (37%) have closed or deactivated an account than women (25%) in both the UK and the U.S. A surprising finding was that account deactivators are avid social media users.

They still spend more time on social media (2 hours and 44 minutes) than the average internet user (2 hours and 35 minutes) and those who have been making an effort to use social media less in the last 12 months (2 hours and 22 minutes).

This indicates the potential of self-moderation having a role in the account deactivation trend in both markets.

When we look at the top reasons for deactivating or closing an account, we see proof of the aforementioned ‘saturated’ landscape on social media, with 30% of users showing less interest in other people’s updates.

Perceptions around the type of content they see on social make an impact too.

26% of deactivators see social media as shallow and/or personal image-driven platforms.

Not too far behind is the fear of being ‘too dependent’ on social media and choosing to take action in order not to lessen this dependence at 24%.

2018 saw the tidal waves of GDPR regulations in Europe affecting brands’ communication strategies on a global level especially in the U.S., which triggered a shift in user perceptions of social networks in general.

In both markets, male social account deactivators seem more concerned than women about the way social media collects and stores their data.

We also know that women care more about spending time with family and just generally lost interest in what people are posting on social media, demonstrating a conscious shift to the ‘offline’ to connect.

What does the ‘social’ future hold?

The change in user behavior is a natural one and doesn’t signify the demise of social media.

We know that the activities and purposes are not disappearing, but rather becoming more sophisticated and diverse with the format and content innovations on various networks on offer.

So how are users comfortable using social media in light of what we know?

In both markets, 61% are comfortable using social media for entertainment. 52% are comfortable using social media to follow news, opinions and current affairs, and 44% are comfortable using it for reviews on brands/products in the future.

These are closely followed by motivations like buying/selling products (43%) and researching product ideas.

Brand and product research and interactions over-index for women (over 1.10 IDX), while community events and activism correlate to female interests too (1.25 IDX) at 41% of women have joined communities/groups they support on social media within the past month.

The entertainment hub of social media

Broadly speaking, social media as an ‘entertainment hub’ is a role that’s here to stay. Is this a bad thing?

Not necessarily – especially because it’s one of the elements social networks facilitated and utilized over the years.

Brand engagement still offers room for expansion and innovation, so companies still have time to cleverly blend entertainment with commerce, content consumption and advertising in general – or better – to redefine what entertainment can mean to the future social media user.

Yes, we’ve seen social media grow and evolve from simple networks to media to content hubs. Luckily, it’s still nimble enough for brands to make it their own and trailblaze the role they can play.