Free Streaming is Not a Risk Anymore

A while back I wrote an article “NFL Europe: Yahoo risks and everybody wins!” about Yahoo’s pioneer free worldwide streaming of an NFL game from London. At that time, free legal online streaming was just starting to surface, and while the future did seem bright, it was also unpredictable.

Less than a year later, things got a whole lot clearer.


It Started to Move – Fast!

Let’s start with the most recent free streaming sport event. British TV station BT Sport decided to stream, for free on Youtube, two of the biggest matches in club football.

BT Sport had to pay $1,3B for Champions League broadcast rights just for 2015/16 season, but the pay-TV service was not bringing in enough income. And that is an understatement. BT Sport’s viewership dropped by incredible 95%! Or, put thing into perspective their viewership dropped by 4,2m, from ITV’s 4,4m to their 200k.

BT Sport had to react and they decided to make a drastic change in their approach – free streaming. Their free streaming had to be limited to the UK audience, since they held the rights to broadcast the Europa League and the Champions League finals only in the UK.

Before this decision, customers who wanted to see these matches in the UK, had to be among BT Sport’s £21.99-per-month paying customers.

With this decision BT Sport joined a wide range of broadcasters and leagues that already decided to stream their games on hosting sites and social networks. This decision doesn’t surprise anyone anymore, since this has become a proven way of getting more young people to watch sport events.

This trend culminated earlier this year with the announcement that Twitter bought the rights to stream as much as ten “Thursday Night Football” games live and for free.

“We’ve always said we wanted to give top quality sport back to the people and making the UEFA Champions League and Europa League finals free to everyone in the UK does this in a big way. We’re also bringing BT Sport to a new generation of younger sports fans who view their entertainment online, through social media and on their mobile devices.  We plan to make these finals the most social sports broadcast ever, with lots of exciting content in the build-up and on the night across YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Vine”. – John Petter, the chief executive of BT Consumer, said that their goal was to maximize the number of people able to watch the games.

Twitter was forced to outbid free NFL streaming pioneers Yahoo, Amazon and Facebook for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football broadcast rights.

Twitter-NFL streaming deal has a much greater possible audience than BT Sports streaming did. Everybody using Twitter across the world will be able to watch these NFL games, same as it was the case with Yahoo’s streaming last season.

Simple broadcast of the game will not be the only part of Twitter NFL experience. Same as the plans which Mr Petter announced for BT Sports (“We plan to make these finals the most social sports broadcast ever, with lots of exciting content in the build-up and on the night across YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Vine”), Twitter’s coverage of the NFL will include content from other social media, namely in-game highlights and pre-game live Periscope broadcasts from players and teams.

This clearly shows that social media platforms see a massive potential in this new way of attracting new audiences.

NFL themselves are naturally very pleased, too. They managed to achieve themselves a win-win situation with extra cash, but also potential new worldwide audience growth.


“Twitter is where live events unfold and is the right partner for the NFL as we take the latest step in serving fans around the world live NFL football. There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games and tapping into that audience, in addition to our viewers on broadcast and cable, will ensure Thursday Night Football is seen on an unprecedented number of platforms this season. This agreement also provides additional reach for those brands advertising with our broadcast partners.” – Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner

Mobile Streaming is to “Blame”

Business Insider completed their report on the growth of mobile video and their main conclusion is pretty simple – the Millennials are once again the driving force behind another new way of entertainment consumption.

Even though TV rights still do represent the biggest revenue source for major sports, according to BI Intelligence report, TV stations will have to find a new way to stay on top of the pile.

According to BI Intelligence report, social media platforms are expected to react in different ways to this next stage of mobile video and mobile streaming growth:

  • YouTube will still rely on “homegrown” stars to produce material and grow audience. That can be a two bladed sword, since the number of uploads to YouTube remained stagnant over the past year and that could be a cause for concern, especially since…
  • …Facebook has the best weapons to upset YouTube and its position on the throne of mobile video platforms. Facebook was, is, and will remain the place to be for brands to engage the largest audiences, especially since it got even more attractive, thanks to their new functions: video streaming function “Facebook Live” and fan interaction function “Sports Stadium”.

Snapchat will still do what Snapchat does best – offer unique live-coverage and exclusive behind the scene content to attract young viewers. Snapchat is not competing with Facebook’s and YouTube’s sizes of video database, it is changing the way we experience even Internet in general.


is the expected drop of regular TV viewers in 2016


increase in the average amount of time people will spend consuming online video each day in 2016

Are You Still Not Convinced That Streaming Will Only Grow?

Well, the hottest social network, Snapchat, didn’t just sit aside with its hands crossed while Yahoo, Twitter and Amazon competed for NFL rights (Facebook gave up on the NFL deal early, because they were not able to bid for mobile streaming rights since they are owned by Verizon).

Snapchat signed a deal with NBC Universal, which allows them to broadcast exclusive coverage from the Olympic Games. This was a very expected behavior, according to the before mentioned BI Intelligence report.

Let’s see how correct were other BI Intelligence report’s predictions.

Sky Sports plans to use new Facebook Live function to create “a great deal of content” for their viewers. They are adapting to the current times and predicted drops in TV ratings, while simultaneously participating in this, once again, new way of news consumption.


Sky Sports digital director Lucien Bowater announced that they plan to give a “unique behind the scenes look” at sporting events:

“We’ve already been experimenting with it, and the results have been impressive. In less than 24 hours since its release, more than 100,000 people viewed Michael Atherton’s exclusive interview with Freddie Flintoff and Kumar Sangakkara at the T20 World Cup. In news, similar numbers watched Mark Stone’s live report on the migrant crisis in Calais. The platform works for us because it allows our news and sports teams to connect with the audience in a slightly different way – offering a different perspective, one that might not otherwise be possible in such a fast moving environment.”

So, that’s already 2/2 for BI Intelligence report, but let’s get back to Sky Network story. It is far from over!

Ever since the Sky Network started to post videos on Facebook live, their Facebook pages, that have about 14m followers, reached more than 370m video views, which gave them the right to go even a step further.

I don’t know if you arrived late to 360 Video “party” on YouTube, like I did, so catch up here:



But Youtube is not the only platform that provides VR content.

So does the Facebook’s 360 Video platform and Sky Network announced it plans to move forward and use it!

When, on top of that, you take into account that in January, Facebook launched its, before mentioned, Sports Stadium function, a place to experience sport in real time with friends and family, it is easy to see what possibilities will open once Facebook secures live streaming of sport events.

And that’s 3/3 so far for BI Intelligence report.

These events are really unfolding fast, so it is not surprising that some companies decided not to rush into decisions. Stephen Nuttall, YouTube’s senior director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, announced that they, contrary to the reports, do not plan to make a bid to host the Premier League on Youtube:

“We are not a buyer of rights. We are very good at distributing content to the largest possible audience. It’s pretty clear. We are a technology company, we do a great job of creating tools that broadcasters, [sports] leagues and clubs can use to tell their stories to largest possible engaged audience. That is what I expect we will continue to focus on. Our whole model is about partnering with people to allow them to make the greatest possible success out of their content.”

Premier League broadcast rights are incredibly expensive, and owning them would put Youtube on top of sport streaming industry, but, for now, Youtube decided to take another direction.

Mr. Nuttall does although confirm that football is the most popular sport globally watched on Youtube, mainly because YouTube has in place partnership deals with 37 football league and cup competitions.

Aside from sport games and highlights, Youtube has a long list of other partner relationships, including the global broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest, Fifa’s Ballon D’Or ceremony, and several music festivals like Coachella.

“Overall, whether you are BT or UEFA or you are the BBC you look at YouTube and decide that it looks like an interesting place to distribute content. We work with, and focus on, distributing their content. Sometimes live, sometimes clips and highlights in the sports world. Sometimes digital natives [YouTubers]. We don’t create the content ourselves.” – concludes Youtube’s Stephen Nuttall.

Just in case you are not keeping count, that’s 4/4 for BI Intelligence report.

Bigger Goal, Closer Distance

Even though a lot has changed since my last article on free sport streaming, I can still confidently finish with the same sentence:

“Without a doubt, we should expect more where this came from!”





Tomislav Žarković

Tomislav Žarković

Overtime Sports Marketing

If you have any questions about sports marketing, feel free to contact me at

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