Sports streaming: the next opportunity for mobile operators

Netflix announced its global expansion at the beginning of the year and is now available in more than 200 countries across the world. This has shaken up the industry as other streaming service providers now need to figure out how to compete with a brand that has the biggest impact and global catalogue of content available.

One way to do it is to put more focus on localization: providing local content and catering to niche audiences. This is for example something that Yala is doing in the Middle East with music streaming and Box TV with Bollywood content in India. But there is another opportunity that has been so far overlooked: sports content and events.

3.2 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population watched the FIFA World Cup in 2014. UEFA generated more than $1 billion from the sale of broadcasting rights to the Champions League in the same year. Nearly a billion people tuned in to view the World Cup final cricket match between India and Pakistan one year ago. Sports events are overall the most watched television broadcasts across the world.

Digital access to these sporting events has so far been limited and not accessible to all of the potential audience interested in watching it. The major sports organizations (FIFA, NBA, NFL, NHL, UEFA, International Cricket Council, International Tennis Federation etc.) hold the rights to their events and work mainly together with the major television networks and media groups. This means that to watch a sporting event, you need to be in front of your TV at home.

However, research by Deloitte shows that people now prefer to view streaming content online rather than on their televisions. In booming emerging markets like India, there are more mobile phones than televisions and the number of smartphones is quickly catching up as well. Unlike other streaming content, sports happens live which means that people are not always at home when they want to see their favorite team competing. Consumers’ hunger for online sports content is significant, signaled also by the fact that Facebook recently implemented a feature to bring real-time updates on sport events to its users.

For mobile operators, this represents a huge opportunity: enabling access to some of the most popular video content globally. For example, the majority of football fans are located in regions where credit card penetration is lacking, which means that carrier billing can be used to collect payments for this content as well.

At the same time, the increasing online access to content presents a challenge to the sports organizations from piracy. For the sports content owners, simplifying access to the content helps alleviate this challenge as well. Mobile operators who work together with such organizations can significantly grow their revenue from payment services.