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Ratings ready to burst football TV bubble?

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With the football season kicking off and following the outrageous transfer of a certain diminutive Brazilian, a lot of the focus is again off the field and on the financial aspect.

Broadcasters are continuing to compete for TV rights, with Sky Sports and BT having paid £5bn to show live football for three years, beginning in 2016. These figures represent an 83% and 18% hike for Sky and BT respectively, compared to what they paid three years prior – but is this inflation backed up by the TV ratings?

The increased expenditure from these two giants has to be financed from somewhere, and inevitably it is the consumer who coughs up. Furthermore, to access a full catalogue of football for the season, they will have to splash out on two subscriptions, thus leaving a disillusioned viewer finding other means to enjoy live sport; potentially illegally.

This brings into question the validity of the exponential spend of the broadcasters, and if the value exists. Looking at the ratings, and beginning with Sky, BARB report that live Premier League matches were down 14% year-on-year (YoY), a 7 year low. This is compared with a 6% decline in total viewing figures over the same period. BT Sport with its fresher appeal didn’t suffer as drastic a fate as Sky, but ratings still dropped by 2%.

Using BARB to look specifically at Sky’s Super Sunday figures in September over the last 4 years, average TVRs saw a dramatic fall in 2016, with the decrease most prevalent in ABC1 Men (down 39%). Interestingly following BT Sport’s introduction of live games in 2013, Sky ratings actually increased – but from that point they have continued to fall.

Sky remain defiant, and point to the shortcomings of BARB, whilst emphasising a 31% increase in viewing through their streaming services; which aren’t measured by BARB and may in part contribute to the falling ratings. However, the complete revamp of the Sky Sports platform would suggest a reactionary response, as they look to retain and acquire subscriptions.

Looking further ahead, despite the falling ratings, the TV rights inflation is unlikely to stop, especially with the traditional broadcasters facing further potential competition from digital giants like Amazon and Facebook. Amazon have signed up the Tennis ATP tour and are likely to be eyeing larger ventures in the near future, especially following (Premier League chief) Richard Scudamore’s ‘come and get me plea’ that football is “technology neutral”. Although, switching away from linear TV to a solus digital platform at this stage would still represent a risk to the Premier League and is highly unlikely.

All Response Media Viewpoint

The trend in reduced ratings and increasing overheads across live sport will transfer to the TV buying process. As a young-upmarket male audience becomes less accessible, the reduced supply will drive a higher cost per thousand (CPT), which will be delivered to other male programming.

As males fragment away from traditional sports programming and pay-TV packages, new targeting tools must be considered, either through advertisers shifting to higher impacting Freeview stations (rather than the lower impacting, speciality stations), or looking at other media opportunities outside of linear TV, via traditional or digital channels

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