The TV-is-dead trope is, well, dead. But figuring out how to extend the reach of live TV across platforms is very much alive.
Witness Fox Sports’ handling of the Women’s World Cup. While Fox Sports saw the vast majority of viewers tune into games on traditional TV, the company used platforms like Twitter to drive streaming viewership of matches on its site and apps to catch viewers who were likely at work during weekday games and unable to tune in on TV.
Each of the four matches that the U.S. played between June 20 and July 2 took place on weekdays, and each subsequent match marked the largest streaming audience that Fox Sports has received for a Women’s World Cup match, peaking with an average of 361,000 viewers per minute for the July 2 semifinal match against England. By comparison, the stream of the championship match, which took place on a Sunday, averaged 289,000 viewers per minute. Even though these numbers trail the 500,000 average viewers per minute that streamed the final of last year’s World Cup, they exceed the marks set during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and the streaming viewership for the U.S.-England match approaches the 468,000 average per-minute streaming viewership of the 2018 NFL NFC Championship game.
TV delivered far and away the largest audience for Fox Sports during the Women’s World Cup: the championship match averaged 14 million linear TV viewers, per Nielsen.
“We have a ‘we need to be everywhere’ strategy, and we’re going to find the right platform at the right time for the right audience,” said David Katz, evp of digital at Fox Sports, which had the U.S. TV and streaming rights for this year’s Women’s World Cup.
Fox Sports also produced a live show on Twitter each day that a match was scheduled to drive match viewership. The company hosted a live show on Twitter for last year’s World Cup, but this year’s edition outperformed it. This year’s show averaged 418,000 views per episode and generated 10.4 million views over the course of the tournament, a 47% increase compared to last year’s show, according to a Fox Sports spokesperson.
It helped that that this year’s show was actually live whereas last year’s version was taped ahead of time and then aired live. That the show was live-live this year enabled Fox Sports to involve viewers, such as by incorporating their tweets into the show, running live polls and hosting a 20-minute Q&A at halftime during the championship match.
Within five minutes of every goal that was scored during the tournament, Fox Sports posted a clip of the goal to Twitter to drive people to tune into the corresponding match.
“We produced over 3,000 pieces of video content, over the course of this one-month tournament, on our app and social platforms. That was entirely geared to building interest in these live matches,” said Katz.
The major sports leagues have not been shy about saying that they are looking for the biggest audiences possible, whether they can be found on traditional TV, online or a combination of the two. For example, the NBA saw its TV ratings dip in the most recent season to the point that, even though its broadcast deals don’t expire until 2025, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is considering modifying its existing deals to account for the viewership shift, according to ESPN.
TV networks’ ability to use streaming to offset linear TV audience declines is also increasingly important to advertisers. During this year’s upfront negotiations, advertisers are asking more questions of whether TV networks will be able to increase their digital viewership to counter the linear decline and justify the spending commitments that the networks are seeking, according to an agency exec.