When it comes to digital offerings made available by the major networks, you’re really only discussing two of the four. You’re discussing ESPN and NBC, because Fox has yet to launch Fox Sports Go, their digital network that will simulcast Fox Sports 1 as well as exclusive content and the only content made available by CBS are PGA Tour events. CBS also streams a number of college sports through CBS Interactive (U-Live). The quality of these broadcasts is generally not very good, because they are produced by schools, with little to no resources. The PGA Tour events offered by CBS on CBSSports.com are very high quality, it’s a shame that CBS doesn’t offer or market much other digital content. CBS also does not offer a digital platform, to aggregate the content.
Launched as ESPN360.com in 2005, originally it offered on-demand content. In 2007, ESPN360.com started to focus on live events, and securing more content. Finally, in 2010, ESPN360.com was rebranded to ESPN3. ESPN3 and WatchESPN are the two digital platforms operated by ESPN. Viewers spent 797 million minutes with WatchESPN and ESPN3 live and on-demand programming across all platform according to Adobe Site Catalyst. ESPN has more sports content available across their digital platforms, ESPN3 and WatchESPN, than anyone else. Since August 5, 2013, ESPN3 has been focused on securing and airing fully exclusive programming. ESPN3 is now also available on WatchESPN, a digital platform that simulcasts events on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Goal Line, and ESPN Buzzer Beater. ESPN is the gold standard for digital video offerings, in terms of quality and quantity of content.
NBC Sports was forced to increase their digital offerings in time for the 2012 Olympics in London, and they met the call. With the number of live events available, and the limited number of channels available on cable tv, NBC Sports wanted to allow the consumers to make the decision on what they wanted to watch. They did this by making every event available on their digital platform NBC Sports Live Extra. They had a mobile app, and every event was able to be streamed. NBC Sports also used their digital platform to offer a unique perspective to Sunday Night Football. During the 2012 season, fans were able to watch Sunday Night Football on NBC Sports Live Extra and choose which angle they would like the watch the game from. This new perspective changed the way that sports were covered. NBC Sports Live Extra has accommodated Notre Dame football for a number of years, but they have now expanded to offer a home for all of the Irish teams. NBC Sports Live Extra continues to expand, as they now will also air 380 Barclay Premier League games during the 2013-2014 season, the first of a three-year agreement between the NBC Sports Group and the Barclay Premier League.
Digital networks are very valuable commodities because it allows the broadcaster to accommodate the consumer, and consume whatever content they are looking for. Digital networks make it easier for fans to find their teams and watch their games. These platforms are available in millions of homes across the United States, offering incredible exposure to universities that are able to benefit from these agreements. The exclusive content offered on ESPN3, otherwise wouldn’t air nationally. These digital offerings cater to the national audience instead of the local audience. The convenience, availability, and quality of the product continues to get better. When Fox Sports Go launches, you will be able to watch almost any sports contest in the country (and a few overseas) on the internet legally. These digital offerings, give broadcasters another property to generate advertising and sponsorship revenues. Leagues such as MLB (MLB At Bat), NBA (League Pass), and NHL (Center Ice) have their own subscription based offerings to capitalize on national audiences, without impacting their local ratings by imposing strict blackout policies.
Every league and broadcaster has their own strategy when it comes to digital. In this day and age it is imperative that consumers are able to access and consume digital platforms on their mobile devices. MLB Advanced Media was the first to flourish in the field, and continues to lead the pack in terms of innovation and their high quality product. ESPN and NBC Sports have different strategies, and it will be interesting to see where Fox Sports Go fits in to the mix, when they launch. Currently, WatchESPN and ESPN3, offer both quantity and quality content, that caters to the largest audience. This landscape will continue to grow, not only because of more competitors, but as consumers continue to cut cords and look for alternative viewing methods.