Advanced Television

Millennial interest in TV sport waning

November 11, 2016

NFL-BortlesResearch by Ampere Analysis across 32,000 consumers in Europe and the US has revealed that young millennials’ (aged 18-24) interest in sport is on the decline. Best viewed live and in HD, sport has long been considered immune from many of the pressures facing linear TV. However, analysis suggests demographic and cultural shifts are changing the way younger audiences view sport. With an ageing fan base, broadcasters must get their eyes back on the ball if they are to retain – and grow – this highly desirable audience.

Richard Broughton, Director at Ampere Analysis explains: The shift in perception of sport among younger consumers should ring alarm bells for traditional media companies reliant on high value – and increasingly high cost – sports rights.  Pay TV operators thinking of cutting back spend on TV and movie content to protect budget for sports rights may want to think again. Younger consumers are turning off sport in favour of scripted and social video content including comedy, sci-fi, romance and action & adventure. Clearly, a ‘one-size fits all’ content strategy will not last as a pan-generational plan.”
The evidence for declining sports audiences: Fandom is ageing with the fans

  • Ampere Analysis interviewed nearly 32,000 consumers across the US and Europe in the past year. Ten per cent chose sport as their favourite genre. Of these, just 11 per cent were aged 18 – 24, compared to 13.5 per cent of the surveyed population. That’s 17 per cent lower than would be expected. In other words, sports fans and viewers are under-indexing amongst millennials
  • By contrast, 46 per cent of those identifying sports as their favourite genre in Ampere’s research were aged 45+ (versus 43 per cent of the surveyed population)
  • Millennials are much more likely to identify with other content forms. They are 21 per cent more likely than average to agree they ‘love movies’ and 50 per cent more likely to indicate that they ‘love TV series’
  • TV viewing figures appear to support what consumers have been telling Ampere Analysis. It has been widely reported in the US that broadcast audiences for NFL matches have dropped across all major networks. Across the first four weeks of the 2016 season, NBC’s Sunday night games were down 13 per cent year-on-year, ESPN Monday night games were down 17 per cent, CBS Thursday night games down by 15 per cent. Fox and CBS Sunday nights were the best performers, down 3 per cent (source: Nielsen)
  • US audiences for the Rio Olympics were also down compared to London 2012. This is despite more favourable time zoning
  • A longer-term trend across UK sports channels is also apparent. Assessing September viewing of a basket of sports channels, including Sky Sports, BT Sport and Eurosport channels, reveals 2016 average weekly viewing is down by 9 per cent compared to 2010
  • Ampere Analysis believes that this is a recent trend. US and UK research from 2004-2005 indicates that the 18-24 group was proportionally more important for popular league fan bases. Today, it would seem, fandom is ageing with the fans, and not making the full transition to younger groups

Bringing millennials back to sport

  • Several reasons have been given to explain recent declines of TV sport viewing in the US. They include competition with the election campaign and shifts to Twitter’s Thursday night NFL streams and highlights. However, Ampere’s comparisons suggest the declines occur outside these factors, so there is more to the trend than mere platform or channel changes
  • Contributing may in fact be a fundamental demographic shift. Young millennials are being lured away from sport by today’s huge choice of TV and online video content. They are much more likely to indicate a preference for scripted or unscripted comedy and action content than older viewers
  • There is some evidence to suggest that the availability of subscription online video services such as Netflix and Amazon may be influencing the trend. The effect among millennials appears strongest in the UK and US and weakest in markets with low levels of on-demand uptake such as France and Poland
  • For sports leagues and bodies, understanding the root cause of this generational shift is crucial. The high costs of attendance at sports events, and the shift of sport to pay TV channels are hindering cash-strapped millennials from engaging with sport and may have long-term consequences if leagues are slow to react

Broughton concludes: “Broadcasters and sports bodies need to encourage millennials back to sport, after all, they are the fans, viewers – and subscribers – of tomorrow. They will be all too aware that failure to engage younger consumers in sport means being trapped in an unsustainable scenario of escalating rights costs against a backdrop of a declining or stagnating audience base.  Building fan bases internationally has been a core part of league growth strategies to-date – but securing domestic audiences will be crucial to future security.”


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