The Future of Sports Entertainment

I Love My Golf

During high school and college summers, my family spent Sunday afternoons playing golf and watching the PGA Tournament du jour. Dad would DVR CBS or NBC (adding an extra hour and a half of course, in case of a playoff), and the family would sit down to watch the end of the event during dinner. Since graduating and entering the working world, I can't afford the expense of a DVR, which leaves me stuck with the schedule dictated by the networks, or the compacted highlight reel somewhere on the internet. Some other media has gone online, but sports remain on the existing system of networks and content providers.

The State of Sports on TV

As a sports fan, you have few options for watching your favorite events without illegally streaming them. Of course you can watch live, but you need a basic cable package, and you can only access from your specific home and receiver. Unfortunately, if you want a channel your basic package doesn't provide, you might pay $30-$40 more per month for the sports package, only to watch a couple events. My parents, big hockey fans, CAN NOT get the NHL Network at all, because their cable company can't reach a deal with the network. If you can afford a DVR system, you can watch whenever you like, as long as you remembered to record and happen to be at home.

Dish Network recently announced its service, Sling TV, which will allow live access to a limited number of networks, including ESPN, for $20 per month. While an improvement, fans will still need to purchase the entire package, and if they want to watch the Premier League on NBC, they will still need their other cable or satellite package. Dish seems to market Sling TV as an innovative new solution, but this new product only changes the technology and the delivery mechanism, while the same business model remains.

What Does TV Look Like Going Forward?

With exponential growth continuing in technology, the possibilities for media grow as well. We only limit our ability to provide innovative media services by our ability to apply new business models. Some simple improvements come to mind:

  1. Omni-channel delivery: Services will provide the same content across TV, desktop browser, and mobile delivery channels with seamless experiences. Some of the existing services, such as Hulu, have already mastered this design challenge, but the content remains limited by the service.
  2. Cloud-based DVR: Services will capture and record content that you pick for later streaming to any device. This amounts to a simple playlist if the content itself already exists online.
  3. The death of the cable box: Viewers will access every piece of content they want online. The content will get transmitted by simple web protocols to any browser or app, and cable boxes will disappear. Viewers will no longer need a dedicated piece of hardware, but rather will access their content anywhere they have an internet connection.

How Do Sports Fit Into That Vision?

First, sports fans will watch any event they want, wherever they have an internet connected device. They'll watch the Sunday football on their smart TV, the "SportsCenter" highlights on their phone, and March Madness on their tablet. With a new "Pay for what you watch" model, viewers will have the freedom to watch events as they wish, without needing a full package of channels they don't watch. Additionally, services could provide ad-free recorded events for a premium, allowing viewers to watch without the distraction of commercials. With everything happening online, we will enable new event experiences like interacting with other fans in chat rooms and sharing clips on social media, all while watching the event live in real time.

What Challenges Do We Face?

The technology to enable these media innovations will come along whether or not we use them for sports media. It seems we have a stakeholder problem here, and I feel confident we can build a model that works for everyone. The value chain has many constituents right now: teams, leagues, networks, advertisers, content carriers, cable companies and viewers. Maybe there are more I don't even know about. However, the cost burden right now seems to get passed down the chain to the viewers, who end up paying for a lot of content they simply don't watch.

From my perspective, the model today rewards cable companies when viewers DON'T watch. Additionally, stakeholders up the value chain like advertisers and teams also suffer when viewers don't turn on the TV. This means that cable companies have few incentives to provide good products and services to their viewers. No wonder everyone hates their cable company. The sports media market in North America was worth $12.5 Billion in 2013, and PWC projects this market will grow by 9 percent yearly through 2018 (PWC 2014). Certainly we can slice it so that consumers don't have to bear the burden alone.

What's Next?

Soon, tech startups will follow in the footsteps of Netflix and Hulu in creating a new model for sports media. Small companies will have a number of advantages over the incumbents, and will have the opportunity to create truly innovative new ways for sports fans to enjoy events from anywhere. Soon I'll unplug from my cable provider in favor of more specific services that better serve my needs and desires. However, before I can sit on my couch and watch live golf on my laptop, we need a revolution in the way we deliver sports media. I decided to start Zelustream to figure out how to start this revolution and make my dream a reality.


2015-03-03-1425412002-8950545-Drewbiopic.pngDrew Jankowski is a 2013 Venture For America Fellow who currently lives and works in Providence, RI. He studied Engineering and Studio Art at Dartmouth, while also playing on the varsity golf team. Drew is currently using the VFA Innovation Fund to launch ZeluStream, which aims to change the way sports fans watch their favorite events.