Streaming World Cup, US Open show increasing value of sports

What a great week(end) for streaming.

In the U.S., golf fans are tied to their TV, smartphone, tablet and computer screens watching the best players in the world scramble to save par on the slippery greens and deep rough of Shinnecock Hills Golf Course. Through Day 1 just five – FIVE! – golfers were even or under par. Tiger Woods? 8 over. Phil Mickelson? +7. How about Martin Kaymer, the German who won the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2? Plus 13 and tied for 144th after round one. Maybe Kaymer was thinking about Sunday’s match between Germany and Mexico.

He wouldn’t be the only one, as a stunning 3.4 billion people are expected to watch some of the World Cup over the next two weeks. (Compare that to the 150 million or so who watched the Super Bowl, if you want to talk scale.)

I watched much of the opening round streamed on YouTube TV, the quality was great. This morning, on my CTV, I’m watching the Golf Channel on YouTube TV and the World Cup match between Uruguay and Egypt on my iPhone via the Fox Sports app and – again – the quality is amazing. My only hang up – authentication, the bane of any user having to prove they have the appropriate credentials needed to watch. Sigh.

But that should change as we move further away from delivery via traditional channels and deeper into the OTT world we’re heading toward.

And it will change as more premium sports event go over the top.

Discovery last week, for example, agreed to a deal for rights across all platforms outside the United States with the PGA Tour. The $2 billion agreement runs from 2019 through 2030 and includes approximately 2,000 hours of content from 40+ PGA TOUR events and nearly 150 tournaments per year, including The Players Championship, FedExCup Playoffs, and the Presidents Cup. Discovery will use a combination of sublicensing, advertising, affiliate and digital subscription revenues to monetize the content, as it is doing with the Olympics.

And, of course, there’s Amazon’s deal for a handful of English Premier League games. Amazon has exclusive rights to livestream 20 games – two-weekend’s worth of matches – which it’ll add to its UK rights to US Open Tennis streaming and UK rights to the ATP World Tour.

While most of the World Cup and U.S. Open play will be consumed on traditional TV sets, a lot of that viewing will be on virtual MVPDs, and a lot more will be on computer screens at work and on smartphones and tablets.

Both Discovery and Amazon – as well as any sports rights holder – are looking at sports as extraordinarily valuable original content – the real coin of the realm in the current state of the digital video industry. Original content is crucial to attracting and engaging consumers, to really being able to exert some control over customer churn.

The deals to bring more premium sports over the top is an indication of just how far we’ve come in the streaming world. Just a couple of years ago, sports rights were seen as the last bastion of pay-TV, the one set of content rights the industry would never give up to OTT players because the immediacy of sport and the five-nines delivery of pay-TV operators made for a strong relationship.

Obviously, quality live streaming increasingly has become the status quo, and sports content rights have begun to migrate across that artificial line of traditional and next-gen distribution.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn