Connect with us

International Circuit

Subscription expert says sports broadcast bundles overwhelm consumers

When it comes to sports, the current buzzword in the broadcast game is “bundling.”

Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery announced in February plans to launch Venu Sports, promoted as a “big deal for cord-cutters” who seek sports coverage in one place.

The parent companies of ESPN, Fox Sports and TNT Sports next announced plans to provide their combined inventory in a sports streaming app.

Comcast packaged Peacock with Netflix and Apple TV+ in a bundle called StreamSaver, offered to customers at a discounted price compared to purchasing the three separately.

Companies, leagues and conferences hope for a subscriber boon from such packaging plans, but an expert on how and why people subscribe to such services said the rush toward bundling has left consumers hovering between “confusion and annoyance.”

“I’ve watched the unbundling/bundling dance, and they both make sense,” said Robbie Kellman Baxter, an expert on subscription pricing and membership models who hosts the podcast, “Subscription Stories.” “You unbundled so you only pay for what you need, but then you bundle again because you’re like ‘It’s just too complicated. I want things in one place; I want consistency, but sometimes I want a variety.’ We keep going back and forth and right now it’s very hard on consumers.”

The appetite for live and archived sports content has never been greater and mark the next great leap forward for sports consumption. It’s been just over 80 years since NBC’s first live sports broadcast of a college baseball game and 60 years since the first NFL championship game aired on the same network.

In that time consumers have experienced sports coverage through small regional sports cable systems, the nationalization of local sports through networks like TBS in Atlanta and WGN in Chicago. ESPN brought a national sports expansion before sports faced the conference surge with offerings like the Big Ten Network and the Longhorn Network covering only the University of Texas.

That evolution has also carried consumers from free network television to cable systems that were criticized for forcing customers to pay high costs for channels they may never watch. Throw in pay-per-view and now spin-off network apps like Peacock (from NBC) and Paramount (from CBS) and it’s easy to see why viewers are feeling overwhelmed, according to Kellman Baxter.

Consumer frustrations stem, she added, from a lack of understanding where to find the content that was once readily available in a single location and is now spread across multiple apps and streaming services.

She cited the example of an NFL game, which was formerly viewed on network television or a cable channel like ESPN. Now consumers must figure out which service owns the content they seek—ranging from network to cable channels to streamers like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

Media deals are also forcing fans into the subscription game, if they want to keep watching the teams they love. Consider the Big Ten’s seven-year agreement with Fox, CBS and NBC that runs through the end of 2029-’30 and will bring in more than $7 billion.

The catch: Fans must now navigate games airing on all three networks and subscribe to Peacock, NBCUniversal’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, which in 2023 made the Ohio State at Purdue football the first-ever Buckeye game exclusively streamed.

The pull of an individual game on a new app is intended to build a relationship with consumers, Kellman Baxter said.

“It’s about acquisition and trial with the hope of retention,” she said. “Many of us signed up during COVID for Disney+ because we wanted to see Hamilton. Now they hope we stay for princess movies, for the National Geographic Channel and a whole bunch of other stuff that we kind of got sucked into. Everybody’s grabbing bits that they think will attract new audiences.”

In addition to a growth in app subscriptions, current trends may actually spell an end to the free network sports content the public has enjoyed for decades, according to Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University.

“The era where we watch free stuff over the air is going to be gone very soon,” he said. “We all better be ready to spend some money at some point.”

McCall said he is concerned with the free-market ramifications of packaging deals among broadcast competitors, which he said will ultimately reduce choice and increase costs to the measure that prompted people to cancel their cable in the first place.

“At least with cable we had a package and independent channels,” he said. “Now as a consumer you are going to have to decide what bundle has which stuff. And you are not going to be able to get by with one bundle. For sports consumers who need to purchase all the bundles they need for the content they want, you are potentially going to be running into some big fees.”

Kellman Baxter said the new model may require sports consumers passionate about a specific team to sit down at the beginning of the season and map out what they services will need to get the content they seek. Multiple bundles are likely on the horizon for viewers and those with the best offerings and pricing will rise to the top.

Right now, she said, sports fans are “in the messy middle,” and that messiness is compromising the very elements that made subscriptions appealing in the first place.

“The whole point of subscriptions is you want people to relax into the relationship the way most of us did with cable,” Kellman Baxter said. “We said to ourselves, ‘This seems fair. I’m getting plenty of stuff. I’m not going to really look at my bill that much. I think this is the best deal for a person like me.’

“Instead nobody’s relaxing into this relationship.” Forbes

Copyright © 2023.Broadcast and Cablesat

error: Content is protected !!