NBC sports executive discusses future of live streaming sports

It’s no secret that the times haven’t been kind to cable television.

There’s no question viewership is down, especially among the younger generation. Stats show they’re watching about six hours less of television per week.

But here’s the conundrum: people are still viewing their shows and sporting events. They’re just getting it via non-traditional ways, whether it’s via a streaming device, phone or iPad.

Sports are especially studying ways to make money off the newest TV-watching trend. It was a hot topic Sunday at SXSW during a panel discussion “Live Sports and Cordcutters, the Future of Streaming.”

Rob Simmelkjaer oversees NBC sports ventures. He talked about how his network successfully made every event at last year’s Olympics available to stream. NBC has similar plans for its coverage of next year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

There are plans to make other, lesser watched sports available to American viewers, including cycling races and rugby matches.

But Simmelkjaer said streaming still is a small part of what NBC Sports does. He likened it to a body part.

“It’s our toe,” he said. “It’s not anything more than a toe. It probably won’t be anything more than a foot in the near future.”

But live streaming sports is becoming more lucrative for Twitter, which secured the rights to stream Thursday night NFL games this past fall. The move served multiple dynamic purposes. Users were able to watch the game while interacting with other passionate fans. It almost was akin to watching your favorite team at a bar, discussing key plays over a beer.

Andrew Barge, who manages Twitter’s relationships with its sports partners, believes the streaming trend will feature more personalized content. He predicts a user will be able to watch highlights of his fantasy team’s players with their stats superimposed on the video.

Streaming also would allow networks to tap into a new, burgeoning e-sports market. There might be 2 million viewers who tune into an NFL exhibition game, but 35 million will watch the League of Legends Championship Series on Twitch.

Currently, sports streaming tends to supplement a fan’s experience, a secondary screen allowing for highlights and behind-the-scenes information.

That should change.

“Ultimately,” Simmelkjaer said, “the screens will start merging.”

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