Fortnite is Eating Sports Broadcasters' Lunch
Our Immersive Media research shows that what comes next in sports media needs to be "accessible, social, and interactive" to be truly immersive. These three essential pillars will shape the future of lean-in media that younger audiences expect. That's why at the Sports Innovation Lab we use competitive videogame trends to help sports media leaders see what's coming next and prepare for media's evolution.
The technology that needs to come together to make traditional sports broadcasts more accessible, social, and interactive is not trivial. OTT platforms, video compression, advanced workflow and automation tools, machine learning, computer vision, etc. There are hundreds of companies working on addressing these opportunities. We know because we're actively tracking them in our market intelligence platform.
Despite all the energy and investment in this space, some media companies aren't moving fast enough. They play the fast-follower card and assume that when these technologies go mainstream, they'll have the opportunity to make the right moves. Before they invest, they need to see the end game. Well, we believe the end game case study is here. It's Fortnite. If you're a parent of gamers, it's likely already in your living room.
Here's what Fortnite is doing that sports media is not:
- Fortnite is squad-based and social. Fortnite gamers find each other because the game knows who is online and leverages existing social networks. They can invite each other, and they show up together to compete. Like walking through a sports tunnel, they're united in their entrance as part of a team in a competitive field of a hundred. They descend together into battle, and they support each other. They talk to one another using headsets. Despite the affinity sports fans have with their fellow supporters, sports viewing is not like this yet. Few OTT platforms are at the scale that they can determine which friends are also watching the game or allow fans to invite their friends to a live stream, or allow them to chat and interact with one another.
- Fortnite is time-based and that escalates excitement. Players can't hide out and stall for long (visit the mound, foul excessively, take a dive, call timeouts) because the game continuously reduces the size of the playing field. Fortnite escalates the intensity of the game by pushing players closer together. We can draw parallels in sport to how the NHL changed up overtime, and how the MLB reduced the number of mound visits, but Fortnite's escalation is much more powerful and exciting to fans.
- Fortnite doesn't end for losers. Gamers who get eliminated still have a reason to hang around and watch the competition. We've watched players put down their controller and use spectator mode to watch, coach, or trash talk teammates or other players. Think about how this translates to fans who see their team eliminated or their fantasy player injured: what is media doing to proactively keep that fan engaged?
- Fortnite incorporates with other media touchpoints. When a professional Premier League soccer player celebrates a goal doing a dance that is in Fortnite, you know that the game has penetrated the pop cultural conscious. Epic Games, the developers of Fortnite, have done a remarkable job integrating memes, dances, current events, crossover content (Thanos from the latest Marvel Studios Infinity War movie is in the game for a brief period of time), and other cultural touchstones to keep their game relevant and cool. It's a strategy other leagues should take note of and incentivize their athletes to have more fun with the culture they want their game to be a part of.
- Fortnite is highly accessible. You can play it on your mobile phone, gaming console, or PC. There are no blackout dates, no restrictions on where or when you can play, and the game is 100% free.
It's easy for sports broadcasters to dismiss this analysis as comparing apples (videogames) and oranges (live sports), but that's a mistake. Twitch, the largest videogame streaming platform in the world, is experimenting with how to incorporate more interactivity and social engagement through their service. Videostreaming technology companies like StageTen, Maestro.io, and Promethean.tv are already producing interactive tools that layer on top of livestreams to allow viewers to interact and communicate with one another.
As succesful as Fortnite is, it's also not really unique. It builds on and borrows from other very popular Battle Royale style games, and lately it seems that there's a new Battle Royale game coming out every week. Other videogame developers have been, and continue to explore how to incorporate spectator mechanics into their games, to extend the playing experience into a viewing experience from inside the game. It's a well-established system from many esports titles (Call of Duty, CounterStrike, Halo) that is finding new life, and new justification, in large-scale multiplayer games like Fortnite.
Videogames provide a window into younger audiences, and showcase technology and capabilities that will impact all of media. Sports media companies ignoring these developments coming out of the videogame industry do so at their own peril.
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