Digital Trends 2023
Every year our team breaks down the technologies and developments that will shape the digital landscape over the next 12 months. Explore the seven trends for 2023.
The membership wars
The sport broadcasting landscape has changed seismically in the last 12 months. Streaming is the battlefield. However, the popular shorthand of “streaming wars” to describe the ongoing tussle for attention and subscription revenues is outdated. “Membership wars” might be more appropriate.
That’s because the streamers are not just streamers – they’re utilities. No longer do we pay to subscribe to content. We pay to subscribe to a package from a utility provider, and sports rights are a key part of the bundle.
2022 saw a number of mergers, acquisitions and partnerships as even the biggest media companies brace for a landscape where there are a handful of major players offering broader packages to consumers.
Go big...or go different
No review of 2022’s tech trends can ignore the ongoing rise and rise of TikTok. Spearheaded by Gen Z users with a disdain for existing narratives and old media, we all know that TikTok has given rise to irreverent content.
Sports organizations have tried to ride this wave by embracing a new-found freedom in their content. From innovative ways of announcing news to recruiting comedians for individual skits to the Buffalo Bills leaning into meme culture. What we’re seeing is the slow death of repetitive, dull content where a win equals a “good week” and a loss equals a “bad week” for content.
Web3 becomes useful
Web3 in 2022 was a tale of two halves for the sports industry. In early 2022 there were countless examples of crypto-based projects, sponsorship deals and NFTs. Crypto.com became an F1 and FIFA World Cup sponsor, blockchain company Tezos became a Manchester United sponsor. Wimbledon, Man City, Red Bull Racing and Liverpool FC all sold NFTs on various marketplaces. Sorare, the digital trading card game backed by blockchain technology, signed deals with Serie A, MLB and the NBA.
For sport, it’s likely in 2023 that the innovation won’t be focused on using these new technologies solely to make money but instead to improve the relationship with fans and customers. The true artform is in building and fostering fan communities who connect around these themes.
AI and the future of content
2022 saw the emergence of exciting new forms of computer-generated content. There were early prototypes showing how AI engines may be able to create art and music, generate artificial influencers and celebrities and literally generate video from text. The technology has the potential to upend our notions of creativity, art, copyright and reality itself.
For several years we’ve grown comfortable with the idea that AI, or more specifically machine learning and natural language processing, can enable human-computer interaction, largely around text and speech.
In 2023 we will see the sports industry start to experiment with an exciting new toolkit for the evolution of its product, giving the industry ways of serving audiences that have been habituated by gaming.
D2C ≠ DIY
In 2022 it became an accepted norm that every rightsholder should have a direct-to-consumer strategy: a plan for how to understand, communicate and transact directly with fans.
From a revenue perspective, the D2C model looks appealing at first glance. The direct costs are also not eye-watering: a proliferation of digital technologies means that it’s never been easier to stream to, talk to and transact with customers. But it’s not that simple – while digital distribution may be cheap, don’t underestimate the real costs associated with D2C. Most of them lie with the C part.
Sport gets serious about communities
Twitter’s recent turbulence will have caused more than a few sports rights holders to stop and consider how they use that platform. The reality is that social media has never been about community for sports.
Social media can bring fans closer to the brand but it’s rarely about developing fan-to-fan relationships. No one builds a friendship with people they see in the comments under Instagram posts, because there’s no consistency in who you see there.
Additionally, sports have been told repeatedly that the most important metrics are the high-volume figures – impressions, followers, views, reactions – almost to the exclusion of anything else. Does this remain true?
Digital drives women's sport
The three factors that will continue to help propel equality and support the revenue associated with women’s sport are broadcast rights, attendance and sponsorship. The coverage in 2022 is not keeping pace with fandom along with sponsors looking for more, which normally means the new digital shiny object.
However, when we look at non-traditional media and specifically the digital angle, we start to see a glimmer of hope for the next 50 years. It is safe to say things can only go up from where they are now but digital will continue to drive the model for women’s sports through the likes of OTT platforms, social channels, NIL rights, the growth of women’s sport media platforms and sponsorship from brands seeking a direct connection to specific communities.