The role of social media in today’s society combined with significant increases in the quantity, quality and the availability of content is having a marked effect on the dynamic between parent brands and the personal brands of the stars they employ. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sports and media industry, and to discuss this topic, Savannah Group recently hosted a private dinner for senior executives in the sector. The topics of discussion focused on the role of content for these organisations; how they are looking to monetise their content and the carefully balanced dynamic between the commercial arm of the business and the talent they have within them.
 Guest speaker, author and near futurist Ade McCormack suggests that archaeologists of the future will look back on the current ‘digital age’ and record it as a time where humans were the most socially connected, yet most out of touch, with the very essence of what it is to be human. As a species we have evolved from hunter gatherers, to farmers, to factory workers, and now to office workers. Yet for millennials and to a greater extent generation Z, there is little appeal to follow in their parent’s footsteps, join a blue-chip organisation, climb the greasy pole along with everyone else and in doing so, sacrifice a life outside of work for seemingly little fulfilment. Instead, Ade suggests, these next generations are looking to rediscover what it is to be human: to be mobile, social, autonomous and creative. Instead of a career for life, they will have a life of careers.

Content Consumption Changes

 The view of the near future that Ade paints, helps to contextualise some of the trends that businesses are seeing. The sports and media industry are particularly good examples of where the content arms race is visibly creating an intense period of disruption as businesses battle each other for our attention. For example, although traditional broadcasters in the UK (like the BBC, ITV and Channel Four) still hold 80% of the market share, the rise of on-demand viewing services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, coupled with social media’s ‘snackable’ content is fulfilling the younger generation’s desire to have instant on-demand access to content.

The relationship between fans and content focussed businesses is also changing. The virtual gaming market for instance continues to rapidly expand, and games titles such as FIFA, Madden and NBA 2K are creating strong emotional connections for younger generations with the virtual players and their teams. These connections then follow through to their real-life counter parts as a curiosity and interest derived from a video game (e.g. Madden or NBA 2k) can then become an entry point for new fans into those sports franchises. Fans then start to consume more content of their favourite players and teams, start to watch and read associated news channels, and may even be monetised later in the funnel through merchandising, ticketing for a live game or paying for additional content.

The NBA have long recognised the iconic status their sports have within the US and have done exceptionally well commercialising almost every part of the game. The NBA use social media to share highlights clips, postgame conferences, photos of players and their kit, and videos of players behind the scenes to make the sport about much more than just what happens on the court.

It’s not just a change in online content consumption, the ‘live’ experience is also evolving. Sports franchises are starting to priorities the need to engage in a meaningful way with the ‘casual’ audiences rather than just appealing to the die-hard fans. Attracting a share of wallet from not only other on-the-pitch competitors, but other forms of weekend entertainment, such as theatre, theme parks, museums and cinemas. These ‘casual’ audiences want a different and often more polished experience, and as a result, sports businesses are compelled to invest in a new type of executive talent with a deep, understanding of how to create memorable and special experiences.

Personal Brand Power

A new reality for aspiring actors on the casting couch or artists looking to break into the music industry is that the size and demographic of an individual’s social media following is now deemed at least as important as creative talent and looks. Similarly, businesses across the sports and media industry are keen not just to add top talent to their roster, but to be able to leverage that individual’s social media footprint to draw in a new customer base.

Whether a media personality or an athlete with millions of social media followers, there is a carefully balanced dynamic between the personal brand and that of the parent brand. Many sporting organisations for example have expensive assets in the form of their players and a commercial imperative to sweat the ‘assets’ as much as possible. More time on camera equals more visibility of the parent brand and more commercial income, however this can create a strain. The business of sports is result orientated and while the performance management side of the business is tasked with short-term performance, this is often at odds with organisational commercial requirements which tend to be more medium to long-term. In the digital age, a balance of performance and commercialisation of assets needs to be achieved.

The Mission to Monetise Content

There is now a movement for content owners to develop direct commercial relationships with their consumers. As ‘Direct to Consumer’ or DTC grows in popularity as a commercial model, this process could essentially cut out consumer relationships with broadcasters.

A growing trend across sports is the popularity of packaged highlights rather than the full game experience. Ironically, greater connectivity is putting increased pressure on a consumer’s time and attention rather than alleviating it, leading to an increase in popularity for formats that are fast and easy to digest. Commercially, this is a challenge for broadcasters as a highlights package either costs less than a live sports package or are not charged for at all. It’s not for a want of trying – broadcasters and content producers have tried to increase prices for these types of packages, but the type of consumer who would rather watch highlights typically isn’t willing to spend much money to do so. Elsewhere in life however, consumers are expected to pay more for convenience so there is clearly a disconnect.

Monetising content effectively isn’t just an online based concern. In the US and the UK, sports clubs are continuing to invest heavily in their offline infrastructure, building stadiums that are not only bigger but are much more versatile. Meanwhile advances in technology such as in-stadia holograms or e-sports offer the chance to create alternative sporting experiences.

What Next?

As both parent brands and the brands of the talent they employ grow in size and power, so too does the attractiveness of leveraging these brands for increased commercial gain. It’s a delicate art however, balancing the motivations and aspirations of the individual personal brands while maintaining control as a parent brand and ensuring performance of the individual remains high.

The multitude of distribution channels for content have created a period of intense change and competition for content businesses as they look to further monetise while growing their audience and brand presence. Far from being over, the content arms race may only just be beginning.

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