The Digital Revolution: Is it a Disruption or an Augmentation of the Sports Industry?

This is part 4 of a 6 part series aiming to outline and analyse the media and digital transformations that have been prevalent in sport since its competitive creation, taking a more detailed look into football in the UK particularly.

If you have watched the video I created outlining the relationship between football in the UK and TV broadcasting, (you can find a link here) then you would know that TV has dominated the sports media industry for many years. However, the introduction and popularisation of digital media has the potential to alter this, and may already have done so (Hutchins & Rowe, 2009). Digital media already holds such a presence in our lives due to it’s accessibility and ability to fit into our contemporary lifestyles (Gantz & Lewis, 2014), however radio and television coincided since the 1960s (Hutchins & Rowe, 2009) so why can’t traditional and new media do the same?

Sport broadcasting is currently uniquely positioned within the transition from traditional media (TV, radio and newspapers) and the new digital entrants (digital streaming, social media and the world wide web) (López-González et al, 2017). And whilst the newer digital forms of media are not intended to replace older media entirely, rather act as accelerators and amplifiers, it is obvious to see tension between the two (McQuail and Deuze, 2020). Although, we can see older media formats attempt to develop new functions to meet the new digital demand, newer media formats are taking the forefront and are commonly associated with the obliteration of older media (Thorburn & Jenkins, 2004). Traditional media presents many barriers to audiences by tying them down to a limited number of channels and high subscription prices, something that digital media has almost abolished by incorporating fees into other online subscriptions or using a pay-to-watch system (Hutchins & Rowe, 2009).

For example, as you can see in the table below, to be able to watch all UK/European football on your TV it would set you back £50 a month (including free channels such as ITV or BBC), compared to the minuscule £7.99 a month from Amazon, which also includes all over prime benefits (unlimited one day shipping, music streaming, deals & offers on amazon products plus many more).

Sky Sports£25/month (basic package 2021)
BT Sports£25/month (basic package 2021)
Amazon Prime Subscription£7.99/month (first month free)
The price for sports broadcasting subscriptions as of their websites (8th March 2021)

In terms of sport, and it’s audiences, what does this mean? Well, sport itself is benefitting, with the aid of digital technologies, games are now fairer and allow for deeper levels of analysis. This can be said for the fans too, who have begun to watch live sports with an entirely new level of comprehension as replays and player analytics can be analysed in depth (Miah, 2017). What’s more, the digital revolution has provided opportunities for social change and promotes equality (Thorburn & Jenkins, 2004). As a result, players and fans have been subscribing to promoting social change and protests such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) have become prevalent within the UK football industry, with BLM shirts being worn by all professional footballers during games and all present taking the knee at the start of the game.

However, the digital revolution and disruption isn’t all good. With digital streaming comes a whole host of issues; buffering, limited content depending on geolocation, pirating (David & Millward, 2012; López-González et al, 2017). And of course the largest issue, the obliteration of the traditional broadcasting media. We should expect all media formats to converge at point, as digital media becomes our present and future.

How will digital media influence the future of media? More will be discussed in my next blog!

Until then, tell me what you think in the comments & don’t forget to give a thumbs up!

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