Is YouTube taking over TV in sport? Digital transformations in the sports media industry

For many decades TV has been the main media for consuming and watching live sport, but with the digital transformations taking place over the last few years in the sports media industry maybe it is possible to argue that new entrants such as YouTube have the potential to replace and take over the position as the primary medium for the consumption and production of sport.

In this just published academic paper «From television to YouTube: digitalised sport mega-events in the platform society» [free access here] Jan Andre Lee Ludvigsen and myself have showed how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has use YouTube as a media platform to complement TV in the double production of media events like the Olympic Games. We argue that because of YouTube’s digital affordances such as capacity for interactivity, on-demand and real-time access [streaming], co-production of content by all users, and hybrid modes of communication, it has transformed the mediation of the Olympics in four key areas: power (in)equality; social integration and identities; social change and development; and time/space experiences.

By analysing the content shared by the IOC in their two official YouTube channels «Olympics» and «IOC Media» it was possible to see how those four key areas were represented.

For instance, the sheer growth of YouTube as a platform over the years [platform scaleability] and the winner-takes-all mentality [algorithm logic] mean that the IOC had to constantly adapt their content production to what the platform [YouTube] and its gatekeepers [engineers and users] consider as the most engaging type of content. In a way, even though the IOC now is less dependent on other media such as TV to connect with global audiences, it becomes now more dependent on YouTube and its algorithm.

In terms of social integration and identities the IOC created different YouTube playlists for particular markets, being them either based on language or nationality. While YouTube is available almost all over the world, the decision by the IOC to focus on particular languages/nationalities possibly represent their strategic vision to what markets are more important to engage with. This is especially true if we take into account that those playlists did not share the same number of available videos in each one.

While social change is at the heart of the Olympic philosophy [Olympism], the videos and playlists associated to the many different programmes within the Olympic Movement were relegated to the less followed and possibly less known «IOC Media» YouTube channel. In a way, by storing those videos in this channel it somehow fails to engage and reach wider global audiences.

And finally in relation to time/space experiences while the IOC has produced and shared on YouTube on average at least two videos per day since the creation of the channels, unsurprisingly there are production peaks that coincided with every Olympic Games, but above all in particular with the Summer ones.

In sum, while TV is possibly still the main media for consuming live sport, it is undeniable that YouTube provides a very credible alternative for the consumption of sport and in particular of the Olympic Games. In a way, while YouTube has not yet take over TV in terms of live broadcasting (or streaming) of the Olympic Games it does provide a space where other type of content can be consumed during the four year period between each edition [Olympiad].

Do you think that in the not so far future YouTube will take over TV in sport? Or is TV here to stay forever? Or maybe, are we going to witness the emergence of new platforms such as the metaverse?

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