The scale of the challenge facing sports broadcasters in combating piracy has been made clear in figures that show more than half of young people watch illegal streams of live events.
Research into the viewing habits of “millennials”, those aged between 18 and 24, has found piracy has become normalised among this generation while the take-up for traditional subscription services is far less than among older viewers.
The figures, which are likely to only confirm suspicions that viewing habits among younger people have changed dramatically from their parents’ generation, were compiled in a study of 1,500 people, 1,000 of whom were millennials, conducted by the Sport Industry Group.
According to the survey, 54% of millennials have watched illegal streams of live sports and a third admit to regularly watching them, compared to only 4% of over-35s. Eighteen to 24-year-olds are also half as likely to have subscriptions to pay TV services such as Sky or BT Sport (12-24%).
The chairman of the SIG, Nick Keller, said of the findings: “Unless we are careful we will have a generation of young people who consider pirated sports content to be the norm. That’s a significant challenge not just for rights holders but the whole sector – from sponsors and athletes to ticketholders.
“It’s in everyone’s interests, not least the fans who enjoy a quality product, to make sure that the value of sport is maintained by delivering a quality product through the best means to appeal to the audience.”
Quite what the solution to the problem will be remains to be seen as, according to the study, young people are not adopting the sports industry’s more recent innovations either. Millennials are more likely to use online-only services such as Now TV than their elders. These figures are still small, however, with only 5% taking up the option (compared to 2% of non-millennials). Meanwhile, only 2% of respondents between 18-24 said they sourced their sports entertainment through clips on social media.
The study’s findings follow a crackdown on piracy by the Premier League, with the League determined to preserve the lucrative broadcast rights that have brought such riches to the game. In an interesting detail, however, the study found that while millennials still make football their favoured sport, they do so in smaller numbers; 47% of 18-24s say they watch it, compared to 60% of over 35s.
While 20% of millennials say they do not follow sport at all (an answer given by only 9% of over-35s) the sports they do follow are changing. Boxing, ice hockey and mixed martial arts are all more popular among younger viewers while rugby league, horse racing and athletics all show significant decline.