Death Of The Pundit

Liam Harrington


A demanding new generation of fans is rapidly transforming the way sport is viewed, says UNILAD’s Liam Harrington. Addicted to action, allergic to pundits and easily bored, today’s fans are forcing broadcasters to consider radical new solutions, including half-time shows, behind-the- scenes cameras, fan TV and innovative new formats.

Generation X is a very patient generation. It’s an age group that’s enjoyed all the sofa has to offer, buying heavily into the development of televised sport formats and the analysis and punditry that comes with it.

But Generation Y, the social generation, is different. We’ve grown up bombarded by massive amounts of daily media content. If a sport doesn’t immediately grab our attention, we’ll switch it off and move to the next best thing.

We don’t feel the need for sports pundits and their opinions on social media. That kind of ponderous, televised sport has become old-school and irrelevant: it needs to change. When we’re watching sport in the pub and the half-time break arrives, no one strains to hear what Michael Owen is talking about – we’re off to the bar to get another drink.

That’s why sports broadcasters now need to revamp their schedules to keep their viewers interested, bringing forward more innovative ideas: from half-time entertainment, to behind-the-scenes cameras, content from previous matches, or fan interaction.

“The half-time break arrives and no one strains to hear what Michael Owen is talking about”

I say this with confidence, because at UNILAD – the number one global content publisher on social media – we’ve seen the statistics and we understand how this new generation consumes its media – and it’s very different to the one before. Our core users are between 18 and 25; they engage quickly, but are swift to switch off if nothing is happening.

Our experience analysing the viewing habits of our users – across our channels with a worldwide reach of one billion people a week – tells us that if the coverage is poor when you’re streaming live sport online then viewers will turn it off and not come back.

“You’ll get a shorter show, but higher engagement and a more continuous action event”

For years, television could afford to give their audiences a long build- up to their sports events, but now it’s all change. Instead, TV has been relegated to becoming the “second screen”, behind mobiles, which means anyone broadcasting sport today will have to radically rethink how they curate their content.


The first FA Youth Cup match streamed by UNILAD

In football, it means doing more than filling the gaps and providing something more engaging than three blokes talking about the first half. We’ve already tested the appetite of our audience for this very successfully with an FA Youth Cup match between Aston Villa and Manchester City, which got 1.1 million views. We’re now working with a number of organisations on how we can further innovate live sports formats.

But these lessons don’t only apply to football.

In boxing, a break of a few minutes in the live action can mean a streaming audience dwindles from 30,000 down to 8,000 in moments. Boxers need to be ready to follow the last fight and get into the ring quickly, just as the next batsman in cricket would be padded up ready to come out to play.

Cricket has successfully found a huge new audience by creating a shorter, more exciting brand of the game in Twenty20. Many sports may need to follow suit if they’re to be a success online and on social media. It’s all about keeping the competition intense. You’ll get a shorter show, but higher engagement and a more continuous action event.

At UNILAD, we’ve begun to experiment with developing a range of alternative live events that might also capture fans’ interest, like mixed martial arts, where we’ve already reached an audience of over nine million people.

“Anyone broadcasting sport today will have to radically rethink how they curate their content”

eSports are a huge growth area where we are actively recruiting. We already have the UK’s best FIFA player, UNILAD Gorilla, on our books and it’s an area where we’re looking to create our own competition formats and, in future, perhaps even fill out stadiums. Millions of kids love it because they can relate to the games, admire the skills required at the highest level and aspire to being there themselves.

We know there are lots of traditional sports that would like to test the waters and understand how their sport is received online and in social media. The answer is as simple as feeding the sports they currently produce into our online platforms and monitoring the results and engagement levels. Afterwards, we bring the people who hold the rights into the office and say: “How can we all work together, so we actually make this better?”