Romney’s research focuses on the changes sports media needs to make to appeal to younger audiences
School of Communications professor Miles Romney was invited to present at the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) 2019 Conference in Las Vegas on April 6-9. Romney’s presentation will be based on his new book chapter titled “Tune it or Stream it? Can Millennials and the Internet save ESPN?”
The BEA is an international academic organization that focuses on facilitating insights into media production. Each year, their convention features over 250 sessions on media pedagogy, collaborative networking events, hands-on technology workshops, research and creative scholarship.
Romney’s book chapter looks at how sports broadcasting networks will need to adapt in order to connect with millennials.
“We know millennials are not going to sit down and watch TV,” said Romney, pointing out that a large number of millennials don’t even own a TV. Instead, younger audiences are more attracted to streaming services like Hulu and Netflix.
Romney, along with other researchers, surveyed hundreds of college-age students and found that they primarily watch videos over the internet and that only 6 percent of college students watch anything via traditional stations.
The researchers also looked into the students’ sports events viewing habits. They found that students preferred to watch sporting events online.
“What’s interesting is that students said that streaming services were more ‘where they were,’” said Romney. “It was easier for them to navigate the steaming services and, since a lot of them grew up with smartphones, the app process and interface makes a lot more sense to them.”
Beside growing up in a iPhone-filled world, Romney said that younger audiences also use streaming services because of peer influences. “Millennials and Gen Zers are almost 60 percent more likely to watch something if their friends are telling them to stream it,” said Romney. “It’s a kind of social experience for them, even more so than previous generations.”
The problem for sports broadcasters is learning how to adapt to the needs of these younger audiences. Romney suggested that there are four main steps they can take to appeal to Millennials and Gen Zers.
The first step broadcasters need to take would be to capitalize on the social influence factor that seems to capture the attention of younger audiences. One way to do this would be to use influencers to help disseminate information, said Romney.
Romney also said sports media companies need to become more accessible by creating apps and mobile-friendly sites. Creating good content that interests the younger audiences will also help boost their viewership.
“ESPN or other sports broadcasters can’t just use streaming services as a dumping ground for the content they don’t want to put on the air or on their main channel,” said Romney. “Millennials and Gen Zers aren’t going to pay $12 a month for content that they’re not interested in, so [sports networks] have to move or migrate their marquee stuff onto the streaming platforms.”
The biggest factor, however, is the price. “We found that 30 percent of college students are not willing to pay for a platform themselves,” said Romney. “Instead, we found that they were borrowing logins from their peers or family members to stream.”
The key for sports broadcasting networks will be finding the “sweet spot” where networks can balance generating revenue with offering younger audiences a dollar amount that doesn’t appear too expensive.
In surveys, Romney found that the sweet spot is about $10 or less. “Thirty to 40 percent of students said they were they were more likely to consider the service if it was between that dollar range,” said Romney. “Once you start getting into $12, $13, $14 a month, things can get a lot trickier.”
Although these changes may be difficult for sports networks to make, they may not have much of a choice. The freedom that online platforms offer users will likely force networks to adapt.
“It’s just a better experience online,” said Romney. “I think a lot of sports networks are going to gravitate to [online content].”