Rights fees for sporting events have steadily escalated, as
live sports are one of the few television properties seen as
DVR-proof. Now the search for programming that people will watch
in real time has led major broadcasters -- including
ESPN -- to video games.
Previously the domain of online-only broadcasters like
Twitch.TV, live video game tournaments made the jump to a more
traditional platform when ESPN aired The International 4, the
world championship of the popular game
, on its digital ESPN3 service. ESPN treated the tournament the
same way it would a traditional sporting event. There was an
anchor desk, commentators, and all the trappings of big-time
The move suggests that the Worldwide Leader in Sports sees
that e-sports may be the next big thing. Twitch, which is in the
process of being bought out by
for a reported $1 billion, is the fourth-leading
website in peak Internet traffic in the United States,
according to stats shared by the company. The
site regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of
viewers for major events -- not NFL or NBA numbers, but above the
average Major League Soccer telecast.
MLS recently renewed its TV deal in the United States for $90
million a year.
It's possible that rights to televising the most popular video
game tournaments and championships may be worth even
more than the soccer league's. One of the top events of the year,
League of Legends
season three world championship, was watched by more people
than the NBA finals, MLB World Series, and BCS national
championship, according to
How many people are watching other people play video
Twitch offers everything from small-time players sharing gameplay
video to high-end tournaments featuring the top players in the
world. This has made the site incredibly popular, placing it
, which has 32% of U.S. peak Internet traffic,
, with 22%, and
, which has 4.3%. Twitch's 1.7% puts it ahead of Hulu,
, among others.
While it may seem silly to some folks, video games are big
business, and Millenials watch them in the same way Baby Boomers
watch baseball. As traditional sports fans die off and more young
gamers come of age, the audience for e-sports should continue to
grow. That might mean starting on platforms like Twitch.TV and
ESPN3, but eventually, e-sports highlights may appear on ESPN's
flagship alongside traditional sports. It sounds crazy, but the
same might have been said of poker not so long ago.
There is big money here
The team that won The International 4 took home more
than $5 million in prize money, four times the
$1.6 million Rory McIlroy earned by winning the British Open,
Until now, rights fees have been done on ad-share-based deals.
But going forward, it seems likely that there will be multiple
suitors, leading to escalating prices for rights to the most
"ESports is about to leave its niche surrounding," Jong Hwan
Lee, CEO of Clauf, which owns new eSports platforms ESGN and ESGN
TV, was quoted in
. "The day will come when eSports will be a widely accepted
It might be a few years before e-sports prove they have as
much market value as some traditional sports, but it seems like
that day is coming eventually. It's likely also helped by the
fact that the current digital outlets for electronic sports
understand their audience in a way that few traditional sports
do. While the recent World Cup telecasts did little to explain
the complexities of the game to newcomers, a separate stream for
new watchers aired for The International
That could help bring in new fans, increasing the audience and
the value of rights going forward.
As TV networks and online broadcasters keep searching for ways
to get people watching in real time -- where they actually see
commercials -- it seems likely that e-sports will grow as a
spectator event and a television property. The value of rights
fees may not rise to National Football League levels, but they
should steadily increase as audiences grow.
Your cable company is scared, but you can get rich
You know cable's going away. But do you know how to
profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had.
Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And
when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit.
for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and
Will e-Sports Broadcast Rights Be Valuable?
originally appeared on Fool.com.
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