Sports Watch Parties: newly-launched services and their performance

Watchers
10 min readAug 26, 2022

Why have various companies begun to launch group chats for the co-watching of sports? During the pandemic viewers were unable to get to the stadium, but is this really the only reason?

Of course not. Co-watching was relevant before self-isolation and continued after the end of lockdown. But why? What does co-watching offer to the platforms which choose to pursue it?

To find out, we picked some key examples, and wish to share with you some information about how they were launched and how viewers reacted.

A Pre-Pandemic Case

Company: Eleven Sports
Service:
private rooms for watching content with friends and public rooms with invited speakers

Before the pandemic, in 2018 Eleven Sports and Reactoo were among the first who partnered to integrate an OTT video Watch Together feature. Users in Belgium and Portugal had the opportunity to create online rooms for watching games together with up to 5 friends. In implementing this feature, Eleven Sports based its design on the gaming experience. The mechanics are simple and we will see them again and again: subscribers create a room and share the link with friends. The sports broadcast is displayed on the screen with participants’ video and audio streams, making it possible to simultaneously watch and discuss a match, while observing each other’s reactions in real time.

Initially, this feature was available only on the web. The main goal was to increase users’ engagement and encourage sports fans to subscribe to the service.

When Eleven Sports launched social features, the concept was quite revolutionary and not entirely obvious, given that users could already discuss games on social media or gather together on Zoom. But Anouk Mertens, Head of Studios at Eleven Group, believed (and still believes) that sports platforms need to be a one-stop shop, with all these features combined at a single location.

During the launch, Eleven Sports was planning to extend functionality further to incorporate e-commerce, betting, gamification and much more, in order to maximize fan engagement. They also had the goal of making linear television more technically savvy.

Precisely for this reason, Eleven Sports is moving forward, and trying various different approaches to social features. In 2019, they held a VIP Watch Together event around the El Clasico game. Viewers could join the online room, watch the live match and share emotions. There were also special invitees, including the coach of the Belgian national team Johan Walem, a former Belgian national player named Walter Baseggio, and Belgian actor Erico Salamone, all of whom participated in video chat.

British Pandemic Cases

Company: BT Sports
Service:
Co-watching of Premier League matches in private rooms in the app

Watch Together feature by Sceenic, allows viewers to watch games with friends and discuss it in built-in video chats in the BT Sport app on iOS and Android. BT launched a beta-version of the service in 2020, a year earlier than planned, when fans lost stadium access because of the pandemic.

Prior to the 2021–2022 season, the full Watch Together service became available on mobile devices as a part of the new platform’s featured Matchday Experience, which allowed fans to view secret places within stadiums, watch match review in 360 mode, and learn extra game details, such as player statistics.

Any BT Sport subscriber can create his or her own online Watch Together room and invite three other users to watch with them.

Initially, BT Sport subscribers were only able to watch Premier League games; at present they can use the feature for any event broadcasted on four different BT Sport channels.

Company: SkySports UK
Service:
Fanzone private rooms with interactive tools.

SkySports used the brand “Fanzone” for their co-watching function. Previously, Fanzone had been a legendary show during which two fans supporting opposing teams commented on a match.

Sky Sports Fanzone gives viewers the opportunity to invite up to six people to private video chats and watch games together, while chatting by text, as well as using voice and video. They can also change the sound of the stadium broadcast, post predictions, join polls using Sky Sports stats to support their arguments, and compete in Fanzone Picks wagers (e.g. how many yellow cards will there be? who will score first? who will be the last to score?).

Users can create rooms at any moment in a match, but not earlier than 15 minutes before the start. Fanzone rooms close 15 minutes after the final whistle. Users need not invite friends to participate in Fanzone Picks; viewers can do this alone and then estimate how much smarter they are then other participants.

EURO in Hong Kong

Company: Now TV
Service: Watch Party private groups for watching EURO 2020 (which actually took place in 2021)

In the summer of 2021, the Hong Kong TV-channel Now TV partnered with Sceenic to launch a Watch Party feature during UEFA Euro 2020. Just a few days before the start of the tournament, the TV channel claimed that its local viewers would be able to invite friends to watch Euro football games together in real time. During the competition, the feature was available in Now Player on iOS and Android, as well as on the web. UEFA EURO 2020 pass holders also had access.

When EURO finished, Hong Kong Now TV reported that the experience was successful and decided to add the feature for Premier League games, “enabling us to expand the football viewer base to non-football fans and create new advertising opportunities”.

Spanish VIP Watch Parties

Company: La Liga
Service: Private Watch Parties for special events

La Liga began by testing their Watch Party service in Northern America, with a special event for sponsors, influencers, and the most loyal fans. It wasn’t called a VIP event for nothing: participation was limited to only 200 guests.

Initially, this feature was conceived of as a replacement for the offline experience unavailable during the pandemic. The experiment proved successful; the concept also works well outside of lockdown conditions. Thus, in February 2021, La Liga launched the platform for viewers from around the world.

Sport fans got the opportunity to communicate with each other and with broadcast guests, join polls and contests, and use various other interactive tools. Events for which La Liga used Watch Party showed a high level of engagement: 74,5% of viewers wrote into chats, and users sent an average of 11 messages per match. The service also turned out to be profitable from a business perspective: La Liga has provided its commercial partners with new ways to stay in touch and interact with fans.

For example, together with key-sponsor Verizon, La Liga provided an opportunity for 20 clients to watch El-Classico in an online room with Real Madrid ex-midfielder, Steve McManaman.

Banco Santander was VIP Watch Party’s sponsor in Spain and Europe, and Dazn, Puma and Budweiser were sponsors in Germany. On the 5th anniversary of the La Liga India office opening, another VIP Watch Party was held, featuring co-viewing of the Seville derby. The opportunity to participate in an online party was provided by MTV and Boot Select.

Unlike other platforms and companies, the Watch Party feature, integrated into La Liga via a partnership with LiveLike, is not available on a permanent basis. Co-viewing is available for especially important events. In February 2021, the first extended party was held for fans in Japan, who watched a match between SD Eibar and SD Huesca in the company of Diego Forlan. There have also been events for viewers from Germany and Brazil. One recent event was a joint viewing of the El Gran Derbi for South African viewers during the opening of a football school.

The social features boom in Thailand

Company: Thai ОТТ-platform TrueID TV
Service: live chats for sport events

The idea of making it possible to discuss Premier League matches with other spectators “as if in the stands” turned out to have milage not only in England, but also far beyond its borders. If British fans had to wait for the end of the pandemic so that they could hug while watching the London derby, fans in other countries had only ever been able to watch from home; here, of course, social features also come in handy.

Chats for Premier League viewers launched by the OTT service TrueID in partnership with Amity, allow users to communicate. Thai sport fans immediately joined in with great pleasure. The peak number of users for the Liverpool — Chelsea game chat was 92 thousand. From there, numbers have only continued to grow.

90 days after the feature’s launch, user retention had increased by 20%, then True Digital realized that their users wanted to remain in touch, indicating the need to further develop social features. Initially, chats were added to for various different content types including also films, series, and TV shows. Chats became available on various different platforms — e.g., users were able to scan QR codes and exchange their reactions right on the TV screen. Then, because they were receiving 700 million messages per month, True Digital decided not to limit social tools to linked events, but to redesign its app into a super app in which users can not only discuss content, but also build communities for constant communication.

Chats built around the Olympics

Company: Match TV
Service: live chats for real-time broadcasts

In February 2022, Watchers launched text chats for communication during the Olympics being broadcast on Match TV. Chats were available on mobile web. Users had to scan a QR code on a TV screen to get in, or click an invitation link.

32% of the users who scanned the code sent messages. In addition to text, users could send huge disappearing emojis. Chats were enabled 15 minutes before the beginning of the Olympics day and closed 15 minutes after the end of the last broadcast.

Other cases

In 2020, The National Football League (NFL) and Yahoo Sports launched private rooms for co-watching. Users could invite three friends. This feature was available in the app and on the service’s web version.

The American OTT platform FloSports and LiveLike, integrated a co-viewing function so that fans could communicate with each other during broadcasts. This, in turn, increased both the number of subscriptions and advertising revenue.

FloSports provides chats only for top events, including the Olympics, 2022 NCAA, and Nascar. Users can join chats in the FloSports app on Android and iOS or on FloSports channels on Smart TV.

In 2020, the Facebook Venue app was launched in partnership with NASCAR, allowing users to interact with commentators during broadcasts. During races, commentators asked questions and invited fans to take polls. Fans could communicate with each other and use several platforms during the race, choosing which commentator or expert they liked most

In 2021, Dutch broadcaster NPO and Sceenic launched private rooms for co-watching the Tour de France on the NPO Start platform. Cyclist Michael Boogerd often appeared in these rooms and, if allowed in, communicated with viewers, watched the race, and took selfies.

In 2019, Disney-owned Hotstar, based in India, launched social features for the main cricket league, Indian Premier League.

So, seems like the beginning of the sports season and this crucial World Cup year is the best time to integrate social tools on your platform. If you really want to interact sports fans, increase their loyalty and allow them to built communities not onlu around sports events in general, but around your service also.

The start of the sports season and this crucial World Cup year is the best time to introduce social tools to your platform.

Take a closer look to this opportunity if you want to build interaction between sports fans, increase their loyalty and allow them to built communities — not only around sports events in general, but also around your service.

Watchers is a white label solution, which provides the ability to create online rooms on your video platform. In these online rooms users will be able to watch content simultaneously while chatting by text, or voice, to boost your business making use of social tools.

If you want to learn more or to integrate our solution into your platform, сontact us here, or write email: contact@watchers.io

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