The Changing Face of Pro Golf Coverage

The Golf Channel’s “Spotlight Coverage” stream gives viewers coverage they wouldn’t see on the main channel.
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ORLANDO, FLA.—Although recent reports indicate that fewer people are playing golf, media coverage of the pros is more popular than ever, especially in the streaming domain.

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In 2014, Golf Channel’s free Golf Live Extra app served 100 million streams of live PGA coverage to mobile users. Three months into 2015, and app usage has increased by 30 percent over the same period last year, according to Jeff Cravens, general manager of digital media at the Golf Channel. At the same time, Golf Channel is streaming “Golf Live Extra” 24/7 at stream.golfchannel.com.

At press time, Fox Sports had not released details of its 2015 streaming golf coverage on desktops and mobile devices via the company’s Fox Sports Go website/app (www.foxsports.com/foxsportsgo), but Dan Bell vice president of communications confirmed for the sports network confirmed that every USGA Championship that Fox Sports broadcasts on the Fox Network or Fox Sports 1 will also be streamed on Fox Sports Go.

Starting with the Waste Management Phoenix Open in late January and continuing for all 19 PGA Tour events this year, CBS Sports’ golf coverage is being streamed live on “CBSSports.com” and “PGATOUR.com.” Live streaming is also available on the CBS Sports app for the iPhone, iPad and Android. A CBS Sports spokesperson told TV Technology that streaming coverage of PGA TOUR events on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports app is up 41 percent in unique users and 30 percent in views over last year.

ESPN views its streaming golf coverage as being part of the network’s multisport streaming mix. This is provided to desktops, mobile devices, Smart TVs, gaming consoles, and streaming sticks/boxes via WatchESPN (espn.go.com/watchespn). That said, Paul Melvin, senior director of communications for digital media/international/technology/X Games for ESPN, said that WatchESPN will have a complete streaming simulcast of Masters and Open coverage.

“In addition, our ESPN3 streaming channel will have added camera views from those both,” he said, adding that streaming video is central to ESPN’s business across platforms.

“In 2014, WatchESPN averaged 6.5 million monthly unique devices viewing content, up 70 percent from 2013,” Melvin said. “Viewers streamed WatchESPN programming for 12.9 billion minutes, 7.2 billion more minutes than the year before [up 126 percent].”

HUNGER FOR THE SPORT

The demand for streaming golf video by paid sports network subscribers makes it clear that golf is truly a 24/7 phenomenon, rather than a weekend TV pastime. This is because streaming video is such a bonus to golf fans: It gives them the sports and analysis they love whenever and wherever they want it.

At the same time, extending the reach of golf viewership beyond its traditional weekend slot helps boost audiences for actual cable/satellite TV broadcasts. “One important benefit of Golf Live Extra is it engages golf fans on Thursdays and Fridays during the workday or earlier in the day on Saturdays and Sundays when fans may be at busy with families and can’t be watching coverage on a traditional television,” said Cravens. “And the earlier we engage golf fans in a tournaments action, the more likely they are to tune into Golf Channel and NBC to see the conclusion of that day’s round and ultimately who wins the tournament.”

The result is a win-win-win for golf fans, the networks that broadcast it, and the sport itself.

MORE THAN CAN FIT ON TV

In many instances, the streaming video that a network offers online is just a sample of what it is providing on air. But the same is not true for streaming golf: Because of the number of holes and accompanying camera positions—plus the networks’ tendency to only follow the leaders—about 90 percent of live golf video never gets to air.

With streaming, networks have the option to stream footage of a specific set of holes as golfers play through, rather than just simulcasting what’s being shown on-air. They can also feature rarely-seen camera views, giving viewers not just another angle on the play, but something to look at on their second screens at home when the main screen loses their attention.

This is the kind of approach that ESPN pursued in its 2014 WatchESPN golf coverage. “We had a feed following prime groups, and a feed fixed on a key hole where a viewer could watch players/groups come through that hole throughout the day,” said Bell.

GETTING SOCIAL

One of the great benefits of streaming video is that it can be linked to social media, and tap into the interactions that social media fosters between viewers and network staff. Golf Channel has found this synergy to be a real force in driving users to its Golf Live Extra app/page and the network’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

“Golf lovers really like to discuss the game with each other, and to make contact with our commentators and analysts as well,” Cravens said. “This is why we have added golf instructors who fans can contact via social media in real time, in order to improve their games.”

The advent of streaming has been nothing but good for golf (and the networks that cover it). Its existence has allowed the sport to break out of its weekend straitjacket, and enhance the loyalty of its fan base through 24/7 content availability bolstered by social media interactions.

“It seems that the more golf content we make available, the more our viewers consume,” said Gofl Channel’s Jeff Cravens. “One just seems to drive the other!”