The dust has settled on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with the quadrennial tournament not only important for fans but also a major competition for broadcasters. For Qatar 2022, Bytedance’s short video platform Douyin (internationally TikTok) landed new media broadcast rights, becoming the first-ever social media platform to broadcast the FIFA World Cup live in China. Compared to the last World Cup, jointly broadcast by three major traditional platforms in CCTV, Migu, and Youku, Douyin’s performance data, growth, and viewership backed up its decision to purchase the live rights.
Douyin Leads Sports Media Rights Into New Era
China's rapidly growing online user base has reached a new stage, marked by a slowdown in its growth rate. As a result, the relationship between platforms and users is becoming increasingly important. Douyin, the platform with the highest number of monthly active users in China - 706 million, has responded to this trend by leveraging its sports content and developing deeper connections with its users. While the number of sports enthusiasts is relatively small compared to the entertainment industry, Douyin recognizes the value of hosting premium, month-long tournaments that cater to all sports and entertainment fans, rather than just hardcore football enthusiasts. Therefore, it is not focused on purchasing the rights to competitions that last for nine months.
For the majority of Chinese platforms that purchased media rights in the past, the ROI has been extremely low, even causing some platforms to go bust. Douyin, on the other hand, has a much more stable content ecosystem, matched with its huge user base, allowing it to bear a loss in purchasing rights whilst providing its users premium content.
If we look back, we see how Douyin began to implement its sports media rights strategy. First agreeing to non-exclusive deals to broadcast Copa America and the Bundesliga in 2021, serving as a rehearsal for broadcasting premier sporting events like the World Cup. Douyin achieved impressive results with athlete activations at both the Tokyo and Beijing Olympic Games. At Beijing 2022 in particular, 129 athletes, including Eileen Gu and Wu Dajing, launched official accounts. Collectively, these athletes gained 40.8m followers and generated 4.6bn video views on Douyin. The platform then launched an ambitious effort to secure exclusive short-form World Cup broadcasting rights, with the amount reported at around RMB 1bn ($144.5m).
For Douyin, the content and advertising revenue earned through the World Cup rights is just one of its goals. The bigger picture for Douyin is to discover new opportunities that sporting events can bring to its ecosystem.
Connecting Daily Life with Sporting Events
Douyin is committed to further integrating itself into the daily lives of its users. The platform recently entered the internal testing phase to launch a takeaway service, which will compete with established players such as Ele.me and Meituan. Additionally, Douyin is striving to build deeper connections with its users' lifestyles. By offering a holistic range of services - from short video and livestreaming to ecommerce and daily life services - Douyin aims to provide its users with a seamless experience that spans content consumption and actual consumption.
Compared to livestreams on the digital platforms of CCTV (CCTV App) and China Mobile (Migu), as a true social media platform, one of Douyin’s major strengths is its ability to connect with users’ daily lives through sporting events. During the World Cup, Douyin launched the "Heartbeat Season" campaign, attracting users to experience activities offline through group purchasing, with categories including fast food, baking, hot pot, grills, bars, hotels, etc. - fully meeting the needs of different consumers during the World Cup given the time difference.
According to a recent Douyin white paper, it issued 2.69m vouchers during the World Cup, and the total number of direct orders in the lifestyle service industry reached 165m. Among them, people aged between 21-40 with strong purchasing power accounted for 60%. Partners such as KFC and Haidilao also saw great growth in revenue during this period.
Free 4K Viewing Gives Douyin Edge
Platforms often grant the benefits of ultra HD viewing exclusively to their paid members, with non-members only being offered 720p and below. So Douyin, as a newcomer in sports broadcasting, took the initiative to provide free 4k broadcast of all the World Cup matches, creating a positive stir online and drawing more viewers to the platform.
Many viewers stated that they chose to watch games on Douyin because of the free 4K option. According to the data report released by Douyin, the platform’s World Cup live broadcast accumulated 10.6bn views, with a total of 230m viewers for the final, and a peak of 37.06m people online at the same time watching the final.
Amidst the ups and downs of the sports copyright market, some basketball and football fans have gradually formed a habit to pay for matches. For example, after the World Cup, a game between Messi’s PSG and Ronaldo’s Saudi Arabian League All-Stars presented an opportunity for Douyin, who acquired the rights to broadcast this game. They priced the game at RMB 5 ($0.7), gaining 850k+ paying viewers. For events like the Olympics and World Cup, they attract a much broader, more casual audience, and most of these fans still haven't developed the habit of paying to watch matches or paying for the ultra-HD viewing experience.
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar was the first time the tournament was broadcast by a short video platform, and it is also the first attempt for Douyin to broadcast a premier sporting event. Although a gamble considering it was their first time, Douyin achieved positive results across live broadcast, content operation, ecommerce, and daily life integration. Through years of practice in the field of sports copyright, Douyin has also explored an event marketing activation mode suitable for short video platforms and completely different from traditional broadcast platforms and long-form video platforms. In the context of a stagnant era of digital growth, all eyes will be on Douyin’s next moves in the sports copyright industry.