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Sports programming still dominates TV, and Netflix is leaning more into it

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Whether it’s streaming or traditional TV, sports keep audiences coming back to their screens – and Netflix

Following some quarters of stagnation Netflix is back to adding more subscribers, with the help of adding new business models like a cheaper, ad-supported tier and cracking down on password sharing. Sports is sure to play a role in that.

The streamer is also finally taking a step toward live sports.

Netflix announced it would broadcast live “The Netflix Cup,” a matchup between athletes that appeared in the Formula 1 docuseries and the golf series “Full Swing.” The athletes will compete in a match play tournament in Las Vegas to kick off the week of the Formula 1 Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix.

Even though customers are fleeing traditional TV, from the cable-TV bundle to broadcast, those that stick around often do so for the live sports.

That showed in September, when the return of the NFL and college football seasons propelled both broadcast and cable-TV viewership. Broadcast sports viewership was up 360%, compared to 222% in the same period last year, while cable-TV got a nearly 25% increase in sports watchers, according to data from Nielsen.

This occurred as Disney’s ESPN carried the top 11 cable-TV telecasts during September, while streaming viewership dropped for the second straight month – even if by less than 2% – as traditional TV took a greater share.

Streamers are increasingly adding sports programming. Warner Bros. Discoveryairing live sports earlier this month, and it plans to start charging for the additional streaming tier early next year. ESPN has its ESPN+ option, and Disney executives have said its a matter of when, not if, the cable-TV channel becomes available via direct-to-consumer streaming. NBCUniversal’s Peacock has been growing due in large part to live sports.

When Netflix reported earnings Wednesday, it noted its “great success” with sports programming, which has been a mix of docuseries like “Quarterback,” about a group of NFL quarterbacks heading into the new season, and “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which grew such a strong following it boosted the sport itself.

Netflix’s push into advertising is also part of the mix. The company said Wednesday T-Mobile and Nespresso will be among the sponsors for its first-ever live sports event.

It’s been a gradual move toward both sports and live streaming – Netflix had technical issues when it aired the finale of reality show “Love is Blind” earlier this year – but one the streamer appears ready to make.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.

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