When the Press Association published a story last month suggesting that automated reporting could be introduced before the turn of the year there were sighs of disbelief from within the publishing industry.
At least PA editor-in-chief Pete Clifton confirmed that robots would not be used to “cover fires and for court reporting,” but that was little to comfort to the industry, which has seen some pretty big changes over the last decade.
Clifton claimed they were ready to start experimenting with automated sport and news stories to support their current newsroom. Essentially, the robots are coming.
“It will be more a case of offering an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting,” Clifton told the Society of Editors conference in Carlisle last week.
The news may have come as a surprise to some, but the real shock is not that the PA want to use Metal Mickey to write reports, more that they still concluded that football reports are relevant. It may seem crazy to think that traditional match reporting is a thing of the past, but that’s the way we are heading and quickly.
The original match reports filed from journalists at games are labour intensive and ultimately expensive. And while it was a necessity in the past we are now staring at a digital era where their relevance is debatable.
They are not high traffic drivers in the digital era and why would they be?
The robots are here >>> Press Association to look at automating sport and news stories | Media | The Guardian https://t.co/HM0X27otNl
— Andy Roberts (@AndyRobertsEsq) October 19, 2016
Who wants to and who has the time to read through paragraph after paragraph of detailed copy from the afternoon’s encounter when we have already seen countless images, info-graphics, stats, gifs, vines and videos of the game’s defining moments? Everyone that seemingly matters are demanding 10-second clips of action so they can continue to browse their Twitter and Facebook feeds looking for monkeys riding motorbikes.
We already have a picture of the match in our heads even before match reports start hitting websites at 5pm and well before newspapers go to print. Browsing key stats, watching streamed live action and viewing social media comment from fans at games has already left a lasting memory – there’s simply no need to wade through 500 words. And with player and manager video and audio reaction now readily available, often before match reports are published, it makes them almost superfluous when they eventually land.
Social media has essentially given everyone the platform to report and offer opinion, be it both good and bad and that presents the current generation with all they need. The ability to take pictures and record video on phones has revolutionised the way fans consume games. The recent Liverpool v Manchester United clash saw a clip of Liverpool fans more focused on taking pictures and filiming Jose Mourinho than watching the on-the-field action.
Welcome to Anfield pic.twitter.com/cKgK6uNABE
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) October 18, 2016
On-the-whistle analysis, player ratings and ‘five things we learnt’ are all preferred places to click. People are now searching for bespoke content and they want it quick too. The days of readers reading about their team’s result are gone. There are now so may other mediums for the younger generation to immerse themselves in that match reports seem almost antiquated.
The growing rise of E-Sports and FIFA, the all but obsessive use of mobile phones and tablets mean that younger fans consume football in a totally different way to how they did even five years ago.
That’s a problem that has started to infiltrate live TV coverage of football too. Only last week UK broadcaster Sky announced a 19% drop in their live viewing figures for Premier League football. A somewhat worrying statistic and while one key factor is almost certainly due to the increasing price, illegal streaming of matches on mobiles and tablets is also a major reason.
In the USA pay television has been in decline for the last few years. ESPN for example had a peak in their subscriber base in 2011 – with 100 miillion subscribers. But they have lost 10 million since then with four million of those subscriber losses coming since July 2015.
The NFL has also seen an 11% decrease in viewing figures year on year and they are almost undoubtedly battling to engage the younger audience. Why subscribe to monthly service when you rarely watch it in its entirety, and, if you are technically savvy enough, it’s out there for free?
— رمال شاطئ (@drowningsafe) October 29, 2016
The desire to solely concentrate on a full game is at best waning and almost gone. The younger generation are busy. They’re consuming sport on the go and usually while watching or doing something else (those monkeys again). The emergence of YouTube and Netflix and the like are having a huge impact on traditional television.
Ken Early’s brilliant Irish Times column reported that Nielsen claimed 18-24 year-olds are spending 38% less time watching television than they did in 2010. And while Sky’s subscriber base is still believed to be growing, albeit slowly, they are surely soon going to see the same pattern as their counterparts across the pond?
So if broadcasters are struggling to capture the imagination of the younger fans then publishers might as well write their match reports on blackboards with chalk or send them by carrier pigeon that’s how outdated they are in these ’10-second times’.
A version of this article first appeared on GoPlay Sports Tours blog.