Roku strikes first live sports deal, snags Formula E races

Live sports are coming to the Roku platform. The streamer on Tuesday announced inking a deal that will bring 11 Formula E races exclusively to The Roku Channel, a free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service.  

Formula E is the all-electric ABB FIA World Cup Championship motorsport series. Roku’s multi-year broadcast deal for Formula E in the U.S. is a splits rights package with CBS Sports, with 11 of 16 races coming to the FAST next season.

Paramount+ and CBS will still air races. Starting in January 2024, five races will air live on CBS and be simulcast on Paramount+.  Roku is positioning its platform as the place to watch Formula E overall, particularly through its Sports Experience, and with both Paramount+ subscription and CBS already integrated into the platform. In addition to live races, Roku will also offer replays of all races, including those airing on CBS and Paramount+, along with Formula E library content and the racing league’s docu-follow series “Unplugged” and race previews and highlights.

Formula E content from Roku and Paramount+ will be available via Roku’s Sports Experience aggregation hub via the homescreen, which it debuted last year to make finding live and on-demand sports programs easier across platforms alongside a personalized viewing experience. CBS Sports Network will also show one highlights program per round.

“It’s an honor to partner with Formula E on Roku’s first-ever live sports partnership, making it easier for millions of TV streamers to discover the thrill of Formula E races through the unique integrated viewing experiences only available on Roku,” said David Eilenberg, head of content at Roku Media, in a statement. ”We look forward to working together with Formula E, as well as our long-standing partners at CBS and Paramount+, to drive viewership to this programming and to connect new audiences with the exhilarating world of Formula E.” 

The deal was announced following the first ABB FIA Formula E World Championship race at Portland International Raceway in Oregon. Just last week the league confirmed the race series will return to Portland for season 10, when the Roku, CBS, Paramount broadcast partnership is active.  

Roku’s platform counts 70 million active accounts and Aarti Dabas, chief media officer of Formula E, in a statement, highlighted the deal’s impact on discoverability of the sporting event: “This is a powerful new partnership with CBS and Roku that will dramatically increase Formula E’s audience reach and maximise discoverability of our programming in the U.S. We value the strength of our ongoing relationship with CBS and are delighted to join forces with Roku and supercharge Formula E content on their market-leading platform.”

Roku picking up live sports rights is notable, particularly with the racing series landing on a FAST platform, which up until this point has not been a category known as a live sports destination. The upspring of FAST services have pulled in library as well as short-form and other content, though several FASTs have started to incorporate more premium and original content as in a shift toward higher quality programming.

Fans desire interactive streaming features

Roku also isn’t off base in trying to help solve consumers’ struggle with the fragmented sports landscape through its Sports Experience, as various rights have been scattered across different services leaving viewers frustrated.

In a 2023 sports insights report released Tuesday, Deloitte surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. sports fans and found that many desire a simpler sports streaming experience. Almost half of fans said they often miss a game they want to see because they don’t have the right streaming service, with 70% of Gen Z and 80% of millennials saying they’d be willing to pay extra for a streaming service that had all of the sports they want to watch in one place.

And while most of the time fans are watching sports on cable or broadcast (60% of the time) versus streaming (22% of the time), many reported a better experience on streaming.  According to Deloitte 30% of all fans paid for a subscription to a streaming service to watch sports over the past 12 months. More than half of Gen X fans said their viewing experience was better watching a specific sporting event on a streaming provider than cable or broadcast, with that figure jumping to 64% for Gen Z and 71% for millennials.   

Deloitte survey sports Streaming June 2023
Most sports fans say they had a better viewing expereince on a streaming provider than cable or broadcast TV.  (Deloitte)

Fans also see sports as more interactive on streaming, and subscription services have the potential to incorporate new features that fans are interested in. Across all survey respondents, about a third of sports viewers want real-time stats and analytics (35%) and different camera angles (34%) included as part of their SVOD service. Deloitte cited other appealing features as watching the game from an athlete’s point of view, co-viewing with friends and family and behind-the-scenes content from athletes. At this point, consumers weren’t as interested in a live on-screen social feed, integrated SVOD betting or shopping capabilities.  

The YES Network’s direct-to-consumer regional sports network YES App is one that’s given new features a go. During a recent match up of the New York Yankees against the Seattle Mariners the YES App launched real-time interactive stats on smart TVs across Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Google TV. Ease Live helped provide the data including season and career stats for players on the field and a pitch speedometer, among other info.