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12 things you need to know today about the shifting sports media landscape
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Why fortune will favour the boldest broadcasters
Habits of young sports media consumers across Europe
How Gfinity is building out F1’s esports offer
Uefa strikes rights deals in Spain and Denmark
Broadcaster interest in darts at home
Liverpool FC hire Blackbird
Alex Peebles to leave DAZN
New role for former ESPN CEO
Facebook brings forward game app launch
NBA and Microsoft to build new AI platform
Fortnite to host in-game concerts
Fox and NBC acquire streaming services
THE BIG PICTURE
Hello from us to you and thanks for clicking on the Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin, your fortnightly snapshot of what’s new, meaningful and important in sports broadcasting and the creation, packaging up and distribution of sports content.
Thanks for all your recent correspondence, it’s been great to hear from you. Keep it coming to [email protected] and [email protected]. Do also drop us a line if you’d like to be considered for our regular Broadcast Disruptors Zoom discussion calls and our new Guild group.
No plan just now can be concrete, but over the past couple of weeks there’s a definite sense of the sports industry beginning to consider what might be viable and what the new normal could look like when the green light is given to resume live events.
If the first requirement is of course the safety of participants and officials and how to effectively hermetically seal that core group, the second is surely what kind of enticing and engaging broadcast product can be created at a time when no fans will be allowed into venues. Opportunity knocks for the creative broadcaster and the bold rights holder.
While sport without fans will undoubtedly be weird, what could broadcasters do if they had completely free rein with camera angles and microphone positioning? What if, as hinted at by agency owner and LA 2028 Olympic chief Casey Wasserman, a man with his finger on the pulse of all America’s major sports on a Bill Simmons’ podcast last week, an NBA, for example, sets down courts in a broadcast studio environment, building in augmented reality and lighting components entirely designed to be optimised for the viewer at home. Gone would be the inevitable compromises required to meet the needs of the spectator in the stands.
The atmosphere, the sound of thousands of fans celebrating, subdued or screaming blue murder, will be nigh-on impossible to replicate and badly missed, but with a real focus on audio technology this next period of live sports broadcasting could provide a once-in-a-lifetime chance to tune properly in to how managers manage, how coaches coach and how players react. A chance too, perhaps, to integrate viewer social commentary into the fabric of the broadcast in a way not seen before.
The need for every sport to create a compelling broadcast product for what might be a short, medium, or longer-term chapter without live fans is paramount. The solutions will vary and many will be imperfect, but fortune will favour the bold.
YouGov Sport has published new data which examines the media habits of younger sports consumers across several major European markets. While TV still dominates in all markets, streaming is ‘now an established medium’, with, for example, 25% of Spanish viewers between 18 and 29 saying they consume sports media in that way. Mobile apps are the least popular option in three of the five markets.
Source: YouGov Sport Global Fan Profiles April 2020
In the mixed zone with… Neville Upton, Founder and CEO at Gfinity, the international esports business which has been working with, among other rights holders, Formula 1 on its virtual Grands Prix.
In the absence of traditional live sports, how have you seen esports plug the gap?
We’ve seen massive growth and interest from people whose sports have been interrupted and who want to do the digital equivalent. People like Formula 1 are in the vanguard, they’re in their third season, already planning for a fourth season so it’s been really easy for them to adapt. We’ve done ‘Challenge Lando’, which is a fun competition where people can challenge a Formula 1 driver but we’ve also done virtual Grands Prix. The viewing figures have been staggeringly good – the first one got over five million views and 400,000 concurrents and the second one, Vietnam, was even bigger. Our phones are red hot with largely sports rights holders but also clubs and teams asking us what else they should be doing and how we can help provide that digital solution now we can’t actually hold competitions.
What’s the Gfinity role in the F1 virtual Grands Prix and what type of resource is needed to make the races happen?
You have to have a close working relationship with the rights holder – and we do with Formula 1 – and you’ve also got to have a very effective games producer, which is Codemasters. It’s a tripartite partnership, which is very important. We handle the technical requirements, so how you do an online broadcast where most people are remote; how you make sure the kit goes to the people and is properly set up. We have our own proprietary software that takes the feeds from the games and enables us to do a really slick broadcast. We then have our own production team producing the content for linear TV, like Sky and ESPN, but also putting it on OTT platforms and we also need to produce social content, so we have a whole team doing that. Every game is very different. With motor racing there’s a plethora of games out there, all of them have got different specs, different idiosyncrasies, and our technical and production teams know how to work with each game. Then you get on to the format – from how long will the game be played to how arbitration works, the rules of the game. It’s like every other sport, you have to have referees, penalties and arbitration – that’s a mix of automation that we’ve created over the years and people watching at home online helping with the arbitration. Then there’s the logistics of everyone who’s playing. If you have a pro competition, everyone is set up to play online all the time, they’ve got the best broadband, the best PCs, the best consoles but when you’re sending kit to the likes of Ian Poulter and Ben Stokes, and even Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris, some of them will have very good equipment, but some won’t. That’s the part we play: we do the strategy and then we do the delivery, which is complicated but we’ve been doing it for eight to ten years so we take it into our stride. The numbers are staggeringly good and it’s a big opportunity. Some of it will be an overlap of F1 fans, but some will be new fans who are coming to Formula 1 for the first time who are gaming fans.
The full interview with Neville Upton is available here on the Leaders Sport Business podcast.
Uefa strikes new Champions League deals
Uefa is continuing to strike new rights agreements, despite its current editions of the Champions League and Europa League remaining on pause. Reports in Spain suggest Telefonica has acquired the rights in that market from 2021 until 2024, for a total of around €1.1 billion. DAZN had been expected to compete for the rights but the Palco23 website reports the streaming service, which launched in Spain last year, elected against a major bid due in the current climate. Meanwhile, Scandinavian broadcaster NENT Group has acquired Champions League rights for the same period in Denmark, as well as rights to the Europa League and new Europa Conference League in Sweden, Norway and Denmark until the end of the 2023/24 season. NENT is the only media company in the world to have shown every season of Uefa’s showpiece club competition since it became the Champions League in 1992.
Broadcasters sign up for darts at home
Sky Sports, DAZN and NENT Group are among the broadcasters showing the Professional Darts Corporation’s new Home Tour Series, which launched last week and sees top players playing each other through live video calls from their respective homes. Sky is showing the action in the UK, NENT Group is broadcasting the competition across the Nordic region, while DAZN has taken the rights in Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the US. The tournament is scheduled to run on a daily basis until mid-May and is also being streamed via the PDC’s own platform.
Liverpool FC turn to Blackbird for remote production
Cloud video editing experts Blackbird have confirmed Liverpool as its latest client. The Premier League leaders will utilise the company’s expertise for remote video editing and production. During the pause in the Premier League season, the club intends to repurpose its archive of file-based content ready for publishing across its various digital platforms. With the help of Blackbird, the club’s production team will be able to rapidly clip, edit and publish short and long-form content.
THE JOBS BOARD
Peebles to leave DAZN
DAZN Senior Vice President Alex Peebles is to leave his role later this year. Peebles, who previously worked for Perform, was based in Singapore and has run a local office there since September 2018 preparing for an intended DAZN launch in the region.
Bornstein to advise Maestro
Former ESPN and NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein has joined the advisory board of interactive live streaming company Maestro. Bornstein will offer his expertise as Maestro builds out from its heartland in esports, where it has garnered 20 million unique users. Sport is said to represent a priority for the business moving forward.
Al-Obaidly urges Premier League rethink on takeover
BeIN Sports CEO Yousef al-Obaidly has written separately to Premier League chief Richard Masters and club owners urging them to reject the reported Saudi-funded takeover of Newcastle United. Al-Obaidly’s interjection comes after the beoutQ piracy scandal, which saw beIN Sports’ service re-broadcast illegally from Saudi Arabia. Al Obaidly told clubs: ‘The legacy of the illegal service will continue to impact you going forward. When the Premier League season re-commences in the coming months, all of the league’s broadcasters’ content will continue to be readily and illegally available via the IPTV streaming functionality on the beoutQ set-top-boxes which were sold in significant quantities in Saudi Arabia and the broader MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region.’ The letter added: ‘Furthermore – given the crippling economic effect that coronavirus is having on the sports industry – this is all happening at a time when football clubs need to protect their broadcast revenue the most.’ He wrote to Masters urging the Premier League to take into account the ‘direct role of Saudi Arabia in the launch, promotion and operation of the beoutQ service’. Earlier in the week high profile beIN Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray devoted a portion of their daily football discussion programme to the topic, informing viewers of the specifics of beoutQ with Keys remarking it had “cost 400 of our colleagues their jobs”.
Facebook rolls out standalone gaming app
Facebook has pushed forward the launch of its new gaming app, which will compete against Microsoft’s Mixer platform, Twitch and YouTube in an increasingly competitive sector. The standalone app is an extension of Facebook’s gaming offering, which has previously been available as an option within its primary app. The gaming app will include specific content based around three pillars: watch, play and connect. The rollout follows a testing phase in South east Asia and Latin America over the past year and a half. Facebook said it was accelerating the launch due to the current coronavirus lockdown.
NBA goes into business with Microsoft
While eyes across the industry will be watching the NFL Draft, which begins tonight, conducted via Microsoft Teams, the NBA’s own deal with Microsoft, confirmed last week, is also well worth examining. Working with NBA Digital, Microsoft plans to create a streaming app to deliver personalised game broadcasts and incentives for fans, grounded in AI technology. Using machine learning, the idea is to leverage the NBA’s growing fan data banks alongside its ever-expanding library of content to localise and tailor the NBA experience for fans around the world.
Fortnite hosting live concerts this week
As the live entertainment sector scrabbles for alternative ways to engage fans, Epic Games has confirmed that rapper Travis Scott will participate in an in-game Fortnite concert, beginning later today. The event will take place over the next three days, with timings staggered to suit various timezones. Epic, which previously facilitated a virtual performance within Fortnite by Marshmello as well as the launch of a new Star Wars clip, is taking the opportunity to wrap a number of in-game features, including Travis Scott skins and emotes, and challenges around the concerts.
Fox and NBC acquire new content libraries
Fox has completed its acquisition of free video streaming service Tubi for US$440 million. The broadcaster intends to keep the service running independently. Tubi, which is funded through advertising, is home to over 20,000 movies and TV shows. It reported 25 million active users in February. Meanwhile, NBC has acquired another streaming service, Vudu, through its NBCUniversal Fandango subsidiary. The deals are the latest moves in the race among the growing number of new streaming services to expand their content libraries. This week, another planned streaming service, HBO Max, confirmed a launch date of May 27th.