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11 things you need to know today about the shifting sports media landscape
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The changing shape of the sports media industry
OnlyFans and its sports ambitions
Ben Foster close to EFL agreement
Bally’s opts for RSN naming rights
What Gen Z and Millennials really think about podcasts
Alex Green on Prime Video’s data-driven approach
ONE Championship signs up to Facebook
NBC extends with World Athletics
Classen joins Sky Deutschland
IQONIQ builds out C-suite team
Tencent picks WSC sports for short-form highlights
Thanks for opening us up and welcome along to the latest Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin, which brings you the new, the interesting and the relevant on sports broadcasting, content creation and distribution.
The sports media sector is ending the year in a state of undeniable fluidity. Pinched financially and continuing to be challenged as consumer habits change, some organisations are contracting, others are sensing opportunity and expanding, a few may sadly not make it at all and even the largest corporate entities – the biggest broadcasters, the most prominent rights holders – are having to adjust and reshape business models. It’s unsettling and it’s complex, but a couple of recent personnel announcements hint at trends that may become more defined in 2021.
The Premier League has recently bolstered its broadcast rights sales team by hiring regional specialists in former NBA executive Matt Gregory for the EMEA region and Liverpool FC’s Miriam Sherlock, who’ll oversee the Americas and content partnerships. The appointments reflect a need for rights holders to bring specialist expertise in-house, as individual territories become more complicated, with new market players and particular market pressures.
At the same time, some of sport’s major producers are, by necessity, downsizing. ESPN’s recent announcement about hundreds of redundancies is a case in point. There, several of the organisations talented and leading executives, notably executive vice president of content Connor Schell and Libby Geist, executive producer of The Last Dance, have separately chosen this moment to depart. Schell, for one, plans to set up his own production shop; it may well be one of many as the production side of the business reforms into a set of streamlined, leaner corporates and an ever-growing crop of smaller, boutique production firms.
The CEO of the subscription social media site, Tim Stokely, has recently gone on record with his ambitions to build out OnlyFans’ sports and entertainment offering. While its current reputation as a home for adult content may be difficult to shift, at least in the short-term, the content monetisation possibilities the platform could open up for star athletes are clear: over 100 OnlyFans creators have exceeded US$1 million in earnings, while the company has to date paid out a total of US$2 billion to creators since it was founded in 2016.
Player platform power
Ben Foster, the former England goalkeeper who plays for Watford FC, is reportedly close to reaching agreement with the English Football League (EFL) over his use of footage shot on a GoPro he positioned in the back of his net during Championship games this season, and published on his YouTube channel. The EFL will allow Foster to continue to publish the unique perspective despite it effectively breaching rights regulations, with an agreed licensing fee donated to charity. Foster’s YouTube channel, ‘The Cycling GK’, developed during the lockdown to reflect his twin passions of football and cycling, has 155,000 subscribers.
Betting on a name
Casino operator Bally’s has agreed to pay US$85 million over the next decade for the naming rights to the 21 US regional sports networks Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired from Fox Sports last year. The two companies will work together on developing sports gamification content across the networks, as well as other Sinclair properties like Tennis Channel. Sinclair is also taking a stake in Bally’s, but it is the naming rights element of the agreement that is most striking and may tempt other betting and casino operators looking to take market share as sports betting in the United States matures to find similar branding solutions.
According to a new report by Whistle, 74% of US Gen Z and Millennial podcast listeners put podcasts on whilst doing other things, like commuting or studying. Other findings in its report examining Gen Z and Millennial relationships with podcasts included that these groups prefer to learn with podcasts over books, hosts need to be funny and relatable and that Gen Z prefers shorter, unscripted and off-the-cuff formats. The ideal podcast length for Millennials is 94 minutes compared to 71 minutes for Gen Z. 77% of Gen Z and Millennial podcast listeners have considered making a purchase because of an advert they heard in a podcast. 39% would prefer to pay for an ad-free subscription, while 61% prefer free podcasts with adverts.
In the Mixed Zone with… Alex Green, Managing Director, Amazon Prime Video
You’ve spent millions on rights; how do you model a return?
We obviously use a lot of metrics at Amazon to work out if things are adding value to the business. We’re part of the bigger Prime membership programme, which is one of the biggest strategic elements of Amazon. We contribute through sport and Prime Video in a variety of ways. We help drive awareness of Prime, we help people find it for the first time and actually join – we saw that, for example, with Premier League. We also activate existing Prime shipping members who may not have watched Prime Video, we give them a new reason to find the app, to put it on their big screen, to watch the content and then watch other things. And one thing we do know, which frankly is the reason we invest so much money in content and Prime Video, is the more engaged a customer is with this broader range of benefits with Prime, the more loyal they are, the more activity they do with Amazon – and of course we measure all of that.
What data do you actually look at to help shape decisions on what rights to buy?
The good thing is when you can start using real, operational, practical data – that makes a big difference. Initially, when you’re not really involved, you have to use research and make informed estimates, but we’re now building a range of actual, practical, physical data – how many people sign up, what do they go on to watch, how long do they stay watching, do they try these additional features. We are driven by data and we use it to inform all sorts of things, and some of the data is working by itself in terms of our personalisation, in the algorithms. Even without intervention, just as we do with our shopping services, we’re able to promote content that may be relevant to you because of what you’ve watched before; that’s part of the way we improve the experience.
Has customer behaviour changed because of Covid?
Of course. People have been spending more time at home. Viewing of TV and entertainment has definitely gone up this year – there are obviously challenges in terms of being able to produce new shows; that’s difficult. We’ve found ways around that now in live sport, with careful restrictions and bubbles and remote production. It has been challenging, but with consumer behaviour there is more stuff done online. The reality, though, is the trend around streaming was already there. In some ways Covid has accelerated that rather than fundamentally changed it.
How do you see the sports rights landscape changing?
What’s definitely true is models are changing, that’s no surprise. The best place always to start with any industry change is what’s going on with the customer. The reality is they now have more and more choice and more ability to choose different services on different devices, to pick and choose how they spend that time. In a way that’s a good thing because it means sports and the distributors of sports are battling for attention and have to find the right way, in terms of providing access, and the right value. I think you’ll see increasing flexibility, increasing value, increasing choice for customers feed back into the sports rights chain. I can’t predict exactly how that will go, but that trend is clear. We can’t just put our heads in the sand and think the old models will last forever.
Alex Green was speaking during the Leaders/SBJ Media Innovators Series earlier this month.
ONE Championship joins Facebook
ONE Championship has struck a ‘multifaceted global partnership’ with Facebook, which will see content produced by the Asian mixed martial arts promotion appear on Facebook Watch, Instagram’s IGTV, a Facebook gaming channel and via Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality products. The partnership significantly expands ONE Championship’s presence on Facebook, where it already has over 25 million followers and last year recorded over five billion platform video views.
NBC extends with World Athletics
NBC has extended its rights deal with World Athletics until the end of 2029. That will include the next five world championships, including the next one which will be held in Eugene, USA, in 2022. The new US rights deal was ‘delivered with the support of’ Dentsu, according to World Athletics’ announcement earlier this week. As well as its longstanding Olympics coverage, NBC also holds the rights to USA Track and Field events and the Wanda Diamond League series.
Classen joins Sky Deutschland
Charly Classen has joined Sky Deutschland as executive vice president. The former ESPN Europe general manager will replace Jacques Raynaud in the role in December.
IQONIQ appointments confirmed
Fan engagement platform IQONIQ has expanded its C-suite team ahead of the launch of its new content aggregation and engagement app next year. Former Nielsen Sports executive Tom Scott has been named chief marketing officer; Adam Lovatt, formerly of IMG and DAZN, will be chief legal officer; and Chris Woerts, a former sponsorship specialist at Heineken, Coca-Cola and the Eredivisie, will become chief business development officer.
WSC Sports selected by Tencent
Tencent has chosen WSC Sports as its video production solutions partner. In a three-year agreement, announced last week, WSC’s AI-powered automated highlights clipping technology will support and enhance Tencent’s sports output across websites, apps and social media. The partnership has been forged as a result of Tencent analysis showing the rise in short-form video consumption by Chinese consumers. Tencent’s current sports rights portfolio includes the NBA, NFL and the Premier League.
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