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11 things you need to know today about the shifting sports media landscape
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Why Olympic stakeholders should stay at home
DAZN’s long-awaited UK arrival
Betting on content across America
SuperSport’s investment in school sports
The most popular paid news subscription services
Red Bee Media assess the marketplace
Bettman ponders future of NHL Network
Amazon in early for NFL Thursdays
Matchroom acquires Loop Productions
Verizon sells digital media assets
Wasserman and Twitch launch music channel
Hello from us and thanks for your company – this is the Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin, your fortnightly briefing on everything new, shiny and noteworthy in sports broadcasting and content creation, distribution and monetisation.
We really enjoy your correspondence, so please do keep sending news, views, gossip and opinion to [email protected] and [email protected]. We read it all. Even the speculative emails about partnership. A big hello and welcome to our latest Broadcast Disruptors Series advisor Grabyo (who we think actually chose the old fashioned route of receiving a phone call to kick start this particular partnership).
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The Olympic Games, usually the biggest, most anticipated event in the world, are under 80 days away now. They will, of course, be strange and – hopefully – unique this time round, a year delayed and with Japan continuing to struggle in the battle against Covid-19. The International Olympic Committee is insistent that the Games are going ahead, but, inevitably, they will be, more than ever, a broadcast-first Olympics rather than an experience lived in and by the host city.
The IOC last week published the latest version of its various playbooks for key stakeholder groups, detailing entry to and exit from Japan, various in-venue protocols and, in the broadcaster manual, nuggets such as a limit of 90 seconds on any athlete interviews. All of the major rights-holding broadcasters are planning significant remote production, but life on the ground will feel extremely unusual and restricted.
What this does provide, however, is a once-in-a-lifetime – hopefully – opportunity for many of the major influencers in the Olympic movement to experience the Games in the way the vast majority do – at home, via the device of their choice. As it seeks a better understanding of how people watch the Games – and beyond the numbers what that experience really feels like – the IOC should mandate that all Presidents of international federations stay away from Tokyo and enjoy the broadcast instead. In effect, they’d be creating a highly influential focus group.
It won’t happen, of course – IOC members have been deemed to ‘play an essential and operational role’ in the Olympics. But while technical and administrative officials are required on the ground to oversee competition, the IOC and each of its Olympic sports federations is potentially missing a golden opportunity for its C-suite executives and Presidents to learn about how sports are presented, how accessible they are made to casual fans, how broadcasters treat each sport at the Games, the role of commentary, where technology fits within the broadcasts and what holds the attention.
The message to them all should be clear: save on the air miles, settle down in front of the TV and get ready to learn something new about your sport.
DAZN’s punchy move
DAZN may or may not be in the running to pick up a slice of BT Sport, following last week’s news that BT is in early discussions with a ‘number of select strategic partners’, but it finally looks as if it is going to make its long anticipated and expected entry into the UK market anyway. Reports suggest it has reached an agreement to become Matchroom Boxing’s UK broadcast partner from July, effectively replacing Matchroom’s long-time partner Sky Sports and expanding its existing global deal with the company that has become global boxing’s powerhouse promoter. The deal does not include fights involving Anthony Joshua, which have been broadcast by Sky on a pay-per-view basis. Matchroom Chairman Eddie Hearn has been uncharacteristically coy in recent interviews when the subject of DAZN replacing Sky has been raised, insisting that there are several inaccuracies in the reporting by The Athletic and others but stopping well short of a denial that the deal is happening. Matchroom will be taking over production of the broadcasts, as part of an expansion of its own media and content operation. For DAZN, which in the United States has effectively become exclusively a fightsports service, it is the latest of a number of big bets and perhaps the most intriguing of all.
Bet on this
The investment in content by betting providers in the United States continues apace as, state by state, the legislative picture becomes clearer. All the major broadcasters have signed up with a betting and gaming partner to work on integrating betting into live coverage and to help create content for shoulder programming, while the likes of DraftKings are also quickly developing their own content arms. DraftKings is partnering with Sling TV to launch a series of sports betting information channels, initially with services focusing on basketball, baseball and hockey, and it has also made clear it is prepared to invest heavily in talent. Last week the company signed a deal with John Skipper’s Meadowlark, reputedly worth US$50 million over three years, to secure the services of former ESPN star Dan Le Batard. This week’s news that Action Network, the betting information platform which provides a home for Darren Rovell, has been sold to sports betting media group Better Collective for US$240 million only serves to underline the point: betting firms are an increasingly valuable part of the sports content and media ecosystem. For several of them, bidding for live sports rights may well be the logical next step as they fight for share in an exploding market.
Back to school
South Africa’s leading sports broadcaster SuperSport made a major investment in the country’s school sports last week, launching the SuperSport Schools service. It has acquired a majority stake in School Sports Live to do so and plans to take advantage of AI-based production to allow parents and other relatives to watch a variety of games live, via any device and on-demand. SuperSport is working with integrated business solutions provider Nashua to help install and maintain the automated cameras that will be at the heart of the new service. Technology has made a service like this financially viable and with access to games likely to remain limited for some time, there is a new and willing audience for this type of niche content. SuperSport plans to sell additional sponsorship around the service, and won’t charge viewers to watch. Separately, Toyota’s Australian division has recently teamed up with streaming service Kayo to broadcast a range of local and reserve sports across the country – also at no charge. Both partnerships will be worth watching as examples of how potent a sponsorship-funded, free-to-watch model might be when it comes to school and lower-level sport.
Visual Capitalist’s beautifully presented graphic of the most popular paid subscription news websites in the world shows the New York Times, at 7.5 million subscribers, dominating the list. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal are next, with video game site Game Informer a surprising fourth in the list with 2.1 million subscribers. The Athletic, with a million paying subscribers, sits sixth.
Source: Visual Capitalist
In the Mixed Zone with… Steve Russell, Chief Products Officer, Red Bee Media, which has recently begun a partnership to develop the streaming platform for Poland’s leading football league, the Ekstraklasa, and last week partnered with Fightzone, the new worldwide streaming service dedicated to boxing.
What are rights holders asking you for that they weren’t a year ago?
We’ve moved from inertia to action, with rights holders expressing three big ticket needs as they launch streaming services to monetise their content. The first is rapid time to launch, having the service up and running asap, and with good functional coverage. The second is confidence that the service will scale. There’s no point in getting to market fast if you end up at a cul-de-sac and won’t scale with success when demand increases. Finally, rights owners are looking for flexibility, flexibility, flexibility! If we don’t know what the future will hold, we need to follow the fans and follow the money across devices, monetisation options, content formats and distribution options. To do this, your platform and operations need to be very flexible.
Are you seeing regional differences in the market, in terms of capability, demands or technology?
The main geographic differentials stem from the existing position of each sports-rights owner and their current strategy. Depending on the arrangements, a streaming service can either act as a core monetisation engine for live events, or more as a fan engagement driver through secondary content, funded by sponsors and advertising.
After you agree a partnership with an organisation like the Ekstraklasa, as you did recently, what’s the working process like? What’s happening now?
We form a joint project team with the customer to ensure that the service is fully available, tested, secure and looking great for launch. We provide a production build of the platform to the customer very early in the project lifecycle, so that we can all see the service coming to fruition and spot any unexpected gaps, as content is added, branding is finessed and live events are end-to-end tested.
What’s the most important factor in launching a successful streaming service in 2021?
It’s back to the same three points: speed, scalability and flexibility. It’s difficult to achieve all three independently, and that’s where a proven managed services model comes into play. We can light up the service instantly, and the customer can add modules and complexity at their own pace, knowing that they can trust the capacity to scale, as audiences grow and surpass the original expectations.
Turner goes big on NHL
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league intends to continue its NHL Network “in some form” but that it has begun examining how it is produced and distributed in the future. Bettman was speaking after the NHL signed off on a new seven-year rights agreement with Turner Sports. The new deal begins next season and will include three Stanley Cup Final series broadcasts. It is worth US$225 million per year. In March, the NHL signed a deal with ESPN as its new primary broadcaster for the same seven-year period. The Turner package includes streaming rights for its HBO Max service as well as digital clips for Bleacher Report. TNT will carry up to 72 regular season games per season, as well as a sizeable chunk of play-off games. NBC’s 16-year partnership with the NHL will come to an end after this season’s Stanley Cup Finals.
Amazon in early for NFL Thursdays
The NFL has confirmed that Amazon Prime Video will begin its role as exclusive broadcaster of its Thursday night games from the 2022 season, a year earlier than previously announced. The league has ended its Thursday night deal with Fox a year early to allow the Amazon package to run for the same length as the other deals, with Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN, it confirmed in March. Fox will continue with its package of Sunday games, but has agreed to hand off the 15 Thursday night games in 2022.
Eddie Hearn becomes Matchroom Chair
Eddie Hearn has become Chairman of Matchroom Sport, succeeding his father Barry Hearn who will become President of the Matchroom group of companies and retain an advisory role. The long-planned transition will also see Steve Dawson take over as Chairman of World Snooker, Matthew Porter as Chairman of Matchroom Multi Sport and Katie Hearn become CEO of Matchroom Media.
Clubhouse appoints Head of Sports Partnerships
Former Wasserman executive Sean Brown has been appointed as Clubhouse’s Head of Sports Partnerships, as the invite-only audio platform expands its team. Announcing the news on LinkedIn, Brown said he was “grateful to create with such a dynamic global group”.
DraftKings hires first Chief Media Officer
Ben Angiolet, formerly SVP and Chief Business Officer at Verizon Communications, has joined DraftKings in the newly-created role of Chief Media Officer. He will be tasked with ‘overseeing and optimising’ the real-rime fantasy game company’s content creation and media strategy. DraftKings has been expanding its content output to reflect the new sports betting landscape in the United States, through partnerships with Turner Sports and ESPN, its recent acquisition of Vegas Sports Information Network and the launch of services including DK Live and DK Nation. It has also recently invested in John Skipper’s new production house Meadowlark.
Matchroom builds out media capability
Matchroom has acquired streaming and production specialist Loop, as it builds out its own in-house media capabilities. Loop will sit under the Matchroom Media banner. The company has previously worked with Matchroom on producing streams for the Matchroom.Live OTT platform and live streaming PDC Players Championship events. Nick Oldfield, currently Head of Production at Loop, will become Managing Director.
Verizon sells digital media assets
Verizon has confirmed the sale of its Verizon Media division, which includes brands such as Yahoo, AOL and TeleCrunch for US$5 billion. The buyer is global investment firm Apollo Global Management. The new business will use the Yahoo name, with current Chief Executive Guru Gowrappan staying on. Verizon, which will retain a small stake, acquired AOL for US$4.4 billion in 2015 and Yahoo in 2017 for US$4.48 billion, the precursor to a new division, Oath. Oath was rebranded as Verizon Media in 2018.
Wasserman and Twitch partner for music channel
Wasserman Music, a division of Wasserman, has agreed a deal with Twitch for the launch of a new global indie music channel and accompanying concert series. The channel, called There is Light, is broadcasting 20 live concerts from the US and UK between now and September. There will be no charge to view the live performances. The artists, who include the likes of The Snuts, Two Feet, Cautious Clay and Best Coast, will also participate in moderated question and answer sessions. “Independent artists have created some of the strongest and fastest-growing communities on Twitch,” said Will Farrell-Green, Head of Music Content at Twitch. “These artists deeply understand the impact of building and connecting with a loyal fanbase. Our partnership with Wasserman Music will give indie artists a dedicated home on the service where they will have the opportunity to introduce their music to Twitch’s global audience and interact with fans on a more personal level.”
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