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Rewards for watching?
Inside UFC’s broadcast philosophy
Facebook’s La Liga partnership
ESPN+ banks on soccer
SPFL backs out of MP & Silva agreement
Scudamore’s final major rights deal?
Discovery’s latest direct-to-consumer hire
CBS on sports betting
Channel 4 falls foul of F1’s digital signage
How a niche sport views the OTT v linear debate
IMG’s Strive for Scandinavian success
Welcome to the second edition of the Broadcast Disruptors bulletin, your new fortnightly briefing on the latest cutting-edge thinking and practices in the sports media industry – from production to distribution, rights to new technologies. You’re receiving this as part of the Leaders network, but to join your industry colleagues in receiving future editions for free you’ll need to opt in here.
We’re always keen to hear about new ideas and fresh thinking, from inside and outside sport. With that in mind, it’s worth keeping a close eye on the execution of NBCUniversal’s latest streaming service idea.
In an era, as our latest Leaders special report points out, where the NBA is experimenting with micropayments to watch the final quarter of games, the relationship between sport and retail is getting ever more cosy and all of sport is looking for new ways to keep fans and viewers engaged, NBCU’s new platform features a potentially fascinating twist.
The proposed service, reportedly named Watch Back, will be free and feature highlights clips and single episodes of NBCU programmes – a taster service designed to push viewers towards its full cable output. Here comes that twist: viewers will be incentivised to watch, gaining points for watching content that can later be redeemed for as-yet unspecified rewards. Sport is already awash with membership and loyalty programmes, but for broadcast platforms fighting for time and attention offering rewards for watching certain sports or certain rights packages might be a future model that can help carve a way through the clutter.
The online-TV crossover
According to projections from Zenith Media, next year will be a significant one for media consumption as the average time spent online exceeds the average time spent watching TV for the first time
Lawrence Epstein, Chief Operating Officer, UFC
What was the strategy underpinning the UFC’s new rights deal with ESPN?
Philosophically, early on we decided we had no idea how consumers were going to consume content in the future so our strategy was to build franchises in the big distribution areas – pay per view, which has been a big and important area of our business, our relationships with broadcasters, over-the-top and then free content, sponsored on YouTube and the like. As consumers changes, as there were new players in the market we were ready to play right away. That’s exactly what happened with ESPN+. We built a robust presence with our fans on digital platforms – that was obviously of interest to ESPN. We’re going to be exclusively broadcasting 15 of our events on the ESPN+ platform.
What’s your view of the health of UFC in this area?
The four platforms don’t work in silos. They work really well together. We may shift content among those different silos but make sure they’re all working together – make sure we’ve got a broad reach partner that’s promoting to our pay per views. That’s something that’s very important to our business. We want to make sure that at least part of our content is available to as many people as possible because we really believe in the content and when people watch it we feel like there’s a great chance they’re going to become a fan and ultimately get to a place where we can monetise it.
When you were planning this rights sales cycle how many buyers did you think might be available to buy a package?
There are a variety of digital distributors. It’s not just about getting as much money as you can, it’s how do we partner with distributors, or distribute ourselves, to get more data to learn more about our customers. We feel in the United States and all around the world that we’ve got tremendous upside. There’s the money, the data and how we’re going to use that to help grow our brands and then there’s the marketing that each of these platforms gives us to reach an existing and new audience.
Lawrence Epstein was speaking during May’s Leaders Week in New York, following the announcement of a five-year deal between UFC and ESPN.
Facebook and La Liga partner in India
When Spain’s La Liga kicks off tomorrow, viewers in the Indian sub-continent will be able to access live coverage on Facebook as a new three year agreement rolls into action. Facebook will broadcast all 380 games this season live across India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The platform, which has some 270 million users in India alone, says it will initially broadcast the games on an ad-free basis.
ESPN+ doubled down on global soccer
ESPN+ has bolstered its football (soccer) rights portfolio by agreeing deals to broadcast Serie A, Australia’s A-League and W-League, plus Eredivisie and Chinese Super League games to its subscribers in the United States. The Serie A deal alone includes 340 games per season. ESPN+, which launched amid much fanfare in April, also has rights to out-of-market Major League Soccer games, as well as action from the English Football League and the soon-to-be-launched Uefa Nations League.
BeIN Sports renew with Premier League
In what will in all likelihood be one of the last major broadcast deals he signs on behalf of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore met BeIN Sports’ Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi last Thursday in London to put pen to paper on a new three year rights agreement for the Middle East and North Africa. BeIn Sports will continue to broadcast the Premier League until at least 2022 in spite of the continuing pirate broadcasts of beoutQ, which continues to illegally transmit BeIN Sport’s output in the region.
Discovery go direct
A notable hire for Discovery, which has appointed former Amazon executive Peter Faricy to the new role of CEO, Global Direct-to-Consumer. When he begins next month Faricy’s brief will include oversight of Discovery’s recently-announced partnership with the PGA Tour, which will include the creation of a new streaming platform, as well as Eurosport Player.
The betting broadcast uplift
The legalisation of sports betting in the United States has implications across the industry – we’ve already seen new investments, multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and continued debate over what cut, if any, the major leagues will take. In broadcast terms, the advent of legal gambling is expected over time to spawn a wave of new betting-related programming as cable sports networks seek new ways to fill hours. There may be other benefits to broadcasters: in its latest earnings call, CBS chief Les Moonves highlighted the potential advertising uplift his network expects from betting firms, initially at a local market level. Moonves is watching what happens in New Jersey, where betting has been legalised, particularly closely, adding: “We think it’s a category that has an unbelievable upside. What that is I don’t know, but because of our local marketplace we’re ready there. The good news is this is also going to help the ratings on all our sports events, so that’s a positive to us.”
A question of timing
Formula One’s UK rights holders, Sky and Channel 4, have been investigated by Ofcom, the country’s communications regulator, following the broadcast of the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix, where prominent digital signage for Rolex – the sport’s official timing partner – was superimposed onto the observation wheel which looms over the Marina Bay circuit. Both broadcasters are contracted to carry Formula One’s feed during qualifying and the race, but Ofcom found Channel 4, which had the opportunity to cut the images for its highlights package, was in breach of a rule protecting against overt commercial references. According to Ofcom, Channel 4’s production team ‘did immediately raise serious concerns about the superimposed clock face at a senior level with Formula One’ and there has been ‘no recurrence’ since. Digital sponsorship signage remains an occasional part of the Formula One world feed, notably this season including Heineken’s red star logo forming a bridge over the track at several races.
Best in class
What’s better, this super slo-mo, produced by Dorna at last weekend’s Austrian MotoGP, or this augmented reality innovation from Danish broadcaster TV2 and Vizrt at last month’s Tour de France? Luckily, you don’t need to decide.
Oliver Ciesla, Managing Director of the World Rally Championship’s promoter, discussed the launch of the motorsport series’ All-Live direct-to-consumer platform earlier this year and where it fits in the WRC’s wider broadcast strategy, for the Leaders OTT special report. “It is not at all a replacement [for linear TV],” he said. “We see both services in parallel. Linear broadcasting is still the pillar of bringing the pictures of the rally to the world. Last year, we reached 848 million in global audience – that’s 40 per cent growth compared to 2013 when we [the new promoters] started. Linear broadcasting is still the most important channel for the WRC to promote the brands involved in our championship; this remains the case. For all sports, we see a trend for OTT and streaming platforms growing and linear broadcasting decreasing – for us in rallying this is not the case; linear is still growing, so we are still very much cooperating with broadcasters for the next four years – there is no other plan. What we do on top – and this is not so much focused on broadening our audience reach, it’s about going deeper for those who are already fans and are heavy fans – is an offer going to motorsport enthusiasts who are ready to pay a bit for 25 hours of coverage rather than six hours. It’s an additional service going into depth for the hardcore fanbase and not with the intention of increasing our global popularity – for this, an OTT paid service is not the right means. TV remains number one.”
Arrive and Strive
Following confirmation of its strategic partnership with Eleven Sports in the UK, IMG has taken the plunge and announced plans to launch its first direct to consumer football service. Its chosen market is Scandinavia. Strive launches with live games from Serie A and La Liga in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, tomorrow. IMG has also launched Serie A Pass for the Italian league’s global audience, available initially in 20 markets, to complement individual rights deals it has struck with global broadcasters such as ESPN+ in the US.
The SPFL’s next move?
As has been widely reported, these are troubled times for MP & Silva. This week’s confirmation that the Scottish Professional Football League has terminated the long-term international broadcast rights agreement, signed in 2013 and due to run for another four seasons, is the latest blow, with the SPFL stating that MP & Silva ‘defaulted on a number of payments due to the SPFL and to other leagues around the world’. The league says it is now exploring opportunities to provide coverage outside the UK, which could mean partnering with another rights agency or perhaps even the development of its own platform.