Digital | Jul 25, 2014

Sport sees return of the telcos

European telcos re-enter sports-rights market

The strategy of several major telecommunications operators across Europe to acquire sports broadcast rights to challenge more traditional players in the media space was emphasised in June when Deutsche Telekom signed a deal to show the German Basketball Bundesliga exclusively in its domestic market.

Deutsche Telekom acquired live rights to the league from 2014-15 to 2017-18, a package previously held by sports broadcaster Sport1.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, as they say, but coming after the aggressive investments in sports rights by BT in the UK and Telefónica in Spain, it is seen by many as part of a pattern of European telcos coming back to the sports-rights market after having largely abandoned it. 

At the beginning of the last decade, European telcos started buying up exclusive sports rights, either to drive embryonic 3G operations or to create digital pay-television platforms. Telefónica was probably the most aggressive in its spending, and other telcos that followed included BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia in Italy, France Télécom’s Orange and KPN in the Netherlands

The strategy was largely a failure, both as a revenue driver and as a marketing exercise, however they are now coming back because changes in the marketplace – particularly with the development of ‘unified’ services such as triple-play (fixed line telephony, internet and television) and quad-play (triple-play plus mobile) – are dragging content to the heart of the business model.

In Spain, Telefónica has advanced on two fronts: acquiring exclusive rights to top sport like Formula One and MotoGP and buying up the shareholdings held by Prisa and Mediaset in the Canal Plus pay-television platform. In March the company launched Movistar Fusion TV, which offers the same content across all screens.

Europe’s established telcos, especially those which are state-run or were formerly state run, have some advantages over the pay-television operators they are increasingly in competition with. They generally have a very large household penetration which has given them long-standing relationships with a huge customer base to whom they can up-sell pay-television products as part of a unified service. 

They are also delivering content through internet-based services which allow for a far greater degree of personalisation and interactivity than satellite or digital-terrestrial delivery.

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