Sportel America: Catering to multiscreen fans while retaining value of the linear telecast

The predominant theme at the recent Sportel America convention in Miami was how sports-content owners and rightsholders are dealing with the latest balancing act in content distribution: how to cater to a growing number of millennials who consume the bulk of their video content on mobile devices, while maintaining the value of the linear telecast, which remains the primary revenue source in nearly all major sports media-rights deals.

“Technology has gotten ahead of us, and the consumer is demanding these choices,” said Guillermo Santa Cruz, VP, Latin America, Mexico, and U.S. Hispanic, IMG Media, during a panel co-produced by SVG. “The fact that you can make all of these [content] choices through all of these devices is what is driving the business. The consumer is asking for these things, and it’s up to us to give them what they want. … But it also must make sense from a business and revenue [perspective].”

WWE’s two-pronged approach to fan engagement
In many circumstances, rightsholders have opted for a two-pronged approach to engaging fans, deploying a direct-to-consumer OTT offering along with a second-screen companion app that drives viewers to the linear broadcast. WWE, for example, launched the WWE Network in February 2014 as a subscriber-based direct-to-consumer OTT service offering access to top PPV events, exclusive live pre/post-show programming, and years of archival content and documentaries.

“As more and more of these platforms emerge, we see more opportunity to showcase a lot of rich content that we have built up over the last 30 years,” said Ed Wells, SVP/managing director, International, WWE. “It is an opportunity for us to share that rich content, which we are in the fortunate position of owning and controlling 100%.”

Separate from WWE Network, the WWE app serves as a companion viewing experience, offering social-media interaction, backstage footage during commercial breaks, and more in WWE’s Raw, SmackDown, and PPV telecasts.

“We have a very passionate, loyal fan base, and they want to engage with us,” said Wells. “We find that, by having a second-screen companion to the TV broadcast through the WWE app, … we are giving them an opportunity to participate in real time and … [keeping] them engaged with the content while it’s on television.”

The importance of engagement —to both the digital and the televised product — was a hot topic throughout the session. Tech vendors and content owners alike reported on efforts to find new ways to retain multitasking millennials.

“The biggest key word around all this is absolutely engagement,” said Mike Green, VP, marketing and business development, media, Brightcove. “If it’s an ad-supported model, engagement is certainly what drives additional impressions and revenue. If it’s a pay-wall–supported model, engagement allows people to receive more value, to feel that their $10/month or whatever [price] is worth it. … Engagement is key in everything that we do today.”

Tech giants set To enter digital-rights game
The NFL turned heads across the industry recently when it announced that the rights to the upcoming season’s Week 7 Jacksonville Jaguars-Buffalo Bills game from London (9:30 a.m. kickoff) will be sold solely for streaming distribution. The move signals the NFL’s willingness to do larger-scale business with Google, Facebook, and other tech giants. Many believe it is just a matter of time before these entities are at the same negotiation table as the broadcasters for high-profile sports rights.

“Apple, Facebook, and others will try to play this game,” said Bruno Rocha, SVP, distribution and client services, Perform Group. “Although tech companies have had a very mathematic analysis of the rights, that doesn’t always work in the sports industry. For example, ESPN or NBC might be willing to lose money on some rights to drive audiences to other programmes on their channels. In conversations with tech companies, I haven’t seen [the] mentality or flexibility to work with rightsholders that traditional broadcasters have.”

World Cup underscores multiscreen potential
No event demonstrated the power of multiscreen sports distribution better than the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which set new records for streamed-data traffic around the world. By the end of the tournament, the FIFA World Cup white-label app had been downloaded more than 10 million times in more than 20 broadcast territories, with as many as 3 million fans accessing videos, statistics, and live match content each day.

deltatre played a key role in that multiscreen activity, supplying the video player, collecting and generating statistics for all matches, and providing such features as isolated video feeds for the app and According to Jose Luis Kruyff, head of sales, Americas, deltatre, the World Cup success reflected how customer demand is driving the way rightsholders deliver live sports content.

“It is all about means, motive, and opportunity,” he said. “Means: there are more and more methods to get to the content you want. Motive: thank god, we are in a business where people want to consume the content we are offering. And opportunity: the access to content has never been [easier]. It is all being driven by customer demands.”

The communal gaming experience and live sports
One interesting new take on the multiscreen experience came courtesy of Virtually Live, a startup platform that aims to bring the MMO (massively multiplayer online) gaming environment to live sports. Virtually Live creates an all-encompassing virtual at-the-stadium environment that allows a user to explore digitally replicated stadiums, choose a seat from which to watch the action (field/player-tracking replicates the match on the pitch), and interact with friends via messaging and audio interfaces similar to MMO games.

“Most fans cannot attend a live sporting event,” said Virtually Live CEO Tom Impallomeni. “So it is our mission to create a virtual experience for fans around the world to attend live sporting events as if they are in the stadium watching in real time.”

Virtually Live could serve as a companion second-screen experience to the linear telecast, as a standalone experience, or as a fully immersive virtual-reality experience. For example, the Virtually Live Oculus Rift experience was demonstrated at Sportel American.

“There is a decline in linear TV, but, commensurately, there is a massive increase in interest in event-based TV. There is an unprecedented opportunity to use second screen to augment the experience around live events. We are trying to take that one step further and create an ecosystem where you capture that entire experience.”

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