The highly anticipated SportsPro OTT Summit returned in virtual form on Wednesday as an in-depth interview with former Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis kicked off two days of panel sessions, topic-specific roundtables, tech showcases, and networking huddles.
This year’s agenda incorporated conversations about trends accelerated by the pandemic such as remote production and watch together features, but there was still plenty of time to discuss more familiar topics such as the future value of sports rights, the threat of piracy, the role of gamification in OTT, and the looming impact of 5G.
The opening day saw attendees from around the world tune in for sessions built on the three main themes of strategy, content and technology, with speakers from the likes of Amazon, DAZN, WWE, NBC Sports, BeIN Media Group and ATP Media providing the expert insights.
With day one having drawn to a close, here’s our pick of the highlights:
Private equity funds are not vultures, but they’re also not charity
SPACs - full name: special purpose acquisition companies - have been all the rage in 2020, with several of these so-called ‘blank cheque’ firms raising vast sums of money to splash on sport and related sectors. Meanwhile a legion of private equity funds have taken a particular liking for sport throughout the pandemic (see: CVC Capital Partners) as major rights holders (see: soccer’s Serie A and the Bundesliga) start to warm to the idea of outside investment.
To date, the prevailing industry narrative has been that these chequebook-wielding venture capitalists are little more than vultures circling overhead, intent on stripping the meat from the bones of a rotting carcass. But that characterisation may be some way off the mark.
According to Barney Francis, the former managing director of UK pay-TV network Sky Sports, private equity fund managers are in fact “very capable and super-bright people” who are, well, pretty adept at making money. Opening up to these third-party financiers could be a valuable way for sports businesses to prosper after the pandemic, but, as Francis warned, don’t expect any charitable handouts from these hard-nosed moneymen.
Sport helps Amazon reach its Prime goals
Of all the tech giants linked with eye-watering bids for premium rights in recent years, Amazon has so far made the biggest splash in the live sports market, establishing itself across various territories through eye-catching deals with the likes of the National Football League (NFL), the Premier League and Uefa.
In a one-on-one interview with SportsPro managing director Nick Meacham, Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s vice president of global sports video, said that there is “no one sentence answer” when asked about the internet giant’s approach to acquiring rights, instead revealing that the company evaluates opportunities based on factors such as territory, customer base, engagement and convenience.
However, Donoghue did explain how Amazon sees live sports as a means to expose people to the other membership benefits of its Prime subscription offering, pointing out that the company’s first two days of domestic Premier League coverage were “the two highest-ever sign-up days for Prime” in the UK.
“Fans don’t just come in and watch the Premier League,” she said. “We know they come in, they get exposed to broader Prime Video offerings, whether it be entertainment, or documentaries, or other things, and they also get exposed to other Prime membership benefits.”
Esports has made younger fans expect real-time interactions
Athletes around the world kept themselves – and their fans – entertained during lockdown through esports, with the likes of Formula One driver Lando Norris attracting huge audiences as he streamed himself playing video games on Twitch.
According to Michael Sutherland, Real Madrid’s chief transformation officer, those fans aren’t simply there to watch, but also to engage with their favourite sports people. The Spanish soccer club themselves used Twitch during lockdown to broadcast past matches, and Sutherland said younger viewers now expect the ability for real-time interactions due to the impact of competitive gaming.
“It’s something that’s not well supported by a traditional broadcast model, which is why you’re seeing some of this new programming occurring,” he said. “We’re already seeing an enormous amount of engagement when we’re running live content with the ability for fans to engage directly with the hosts or guests of the show.”
DAZN’s linear play is all about access
“Who are we to not allow a consumer who doesn’t want to use OTT access to his or content?”
So asked Joe Markowski, DAZN’s executive vice president of global platform and revenue innovation, as he reflected on the subscription streaming service’s recent decision to apply for a linear distribution licence in Germany.
By Markowski’s own admission, the idea of launching a linear channel wouldn’t have got off the ground at DAZN five years ago, not least because the company had set out with the very mission of disrupting the way people have traditionally watched live sport.
Now, however, he says the poster child for live sports streaming has recognised that while its growth will continue to be through OTT, that shouldn’t come at the expense of fans who enjoy following the action via more traditional means.
“I know that if my grandfather was still around, he was a boxing fan, he wouldn’t have wanted to use in his 80s or 90s an OTT service,” Markowsi added. “We don’t want to restrict him from accessing our content because it’s not what we’re philosophically about.
"We’re about bringing content to sports fans in a democratic way and maximising the audience that watch sports content.”
For the pick of the coverage from day two, follow @SportsPro and @SP_Influencers on Twitter. Alternatively, sign up to watch every session for free here.
Whatever your chosen platform, don't miss the chance to hear from another stellar line-up of speakers and presenters, including representatives from NBC Sports Group, BeIN Media Group, Eleven Sports, TikTok, ATP Tour, House of Highlights, NWSL, UFC, Overtime and more.