New opportunities in the European sports media market

July 22, 2020

By Damien Montessuit, SVP & Regional Head EMEA, MediaKind

This year has brought a challenging scenario to sports broadcasters and pay-TV service providers: how to retain subscribers without the availability of sports on TV? While classic archived content has helped to fill airtime during the early stages of the lockdown period, the absence of live sport has been acutely felt. In order to get live sport back on air, our industry has had to react and adapt very quickly to this new media landscape.

It has been notable in EMEA just how far the sports industry has been willing to innovate, tap into previously unavailable markets and look for new ways to enhance the end user experience. This period has certainly helped to accelerate the digital transformation; advancements which would usually take years to happen have been implemented in a matter of months.

We’ve already seen a surge in remote production; the emergence of immersive augmented reality overlays and use of artificial crowd noise to recreate atmosphere in empty stadiums. And we can expect further innovation in the coming months.

Constraints can enable innovation and creativity!

But COVID-19 has not only changed the way we watch live sports on screen – it’s also changed the way they are played. For the leagues and federations, the new health and safety considerations have forced a fundamental rethink around the entire matchday experience.

For instance, just a few miles away from MediaKind’s Southampton office, The Ageas Bowl was recently converted into three bio-secure ‘bubbles’ to host the first test match of the England v West Indies cricket series. The Times reported how the ‘inner bubble’ consisted of players, officials, coaches and ground staff, with the ‘outer bubble’ comprising TV and radio staff who were housed in the on-site hotel. Although the ‘outer bubble’ were permitted to go outside, they were not allowed to interact with any people from the ‘inner bubble.’ A third bubble then consisted of the written media, hotel and venue staff. Daily temperature checks and health questionnaires were mandatory before entering the ground.

A huge effort – but a necessary one to ensure the timely delivery of live sport to the outside world. After all, disconnected audiences mean reduced engagement and reduced audience engagement ultimately leads to a reduction in revenue investment provided by sponsors and merchandising. I would argue all these constraints could ultimately prove to be a force for good in terms of the innovation and creativity it has brought to the sports industry.

The sports market ecosystem today

Speaking to my sports sales team colleagues, it’s been clear that remote production and driving reductions in latency are the two themes that are dominating the minds of the major players in the sports and contribution & distribution markets. This also corresponds with some extensive internal research on the European sports market that we conducted with the expert sales, consultancy & investment agency, The Sports Playmaker. 

From this research we can see that the drive towards direct-to-consumer (D2C) offerings in the sports ecosystem is evolving at different speeds for different players. For instance, for the sports leagues and federations, D2C presents a big opportunity today. It enables them to retain their sponsorship reach, particularly in markets where they may not be able to sell their rights, and by providing the content directly, they have more opportunities to retain and acquire new fans. Through D2C models, sports leagues and federations can now offer new opportunities for their brand partners and sponsors to broaden their reach and in doing so, advance their commercial and merchandising efforts which are so fundamental to overall revenues.

However, in the broadcaster and telco space, D2C plays remain a long-term goal, as OTT offerings increasingly become the main screen experience. The market is still extremely focused around broadcast rights models, where the broadcasters or pure OTT providers pay federations directly to have the freedom to show the coverage. Through our research, it’s clear that the pathway to D2C models will be a 5-10-year strategy for many players in this market. In the immediate term, the core focus will be around increasing the potential reach, enabling streams at broadcast-quality level, and generating similar levels of engagement – all without cannibalizing their current broadcast revenues. They’re simply too valuable!

Remote Production: The hot topic in EMEA today

Having watched a number of sessions at the recent  SVG Europe ‘Football Summit 2020’, I was particularly drawn to the discussion around Sky Sports’ experiences of remote production in enabling last month’s ‘Premier League restart’ in England. Listening to the various logistical challenges of live lockdown football coverage – ranging from match directing away from the stadium, to health and safety, technical operations and production workflows – it really solidified how much the industry needs more flexible and faster distribution methods moving forward.

We have moved into a new era where service providers can no longer afford to be exclusively tied to satellite or fiber. While satellite dominates the contribution and distribution space, it is expensive and takes a considerable amount of time to set up. Through the decentralization of existing workflows, there are opportunities for operators at all levels to utilize cloud networks and the internet as a reliable back up link (and sometimes even as a primary link) to bring down the costs. Reducing the numbers of people and equipment on site to cover an event has never been more important – not least from a health and safety perspective.

We recognize the pressing need to help our customers succeed in the remote production space and over the coming months, my MediaKind colleagues and I would be delighted to discuss how we can help you tackle the challenges and compromises associated with it. These include maintaining synchronization between video, audio and metadata feeds; the need for end-to-end latency between production and distribution chains; and the availability and cost of transmission bandwidth. You can learn more here.

Enabling sports service providers to deliver new offerings in the Contribution & Distribution and Streaming space

By identifying the right partners to create the right types of solutions, we at MediaKind understand what it takes to build the best possible value proposition. One recent example includes our newly announced partnership with Tiledmedia and Focal Point VR to launch the industry’s first broadcast-quality, end-to-end streaming solution for 360-degree and Virtual Reality content.

It’s through these kinds of partnerships that we can apply our knowledge of the sports market alongside our longstanding and highly respected portfolio heritage in the contribution and distribution space. We understand that the sports market is a complex ecosystem but having developed a number of forward-thinking features over the past 18 months, particularly in areas such as cloud-based SaaS offerings and streaming products, we are very well positioned to lead in this space. We are really looking forward to introducing a wide range of innovations into the sports market and helping our current and future customers to drive their own product maps moving forward.

If you wish to learn more about MediaKind’s work in EMEA, particularly in the live sports space, please feel free to send me a direct message via LinkedIn.