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SBD Global/March 7, 2014/Media

Sportel Asia: Sports Broadcasters Talk About Finding Key To Open Chinese Market

With a viewer base approaching 1.4 billion people, it is no surprise that sports broadcasters have set their sights on China. Sportel Asia wrapped up its schedule with a panel that covered “The Future of Sports Channels in Asia.” Panelists agreed that the market is vast and has evolved greatly over the last 20 years. Fox Int'l Channels Senior VP/Content & Communications Rohit D’Silva said that Asia is its largest region, and the area with the most broad-based and highly localized offerings. MP & Silva joint CEO Peter Hutton described Asia as the agency’s “emotional home, where it was all started.” Hutton: “We’ve seen the market grow up in the last 20 years, and it's what MP & Silva has grown up from.” Astro VP/Sports Business Content Group C.K. Lee said that when the Malaysian  media group began 17 years ago it only looked at TV. He said, however, “Now the landscape is very different. We look at business development. We want to go upstream.” He said that they are shifting from an int'l focus to local. With the focus in their backyard, Lee said it is easier to sell sponsorships and foster relationships. Lee added that he believes there is a way to “find the fine balance where [we all] can coexist” in the rights space.

WILLING TO PAY: All of the panelists believe there is room for paid TV growth in Asia. D’Silva said, “It’s not just about buying rights.” He said that focus should be on production, content and being able to deliver, and then increased paid TV will follow. He said that higher quality will improve the industry overall. D’Silva: “More involvement in driving up and building up the eco-system is good for everyone for the industry.” Hutton agreed that the biggest focus should be content, as there is “a lot of room” for paid TV in Asia. He pointed to the model in Japan and the demand to replicate it. Astro has seen pay-TV falter, but the company has found solutions around it. Lee: “All B2B comes to a point when you reach saturation.” Hutton supported customizing what broadcasters offer customers. Hutton: “Stepping stones are important in terms of building an audience and also getting people aware about sports.” A local source, however, said that “no one in China wants to pay to watch.” He said that it is a historical and cultural trickle-down effect, and the best pay-TV broadcasters can hope for is that the next generation, one that will have grown up in a more financially viable time, will be more interested in this content.

EXCLUSIVE MEANS VALUE: Hutton explained MP & Silva’s packaging strategy for exclusive rights. Hutton: “Exclusivity can mean different things for different people.” He said that rights can be packaged across different channels, platforms, buyers, etc., but the key thing is to have a unique story to tell. Hutton: “As long as your story is exclusive, you can drive subscription.” Lee also backed using split-rights deals to cut costs, something the sports media rights industry has seen skyrocket. Hutton added that since the industry of sports fosters so many stories, paid TV “can grow out of uniqueness, complimentary to free-to-air,” in a mutual relationship. Hutton added after the panel, “Keep all rights under the same umbrella of value around multiple media platforms,” so that different digital platforms do not take eyes away from each other.

FINDING VALUE IN DIGITAL: Monetizing new media has been a concern since its inception. D’Silva said, “No one has really cracked the exact model that is going to work.” He added that the approach will be different depending on the market. One approach Fox takes is offering apps that are only available to subscribers. Hutton said that regardless, digital media is necessary in an age of short attention spans and increasing options for content. Hutton: “Digital keeps the audience.” He said that, for example, interactive options require viewers to make decisions, which keep them engaged -- thus essentially increasing the value of the content.

BEATING THE PIRATES: In the Asian market, piracy has to be taken into consideration. The panelists agreed that it was a concern for them, especially against online platforms. D’Silva said, “They keep cropping up faster than you can keep up with them. Collectively, it is a major concern, and should be for rights holders as well. I don’t think there’s much we can do about it.” Hutton suggested offering a convenient place that people can depend on. Hutton: “Offer a place where you know where you can go, and what you’re going to get.” In terms of government regulations and control, D’Silva said, “I don’t think they could do much.”
Kristen Heimstead is a writer in Beijing.
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