The opening panel of SBJ/SBD’s NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference today in N.Y. saw panelists address myriad issues around what the next generation of media will look like. Esports, streaming, gambling, optionality and experimentation were big themes. Right off the bat, Facebook Head of Global Live Sports Programming Peter Hutton addressed his company’s strategy, and how sports can help the world’s largest social media platform. Hutton: “There are so many opportunities across not just Facebook, but Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus. The real challenge is to prioritize, because there are so many different things that the sports industry can benefit from across that range of platforms.” Facebook has already signed a few streaming rights deals, and Hutton said all the major social media giants are in a stage of “experimentation,” and the key for his company is “looking at different models in different markets.” Hutton: “You look at the markets that have big mobile penetration, that have strong broadband. You test different things in those markets. Some of them are premium rights. The Copa Libertadores in South America is a huge deal. La Liga in India is an interesting experiment. It’s a market the Spanish league wanted to push into.”
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE: Turner Sports COO Matt Hong saidhis company's move to put a heavy dose of UEFA Champions League soccer on the new B/R Live platform was driven by high levels of young Americans consuming European soccer. Hong said of the B/R Live business model, “It comes from some of the work we do around the NBA. For a few years now, we’ve had multiple prices for NBA League Pass. You can do an all-you-can-eat subscription. A team subscription. And a couple of years ago we rolled out a single team pay-per-view, which has been successful. So that informed our decision to offer something similar for Champions League matches.”
THE NEXT LEVEL: Genius Sports Special Counsel Bill Squadron said the next step, where streaming is not considered an “experiment,” will be “evolutionary rather than dramatic.” He used the example of Fox in the ‘90s with the NHL and NFL rights to drive a larger agenda. Squadron also mentioned that fans could be enticed by something like offering the final innings if Clayton Kershaw is throwing a no-hitter.
I WANT IT MY WAY: Hutton and Yahoo Sports Head of Content Sarah Crennan made solid points about the importance of customization for fans. Crennan: “One of the things we really focused on for our NFL experience is giving the user control. That’s a big and important theme. One of the ways we’ve addressed that is through a range of alert settings. A user can control when they’re driven to tune into the live experience.” She also said that the mobile ad experience will need to change. Crennan: “You always have to start with the consumer, and when you get a 30-second pre-roll, it’s terrible. Even 15 seconds is pretty terrible. We have to find the middle ground.” Hutton noted it is very easy to get it wrong on the ad formats. He said the way broadcast works “clearly isn’t” the way digital should work. Hong also mentioned that customization will be important as sports gambling evolves.
HEAT CHECK: Courtside Ventures Partner Deepen Parikh said the monetization of esports is an “area that no one has really figured out.” Parikh: “A lot of people are trying to do it. Big brands just haven’t come to the table yet.”
While RSNs continue to garner strong viewership, execs from three of the top regional nets said their channels are increasingly looking at the road ahead during a panel at the ’18 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference in N.Y. NBC Sports Regional Networks President of Group and Strategic Production & Programming Ted Griggs said that while sports might be “the last and best reality television,” the net still is trying to find new ways to engage with its customers. NBC Sports Regional Networks today relaunched its app, now called MyTeams, which focuses on individual teams rather than regions. “We want to engage with a fan 24-hours-a-day outside of just the game time, which is something we haven’t been able to do as well as we’d like,” Griggs said. “It’s about engaging with our customers and fans on the platform they choose to be on.” Griggs said that while the number of viewers who are watching games via the mobile platform is still low, it’s “a growing number, which is the greatest thing of all.” He said, "We view it as a means to an end -- wherever you are, we want to let the customer pick the best available device to watch the game, and that will lead to the next thing. When RSNs started, there was a sense you couldn’t show the home game because that would hurt that crowd. That wasn’t the case. Streaming the game is only making the pie of viewers bigger.”
IMPORTANT TO ENGAGE STREAMERS: NESN President & CEO Sean McGrail said that while his net sees only perhaps 1.5% of its total audience tuning into games via streaming -- roughly 15,000-18,000 subscribers -- he still views the platform as “an important step to continue to engage our audience.” McGrail said, “The vast majority of those viewers [watching the game via streaming] is from in-home, but the point being is that we want to be on every device and available at any location.” NESN recently released a new streaming app that is powered by Playmaker media. Spectrum Networks Senior VP & GM Dan Finnerty said that while streaming was an important area of growth going forward, the net was also being very mindful of pirating. That is something it is keeping a close eye on with LeBron James now playing for the Lakers. “We have to crack the code on ensuring passwords aren’t shared," Finnerty said. "We’ve retained a company to look at it and try to figure out how to suppress it, but it’s a bit of a wack-a-mole situation. We don’t have carriage on Dish Network, and 10% of the linear footprint in Los Angeles is Dish. Because we have relatively full distribution for the Lakers, it’s probably a nominal impact, but it’s still an impact.”
OPEN 24 HOURS: McGrail said that for NESN, an independent RSN, there is a need to be a 24-hour-channel to “have to look like ESPN” in the channel lineup. “We need our viewers to be engaged in primetime,” he said, noting that the net is producing everything on air around the clock, increasing looking towards local content and college games to fill in the gaps around its programming related to the Bruins and Red Sox. Griggs said that while the NBC Sports Regional Networks also want to be active all-day, he views them as “24-hour content creators.” Griggs added, “We want to reach the audience in different day parts using different means, which could be from 6am to 9am on mobile phones, 9am to 5pm on your PC or maybe phone, and then back to traditional TV later on." Griggs: "We want to find the audience where they are.”