LONDON — It has been a spring and summer in which digital-native platforms have risen up, signing deals to carry live premium sport broadcasts.
- Twitter: First, there was the deal in which Twitter will share rights to air 10 Thursday-night NFL games, alongside NBC and CBS but on a global basis.
- YouTube: Then UK pay-TV challenge BT Sport, which has spent large sums for a range of sports TV, decided to show Europe’s top two club soccer finals for free on YouTube.
- Facebook: Then, Spain’s LaLiga soccer league, the derby match between Madrid’s two women’s teams was broadcast live in Facebook.
So, with live sports the jewel in the crown of TV content today, are the digital networks really challenging traditional TV operators for the rights? Will traditional TV really lose its hold over top competitions?
Not so fast – each of the deals above was really about marketing, building the brand of at least one of the partners involved: the NFL outside the US, BT Sport to potential subscribers, and women’s soccer to the uncoverted.
Sports TV rights remain hugely lucrative – money the online upstarts may not stump up. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay locked to TV, and it doesn’t mean the online platforms won’t still have content to gain.
In this video interview with Beet.TV, UK pay-TV platform leader Sky, which paid a record £4.18 billion to retain three years of English Premier League soccer, reveals it hopes to distribute videos from its coveted locker through the big online platforms.
“We’ve got really strong partnerships with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – they are a very key part of our marketing plan for our content rights,” says deputy MD of the company’s Sky Media ad sales division, Jamie West.
“In the next Premier League season coming up in August, we’re already exploring with all of those platforms how we might share our Premier League clip rights across those platforms, within the rights restrictions that we have – time-bound, day of match and that sort of thing.”
For Sky, this is not altruistic. Nor does it represent a tipping point in which the networks gain full-match, live or substantial programming rights. Sky is not about to give away the content it has spent heavily for. But it does want to use soccer clips as a shop window for its full package of Sky Sports subscription channels.
“For us, it’s about driving consideration back to the Sky Sports app, the Sky Sports platform,” West adds.
“Some of our relationships are very deep-rooted relationships – whether it’s F1, Premier League in the UK or Bundesliga in Gemany. We look to build really strong relationships with those rightsholders that really amplify their content across multiple platforms.
“So for us in that social world it’s about bringing that consumer back to the (pay-TV) platform.”
Such a distribution arrangement would be interesting. In addition to owning live, multi-platform broadcast rights, Sky also has a separate package of rights governing online clips. Whilst these are also made available through Sky Sports’ own apps, the company also struck an exclusive sub-licensed distribution deal with its sibling company News UK, the newspaper publisher, to run the clips across The Sunday Times, The Times and The Sun newspapers’ digital properties.
The Premier League has tended to use coercion and legal action to remove illegal use of its rightsholders’ content from social and other online platforms, its latest concern being Vine clips and live rebroadcasts through Periscope and Meerkat. Sky Sports’ own football channel on YouTube stops short of including match clips.
Partnering with the online platforms to gain visibility for its premium content is nothing new. In a recent fire-side chat with me at The Guardian’s Changing Media Summit, Sky’s UK CEO and Facebook’s EMEA VP explained how the pay-TV company runs events to trail things like Game Of Thrones and Sky News stories on Facebook, all building awareness of Sky’s own core pay platforms – but never giving away too much.
This interview is part of our series “The Road to Cannes”, presented by FreeWheel. Please visit this page for additional segments.