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How Viewing Sports Is Shifting to Streaming, Social & OTT Services

Global sports provider ELEVEN SPORTS launched in 2015, with the mission to serve fans in a

new way. Four years on, ELEVEN is an award-winning platform that brings thousands of hours of live sporting action, interviews, documentaries and analysis to viewers across Europe and Asia. We caught up with ELEVEN’s group MD Danny Menken to learn more about ELEVEN’s journey, and where they are heading next.

You’ve been with ELEVEN since the start. What was the thinking behind launching a new sports platform?

Our view was that the traditional sports media landscape had been stagnant for too long. It had become fragmented and expensive and was not delivering for fans in the way it should. We felt there was the opportunity to create a new service that put fans at the centre of things and brought them the sport they loved, however they wanted to consume it.

Tell us a little more about where ELEVEN is today

We say at ELEVEN that we are a broadcaster created by fans for fans and that’s at the centre of how we operate. Our focus is on serving fans the sport they love in an innovative, fun and accessible way. We have platforms across Europe and Asia with a fantastic portfolio of rights across the group. These include UEFA Champions League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, UFC, NBA, NFL and F1. We have recently been awarded domestic football rights in Belgium too.

ELEVEN is ‘platform agnostic’. Can you explain what that means?

That means that we make our content available through every platform - linear TV (via cable, IPTV and DTH), OTT and social. We also partner with new and emerging platforms like the leading football app One Football - where fans can watch their favourite matches with a PPV offering. We understand that fans want to consume sport in lots of different ways, and we want to be there for fans on whatever platforms they like to use.

Is your OTT offering at the centre of your long-term strategy?

We still think there’s huge value in traditional linear TV and for many groups of fans, that will continue to be the primary way to watch live sport for foreseeable future. But OTT is exciting because it allows us to offer fans a more flexible and personalised viewing experience. For example, we introduced a new tool called Watch Together last season to our OTT service which allows our viewers to live steam games in the same ‘virtual room’ as their friends. It creates a sense of community between our viewers and that’s something that wouldn’t be possible through traditional linear TV - where viewing experience is a more passive one.

What is your approach to securing sports rights?

It varies from market to market. In some we are focused on bringing together the best premium rights and being a one stop shop for sports fans in that market. So, in Belgium for instance, football fans from next season will have access to all their favourite domestic football with ELEVEN, plus international sport like LaLiga, NBA, NFL and UFC.

We also see a big value in local rights, where they are serving underserved fans and our OTT platform allows us to show this content in a way we couldn’t as a straight linear platform. For instance, in Italy, we are showing Serie C and some Serie D matches to supporters who previously didn’t have the opportunity to watch their team play every week on traditional TV. The number of viewers for a Serie C match is obviously lower than for a big Serie A game, but if you happen to be a fan of Palermo, the value to you of that Serie C match is just as high if you were an Inter Milan fan wanting to watch Serie A.

What does the future look like for ELEVEN?

We are ambitious and we want to continue to grow. We are looking at new markets, some new rights and services in our existing markets, and we have lots of ideas to continue innovating our platforms. If you look back over the past four years, we have grown pretty quickly and we want to continue that trajectory in the years ahead – all with a big focus on building viable businesses that really serve our fans.

Finally, what are some of the opportunities and challenges you see for rights owners launching their own OTT offerings?

The last few months have seen lots of rights owners’ set-up their own OTT services and there are clear benefits. If you’re a niche sport getting into OTT, you are guaranteeing your content is available to fans in a way that it may not have been through a linear partner. You also get to learn a lot more about your fans and how they consume your content.

New D2C OTT platforms face some big challenges though. Firstly, it’s hard to set up an OTT platform – both from a technical point of view and building a workable subscriber base. As consumers, most of us will reach saturation point at 4 or 5 subscriptions - and that includes our Netflix and Spotify accounts - so your offering has to be really compelling to bring fans in.

To create that offering requires firstly a great team of people, who understand OTT and how to create a great product that works for users. It also requires a localised approach that speaks to audiences in a way that resonates with them. Localised talent, localised marketing and a strong understanding of local viewing behaviours are all really important. Of course, you also need a content offering that offers viewers something they really want – either because it is not something they have access to already or a great bundling of content that serves fans in a new way. If new D2C platforms get this combination right, I think they have every chance of success!