Hi-tech innovation in sport and digital media must help broadcasters exploit the rights for which they have paid out ever inflating amounts.
In a session including broadcasters and tech innovators it was pointed out that while ESPN had paid a 180 per cent increase for NFL rights over the next nine-year period, there was no prospect of a similar increase in audience, indeed the audience coming via their traditional pay-TV customers was in long term decline.
Marco Maddaloni, sports broadcast consultant, readily admitted it was a challenge to reach out direct to fans both to attract more, and to further monetise the rights, without treading on the toes of their broadcaster customers. “No one is certain how to handle the transition from an 80:20 subs and advertising model, but we have to have new models.”
He said part of their deals with rights holders was to try and build the sports themselves; their fan pass app with the NBA that lets fans abroad see highlights, is a revenue share with the league, for example.
James Massing, commercial exec with the NFL, pointed out that the rights created a halo effect for ESPN bringing audiences to the channel and other sports. He said technical and content innovations must adapt to how consumer attitudes were changing: an NFL game takes four hours but fans in other time zones want to watch at their convenience and through a 40 minute highlight package. He also pointed out that only 2 per cent of fans would ever go to a game but it was all about transmitting that live experience to the other 98 per cent: “Live sport isn’t going anywhere.” Part of fan engagement, he said, was ‘b roll’ magazine content – player profiles for example, particularly in NFL where ‘getting beneath the helmet’ had always been a challenge.
Hi-tech innovators included Pixellot whose 8K fixed cameras at sports halls and playing fields across the world capture school, college and amateur sports and then, through the AI manipulation of the heavy data load, enable an SD feed that can mimic all the features of traditional coverage: ball following, player follow, close up, scoreboards etc. Another was InSoundz that can pick up and amplify the sound from any part or individual on the pitch. Both admitted that the rights ownership debate for these specialist services was ‘complex’ and fluid.
Taking place at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange the Summit, organised by Colosseum, celebrates Israel’s record in backing hi-tech innovation start-ups, increasingly including in sports. VCs have put $3 billion into tech in the last six months with the Innovation Authority putting up $500m a year to support up to 1,300 companies.