After securing the exclusive broadcast rights to the Olympics, Discovery Communications is pitching Eurosport as the new home of the games and prying audiences away from free-to-view alternatives. Chief executive, Peter Hutton, maintains this will be driven by its depth of coverage coupled with a greater sense of narrative around the sports and athletes competing.
The Discovery Communications network is comprised of an ecliptic mix of channels, however a common attribute shared by many, says, Hutton is their storytelling ability. This is something which he believes will serve as a huge benefit to Eurosport, allowing the channel to leverage its pedigree to weave stories around sport in a way which its rivals cannot.
As part of its marketing as the new ‘Home of the Olympic Games’, Eurosport has been strategically deepening its ties with Olympic sports. This approach has saw it acquire the broadcast rights to all four tennis grand slams, winter sports, cycling, pentathlon and many more. Now over 50% of its coverage is Olympic sports.
While the games is the most watched sporting event in the world, many of the athletes are relatively unknown to the majority of viewers, a knowledge gap Hutton believes could change with a far richer and entertaining perspective on the stars of the sports.
The overall aim, said Hutton, is to provide “something specialist” for sports audiences and this involves investing in the kind of talent that gives it an “editorial advantage over other channels”.
The first example of this is the ‘Chasing History’ programme, a documentary series following skier, Lindsey Von. The show follows Von as she attempts to come back from injury and realise her dream of breaking the number of FIS World Cup wins and become a four-time Olympian. The behind the scenes show looks at one of the sport’s biggest draws in what Hutton describes as “immersive programming” and asserts that it illustrates how Eurosport is able to do things differently.
It’s this kind of programming which Eurosport plans to build on with other athletes across an array of sports. The idea being that it will give more context and depth to the athletes and their backstories and rivalries that will hopefully play out at the Olympics, thus proving that Eurosport offers a more entertaining take on the Games.
Eurosport’s IOC partnership also grants it the archive of Olympics footage. This in turn gives it a rich colour palette with which to play with as it looks to tell stories around the rivalries and struggles which underline the games.
This will help ensure that it offers a greater depth than any other broadcaster. The BBC may have a longer history of delivering the Olympics to UK audiences, but Eurosport now boasts a comprehensive library of entertaining content which far exceeds that of its rivals.
“The real remit has clearly got to be that we give the viewer a better Olympic experience than they've had previously,” said Hutton. “I think if you look at the partnerships which we’ve already made, you can see that we cater for people who are really interested in these sports, we’re trying to provide something specialist for certain sports audiences.”
Hutton refers to the standoff with Sky as evidence of the specialist and comprehensive service which Eurosport offers its customers. “During the dispute with Sky we saw a huge volume of social media feedback from really passionate fans who, once they realised that their cycling or skiing might not be on Sky, were very vocal in their support.
“When you’re a broadcaster you don’t get that feedback from your customers. I wish it had come in a different environment, but it was really heartening to see that support.”
However, despite the support from loyal viewers being a pay-TV broadcaster means Eurosport still faces additional hurdles in reaching a wider audience and Hutton is the first to admit that “to grow the sport you can’t just put it behind a paid for broadcast channel”.
Look no further than the curb in momentum around cricket to realise the potential pitfalls of putting a sport, which has potential to grow, behind a paywall. When the English Cricket Board sold the broadcast rights for the Ashes to Sky in 2005 it hurt the sport. The final day of the Ashes in 2015 had a TV audience of 467,000, whereas the average Channel 4 ratings for live coverage of the Ashes in 2005 was 2.5 million. This coincided with a decline in interest around the game, according to Sport England Active People survey; participation levels of people playing cricket fell by 32% in the decade following Sky’s acquisition of the exclusive TV rights.
Hutton does not envisage sport onEurosport succumbing to the same pitfall, and refers to the channel’s flourishing audience base as evidence of audience have taken to its commitment to cover more of the sports they love.
“The difference between us and Sky is our viewing figures are going up year on year, like 10% plus upwards in the last two years in the UK.”
The reason for this growth, according to Hutton, is the company’s emphasis on reaching as many people as possible while maintaining the value of its rights assets.
“I think part of that is the philosophy of us thinking let’s make sure as many people as possible are aware of an event happening whereas Sky are driven by the Premier League and they can’t really do that,” said Hutton.
“Take for example the Australian Open which, even though we had it exclusively live, we made sure the highlights on the BBC. I think it all helps the sport and at the end of the day if it helps the sport then we do better, you can’t see yourself as separate and in existing in a different eco-system.”
With this in mind, Eurosport will look to strike a balance of making content like its Chasing History programme available on free-to-air channels. The broadcaster has adopted this approach with many of its sports rights including things like the the Australian Open, which despite having the exclusive rights, it licensed the highlights to the BBC. It has also agreed a sub-licensing deal with Channel 4 for this summer’s Women’s Euro 2017 football tournament in France.
“What we’re trying to do is integrate more with Discovery and get sports content onto those Discovery channels which are free to air,” says Hutton. “Ultimately we need to touch as many people as possible with sport so having free air elements of what we do is definitely part of our philosophy”.
With the Olympics, Eurosport will continue this strategy and has already sub-licenced 200 hours’ worth of footage to broadcasters- including the BBC throughout Europe.
Time will tell whether audiences continue to respond in this positive way when the Olympics rolls around, but with the hand Eurosport has already shown coupled with its increased focus on reaching more people through mobile, the channel appears to be laying strong foundations in its claim to be the new home of the Olympics.