Twitter eager to cement its position as live sports content provider in Asia as Amazon settles in

Twitter is hoping to get a head start in Asia Pacific with live sports as Amazon only entered the region in the middle of 2017.

As Twitter continues its fight against Amazon in the United States for sports viewership figures, after losing its NFL livestreaming rights, it is hoping to get a head start in Asia Pacific as the ecommerce giant only entered the region in the middle of 2017.

After Amazon entered APAC in July and announced the launch of its Prime service earlier this month, it is no surprise that Twitter has been in a rush to ramp up its live content sports partnerships in APAC with the NBA, Fox Sports Asia, Riot Games, Melbourne Cup and Eleven Sports.

Having livestreamed the 2017 Melbourne Cup for second consecutive year, Twitter claimed it saw an audience of 1.6m unique users watching the content globally, and that the event trended on its platform in 12 countries around the world. In Japan, together with Mainichi Shimbun, it livestreamed Senbatsu 2017, the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament of Japan. Meanwhile in Singapore, it livestreamed the 2017 RHB Singapore Cup with Eleven Sports.

It also partnered with the NBA to create a bespoke exclusive show after its research found that NBA fans not only came to its platform during the live game window, they also came around the clock because they wanted to find out what is happening with their favourite teams and players.

Twitter believes that sports properties are keen to partner with the platform over the likes of Amazon and Facebook for live content because of its value proposition of being the platform for what is happening and what people are talking right now in the moment, according to Laura Froelich, global director of sports partnerships at Twitter.

Froelich, who was speaking to The Drum at Twitter APAC headquarters in Singapore, further explains that Twitter realised five years ago that it had ‘incredible conversations’ to what was happening on the platform around sports, news and entertainment, which led the platform to decide that it wanted to drive the conversations further by having the actual content that people were talking about.

“We struck partnerships with all of the major leagues, teams, athletes and broadcasters to bring their incredible content on to our platform. We now have over 300 partnerships with rights holders in more than 25 countries around the world,” she says. “It has allowed us to bring incredible content to fans and helps our sports partners to access those audiences, as well as new audiences that are becoming harder to reach as the media landscapes change.”

The American adds that livestreaming content has also helped its partners drive revenue because Twitter is able to create sponsorship for their premium content, which allows advertisers to align with those content, fans to get the highlights and conversations to get richer on its platform. “We have built that foundation and on top of that, we took it a step further by livestreaming the events themselves and have those together with the conversations all in one place.”

Stressing that Twitter is keen to ensure that the content it carries appeal to APAC audiences, Froelich highlights that one of the first sponsorship that Twitter sold for NBA programme this year was in the Philippines and reveals that NBA is also creating a show for the platform in India. It also partnered with NBA to sell sponsorship to Nike in the Philippines.

Maurizio Barbieri, head of sports partnerships for Southeast Asia at Twitter, jumps in at this juncture to explain that the focus on producing content specifically for APAC is because football is the number one sport in Asia. It is where not only the English Premier League, the La Liga or the Ligue 1 are widely followed, but there is also a great passion for the local leagues like Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian leagues.

“I always say that in this part of the world, you support your local team plus one or two teams from an overseas league. We are all fans of Manchester United and some other team. These are based on the conversations we see on Twitter,” explains the Italian. “Esports goes across borders and demographics as well, motorsports where Indonesians are crazy about MotorGP, badminton is very popular in Indonesia and Malaysia, and basketball in Philippines.”

Barbieri adds that by looking at the Asian populations and what people like, what they are talking about sports and share their passions throughout the whole week, Twitter can keep people engaged in between events because people talk about what happened and what is about to happen.

Agreeing with Babieri was Matt Hill, senior vice president for global sports and entertainment at GMR Marketing, who notes in an email interview with The Drum, that while much of the sports-related livestreaming content that Twitter has acquired to date is very US-centric, including the NFL, WNBA and collegiate sports and is less compelling to the APAC audience, it should serve as a tool for engaging the large expat community across this region.

At the same time, Hill explains that as American sports properties look to grow internationally, the Twitter platform can provide a lot of value in helping them reach new markets. “There is no question that the presence of Amazon Prime Video in over 200 countries and territories factored into the NFL’s decision to grant its live streaming rights to Amazon in 2017, as the league looks to expand beyond America’s borders,” he says of Twitter’s decision to sign larger deals.

Twitter is also extremely keen to monitise the sports content it livestreams, says Froelich, adding that when the platform talks to brands about potential sponsorships, it also talks to them about what does the sport and its content look like on Twitter, what does the conversation look like, and more importantly, what does the audience look like.

“The beauty of our programme is that the advertisers can promote the content partners' content using all of the sophisticated targeting capabilities that they are used to using to advertise their own content on our platform,” she explains. “For example, there is an advertiser who wants to reach men from 25-34 who are living in a certain place and engage with content about football, advertisers can use these parameters to deliver premium football content to those targeted audiences.”

Froelich adds that the advertisers’ pre-roll commercial will run before any premium content and will be tweeted by the content partner, which will be delivered to the timelines of the audiences that are being targeted.

Looking ahead, Twitter is in conversation with existing FIFA World Cup and Olympics broadcasters, who are also partners, to explore what kind of things they can do together and what kind of content to bring to viewers, and promises that it “will have news around that soon.”

Allowing its users to interact more with livestreaming content is also on the cards, according to Froelich, as Twitter is always looking to experiment and iterate to make its product the best that it can possibly be. “Our number one priority when we first launched our livestreaming capabilities was making sure that the livestream itself was crystal clear regardless of the bandwidth. We are also ensuring that the people who are most likely to be interested in the event are able to be discovered easily by making sure that we have the right levers to market to fans on the platform,” she says.

Froelich points out that some of these innovations are already live as users can now set reminders for livestreams and livestreaming content are also able to play within the tweet. “That means the livestream can travel wherever the tweet goes, allowing us to promote those tweets to the people that we think would find the content the most relevant,” she explains.

In September, The Drum took an in-depth look at how a new era of broadcasting is underway as digital players like Twitter, Facebook and Amazon fight for sports right and how it will radically transform the way people watch sport.

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