As the rise of live streaming across Twitter and Facebook continues to change the face of sports broadcasting, Eurosport’s chief executive Peter Hutton reveals how he plans to work with them to better navigate the tempestuous waters of sports broadcasting.
Much has been written about the so-called ticking time-bomb that is live-streaming to the future of media owners like Eurosport. Some observers believe Twitter’s recent deal with the NFL and the rise of rights owners like La Liga experimenting with streaming live matches online, is a glimpse into a future where people are watching more content on media’s new powerbrokers.
All too aware of the challenges and more importantly the opportunities these platforms could unearth, Eurosport wants to work closer with them moving forward. Broadcasters know that despite shelling out millions for rights to the world’s biggest sports, much of their engagement is from conversations happening online around the matches. Consequently, coming up with ways to muscle in on those conversations is a key goal for the Discovery-owned platform.
Eurosport may not have had the rights to Euro 2016 however it was still able to successfully capitalise on the huge audience around the tournament with its Eric Cantona ad, which proved be a big hit with one in ten people in the UK having watched the ad on the opening weekend.
— Eurosport (@Eurosport) July 9, 2016
The decision to invest money in content that will not air across a traditional broadcast channel is something of a gamble but Hutton maintains that it’s important to create meaningful content that will give his business relevance around big discussion points.
Aware that the traffic throughout June was heavily football based, Eurosport set itself the challenge of creating “something unique that respects the right holders and at the same time allows you to put your own stamp on it".
Much of the success of the Cantona ad was driven by Facebook and Twitter, which Hutton said illustrates that “you can't ignore them, and instead you need to make them part of your story” during key events.
A major focus for the broadcaster going forward is looking at how to best to share content and the media executive believes that part of the solution is to “create celebrity led content because that becomes viral much more quickly than anything else”.
Football is a one of the sports which Eurosport is defining itself through thanks to its regional rights to show some of Europe’s top leagues in their home nations. While it may not have had access to the Euros, the content chimed with the tournament and could help pave the way for future broadcast deals around the sport, claimed Hutton.
“I think a lot of federations, and Wimbledon's a good example, are increasingly trying to create their own identify on social media so if you can be seen as a good partner in helping to establish their brands then I think that really helps you in terms of broadcast rights and the overall partnership with them”
Having viral content like the Cantona ad so prominent across social at key times will in turn help the broadcaster better forge its identity in the minds of audiences which is exactly what Eurosport has been striving to do since it was taken over by Discovery Communications last year.
“It's vital to have a really clear story of what your channel is about,” said Hutton. “I think that's something which Eurosport lacked in the past, it was a sort of a bit of everything channel. To identify with the biggest sports or the biggest personalities in the sport is a real chance for us to reinvent ourselves as a much relevant sports provider.”
Free to air broadcasts are a vital component in this respect as seen by the slump in audience figures once BT Sports hived off Champions League matches behind a paywall. It's a decision Eurosport can ill afford to replicate if it is to successfully rebrand itself as more youth-orientated brand.
With this in mind Eurosport has made its Formula E coverage available on ITV, a sport which Discovery Communications has an equity stake in. Formula E is still very much in a growth phase and so the broadcaster has a deep-rooted interest in trying to develop it.
“There's no use putting sport behind a paywall and hoping people will get there, you've got to curate it a bit,” says Hutton.
“When you have an equity involvement you can take a real long term view on an event and plan on how you'll grow the popularity of it and that's one of the things that's an interesting experiment with Formula E.”
The motivation for investing in Formula E was more than just gaining unrivaled access to an attractive sport at the forefront of green technology. Formula E also helps align the broadcaster with a large and engaged millennial audience thanks to the sports close ties with e-gaming.
“The fact that it's really got involved with-gaming and appealing to younger demographic is one of the things that makes formula E quite attractive for us,” admits Hutton.
Technology is a pivotal tool in helping sports broadcasters stand out from rivals, which is why Eurosport has invested in virtual reality (VR) as part of its rebranding efforts. Rather than showing the same images as other broadcasters it believes that VR will provide unique perspectives of sports which viewers cannot get anywhere else.
This led to the launch of its own VR app which incorporates the technology across a number of its key sports including tennis, skiing and cycling.
The VR efforts are already paying off, claimed Hutton and have been boosted by endorsements by key figures such as tennis star Novak Djokovic who decided to carry out the 360 degree rig with him as he was coming onto court at Roland Garros.
“He’d seen what we had done with the skiing and was so impressed by it he wanted to be involved with it. It’s fantastic when you see big name stars want to become part of the story because when they think it's cool themselves you know you're touching the right area."