What Eurosport CEO Peter Hutton brings to Facebook's hunt for live sport

Facebook eyes up sports rights

Eurosport chief executive Peter Hutton is on his way to Facebook to lead up its sports ambitions after the Winter Olympics’ conclusion in February. The Drum looks at what he has achieved and what he will bring to the table of the world’s biggest social network.

Hutton oversaw Eurosport’s growth from an ecliptic mix of European sports into the home of the Olympics after Discovery Communication’s €491m purchase of the channel in 2015 from TF1.

It secured four Olympic Games from 2018 to 2024 at a time when TV audiences were drifting onto fresh, and often unexplored, platforms. Simply put, there was no way to say with certainty where the bulk of audiences will actually be watching these games. In response, Hutton strived to have sports content on as many platforms as possible to deliver the first fully digital Olympic Games ever.

Having spent three years at Eurosport, supplementing experience at sports rights group MP and Silva, as well as broadcasters ESPN and Fox, Hutton will soon be head of sport at Facebook as it looks to build a rights catalogue and viewing platform.

The shape of Facebook’s sports coverage has still to form, until now it has relied on partners to broadcast live through the site. Whether it continues with these affiliates or builds its own proposition remains to be seen. To date it has dabbled in Major League Baseball games, Champions League, minor conference college football and other bits and bobs.

With an intent to supersize this, last year, Facebook issued a failed bid for the Indian Premier League cricket coverage at what would have amounted to a $600m outlay. The rights went to Rupert Murdoch's Star India which blew Facebook out of the water with a £1.97bn bid.

So what shape will Hutton’s Facebook sports look like?

If his time at Eurosport is anything to go by, Hutton’s enthusiasm for digital will serve him well. Over the next year, the broadcaster persists with experiments on Facebook Live, Snapchat, the Eurosport Player and with influencers, showing his willingness to rip up the broadcast rule book.

Hutton is on record in The Drum, saying that sports broadcasters “can't ignore [Facebook and Twitter], instead you need to make them part of your story”. This mentality will serve him well at the social platform.

Speaking in the latest issue of The Drum magazine, Hutton explained that he sees no difference in what Amazon and Facebook are looking to do in the sports space in comparison to the likes of traditional broadcasters, from at least, Eurosport's perspective.

“Eurosport has accepted the reality of how people are consuming TV, we work with Facebook and Amazon like we do Sky and BT, and any other platform. We are impressed with the working relationships, they are just platforms like Snap or PayTV. These partnerships are important if we are serious about touching down and monetising in many ways as possible.”

With Snap and the inclusion of influencers, Hutton was keen to have his PayTV proposition reach out to new audiences, and open up some of the content for free. His respect for the role of social media in sport is apparent when he discusses Eurosport’s Olympic broadcast partnership with Snap.

“14-year-olds spend their lives permanently on Snap, some get their sports from Snap, it is a reality, we have to be aware of this, they are sports fans and they are obsessive with the news. So we have to create the best possible unique content. It is a great way of making the story complete.”

Further to this, in the online space, the right influencers can add value for broadcasters. “This is how people are accessing information, we can’t rely on traditional news media to connect with everyone, they might not be PayTV audiences, if we can reach these audiences, we should," said Hutton.

Jim Dowling, managing director of Cake, the Havas Sport and Entertainment agency, dubbed Hutton as a “veteran deal maker from the world of linear broadcast rights”. He added: “He will be forever associated with Discovery Eurosport's Olympic deal, which at a stroke rendered Eurosport relevant after decades of being a marginal player.

Dowling wondered what Facebook’s intentions with live sports will be.

“Facebook's relationship with sport is evolving as streaming becomes normalised for a mainstream audience. It may bid for expensive monopoly rights in some sports, in some regions: Cricket in India, football in Europe for example. But Facebook's sport strategy will evolve in its own way and it's no longer relevant to bunch all the various platforms together and assume they are following the same agenda."

Dowling concluded: “How Facebook uses sport may differ to say, Amazon, Google, Netflix or Apple. The lessons of the last thirty years of linear broadcast rights growth may not apply. This is what makes it so exciting.”

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