NEWS

DISRUPTING THE DISRUPTORS - COMPETITION IS HOTTING UP IN THE SPORTS OTT ARENA

At ENGINE, our Content Practice focuses on two specialist disciplines.

The first of which is creative development and production of branded content, something we do for clients across our three pillars, including AstraZeneca, Under Armour & Mitsubishi.

The second is our work with entertainment brands in the OTT space (Over the Top = direct to customer VOD platforms), helping them market their existing content; brands such as Red Bull, who’ve we’ve worked with for more than three years developing strategies to deliver audience campaigns which surface the right content, to the right audiences, at the right time.

The burgeoning OTT world is a really exciting place to be at the moment. Initially seen as the big disruptor to linear TV, it’s experiencing an enormous amount of disruption within its own world, with the arrival of hundreds of new platforms bringing an explosion of competition. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of Sport, so just before Christmas we headed over to Madrid, home of one of our other key clients – the Olympic Channel, to the SportsPro OTT Summit to catch up on what’s happening in this ever-changing market.

Before you think this may not be for you, one of our biggest takeout’s was how many learnings were universally relevant, regardless of brand or sector – here are our 4 big learnings:

HYPER PERSONALISATION

Scott Doyne from Turner Sports who, when discussing the phenomenal success of March Madness (US College basketball gone crazy) on their NCAA OTT platform, talked a lot about how using data to drive hyper-personalisation, both in terms of targeting AND tailoring of production output, has helped them maximise customer engagement.

To expand on this, the NCAA team used data to firstly find out who was watching what and serve them with more content they’re likely to engage with (and help them create a lookalike audience to serve up more content to).

But they also used this data to enhance every viewing experience. They used heat mapping and tracking of engagement peaks and troughs to understand when their audience were most engaged with the content, and it enabled them to refine the output. So, they could create shorter or longer highlight edits for example, know which footage attracted more attention and even understand what areas within each frame was the key focal point.

This meant every second of content created reached the right audiences with content tailored to them, thus massively improving audience figures and engagement levels.

Simple but smart right, and relevant to the creators of any content, be it basketball or burgers.

THERE’S NO I IN TEAM – PARTNERSHIPS RULE

UEFA’s Craig Hepburn opened on how he foresees much of his platform’s success (UEFA.tv) come from partnering with local market host broadcasters, offering an extension to the main events that are shown on broadcast platforms, with deeper, more niche programming opportunities that strike a chord with their more bespoke audiences.

This was supported by Frank Arthofer from F1, who encouraged platforms to embrace the main event broadcasters, and avoid cannibalizing the audience that could otherwise be shared. Arthofer also advocated diversification of platforms within their partner portfolio.

So don’t just partner with host broadcasters, partner and optimise social platforms like Twitch (e.g. bespoke highlights packages created using Twitch vernacular) and consider partnering with the mass audience SVOD players such as Netflix to find new audiences through the likes of their highly successful Drive to Survive mini-series.

Following on from that there were comments from the IOC and even Youtube itself encouraging owners to embrace the different platforms and, rather than prioritising one, consider many, but be sure to play to the native functionality of each and embed the brand on the platform in an authentic way. 

One of the most interesting comments of the day came from Dan Porter at Overtime, who loves the idea of building partnerships with fashion brands, so when you buy a pair of sneakers for example, you get a year’s subscription to his platform, thus cementing the platform in fashion culture and tapping into a broader audience.

So my main learning here – embrace partnership opportunities, as many as are appropriate and in whatever form is right for the brief. And use their unique strengths to create authentic connections.

ATHLETES INFLUENCE

Micky Lawler, President of the WTA shone her spotlight on using the athletes as ambassadors for the brand and platform. Not a new idea by any means but it was interesting to hear her talk about how crucial she felt this was to the WTA platform’s success. And as access to talent becomes harder to lock down it’s refreshing to hear the President of a body such as the WTA put so much emphasis on ensuring contracts allow for proper athlete participation. 

Lawler wasn’t the only one whistling to this tune. We know the W Series team believe in the power of their drivers to engage new audiences. Our friends the IOC also believe in this approach as we created a massive athlete focussed influencer campaign for the Youth Olympic Games (in BA in 2018 and again in Lausanne 202).

Another big player in this arena is the WWE. We’ve all at some point seen their athletes/actors promoting one of the vast array of events in their portfolio. WWE unashamedly sits at the intersection between Sport and Entertainment, with a cast of hundreds who mix the two in a riotous explosion of promotion. John Brody, EVP of Sales & Partnerships (and a dead ringer for James Gandolfini – RIP), was very animated in telling the audience how important their stars are to spreading the joyous gospel of WWE. Oh, and he came up with my favourite quote of the conference:

“We want to be the first, set the pace, we don’t want to watch and react, we want to crush and kill”

What did we learn here – think about who your best brand ambassadors are and use them to the best of their ability.

WIRELSS 2.0

Matt Stag from BT Sport had plenty to say about the next big thing – 5G. We know it’s landed in the UK but we will see the full power it has to change the OTT landscape in 2020. Inevitably it will impact each and every user on 5G as the ability to download, upload, view and share will be lightning fast, so it should spell the death of latency, and mobile will be further cemented as the primary platform to interact with any content.

But the most interesting conversation regarding 5G played out around how broadcasters will use it to create new, more immersive experiences for their audience. The use of untethered cameras to get better access and move around faster for example. Remote production will speed up immensely, allowing things like quicker, more tailored highlights packages to be shared. It could even mean more live broadcasts, using more cameras and creating a more focussed offering, so ultimately it could lead to personalised live viewing experiences. Imagine that!

There’s still some way to go as the bit rate in some countries is still too slow but the big players Erickson and Huawei are working hard to accelerate the rollout globally.

So we should be thinking about how we could use 5G to create smart and creative production solutions in 2020.

So, there you go, 4 key trends that seem to have learnings for multiple parts of our industry! We’ve got plenty more where that came from too, so feel free to email me if you would like to hear more – simon.hewitt@enginegroup.com

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