'Fundamental revolution' in sports rights will see streaming overtake satellite in pubs

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

New platforms: Rawlinson says reliance on satellite TV will diminish in pubs
New platforms: Rawlinson says reliance on satellite TV will diminish in pubs

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Thanks to what Screach CEO Robert Rawlinson refers to as ‘the first-ever enterprise-grade streaming service to UK pubs’, can operators expect an alternative to satellite sports packages?

For many sport pubs, the word ‘streaming’ evokes fears of your customers missing a knockout punch, last gasp drop goal or VAR’s latest atrocity as your Wi-Fi plays catch up. That foam on the bar hasn’t come from hastily poured beer, its dropped from the mouth of a raging customer who’s just watched a stream buffer instead of an injury-time winner.

However, under a new partnership​ between Screach and Premier Sports, operators will be able to stream more than 1,500 live events – including Serie A and La Liga fixtures featuring Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. It’s estimated that Screach – which allows venues to live stream HD broadcasts interspersed with bespoke, audience-specific adverts on existing screens via stable cable internet connections and a smartbox – will deliver 150 incremental live football matches that don’t clash with Premier League fixtures. Picture a moment of Messi magic cutting to a half-time promo for your burger and beer matchday special.

“This isn’t just about getting the same content you’ve got on satellite via streaming,” Rawlinson says. “You might get the same content as a Premier Sports customer but it’s merged with your venue’s marketing, so it helps you get payback. That’s the difference.”

Sports rights revolution

From Facebook making a $600m (£465m) bid for digital rights to the Indian Premier League in September 2017 to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport signing a bank-busting $1bn (£78bn) promotional boxing deal with web giant DAZN, and Amazon joining the Premier League fray with rights to 20 exclusive fixtures this season – the way in which sport is watched is changing.

“In a nutshell, the whole sports rights market is going through a fundamental revolution,” Rawlinson explains. “There’s a fragmentation of sports rights ownership.

“Where in the past it was just Sky, it became Sky and BT, and is currently Sky, BT, Premier Sports and Amazon. You’ve still got Eurosport owning sports rights as well and Facebook are getting involved too – who knows who’s going to join in?”

Over-the-top (OTT) media services – streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime offered directly to viewers via the internet – have seen the sofa steal a march on the pub when it comes to social viewing experiences.

However, through partnership with Premier Sports, Rawlinson is hoping pubs can land a blow back with a proposed Netflix-of-sport-style streaming offer and by replicating the flexibility of these home-targeted OTT platforms.

“OTT has democratised the landscape so you don’t always need to use Sky any more. At home, you don’t necessarily use Sky for Amazon Prime or Netflix – you use your laptop or smart TV – it’s exactly the same in commercial premises. These rights holders are saying to themselves ‘we can go direct to customers for the first time because there are streaming platforms out there’.

“As the market fragments, the pub will need streaming capability if it wants to maintain its content. It’s not going to happen overnight – gradually more content will become available via streaming only and less will be via distribution platforms of the past like satellite boxes.”


Offering pubs content control

Currently in discussions with eight other sports rights holding organisations, Rawlinson sees streaming and marketing platform Screach as a middleman between broadcasters and the potentially lucrative on-trade – a market that recent newcomers such as Eleven Sports and Amazon have seemingly struggled to infiltrate.

“We’re effectively sitting in the middle of this. We’ve got the content rights owners on the right-hand side, who want to get their service into commercial premises, and customer need, an enterprise-grade streaming solution that gives them more flexibility at a lower cost, on the left. We help content rights holders access the commercial world while at the same time providing the service and marketing service wrapper for the pubs where it helps them sweat the asset.

“Our estimates are that commercial rights ownership costs have gone up 17% for the same content in the past three years. The trick here is streaming will allow you to pick and choose more and will also give you flexibility on price so you will be able to get more flexibility, and hopefully start to control those prices and make sure you show the right content that is suitable for your pub.”

Growing opportunity

Alongside Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A, Premier Sports will be able to beam live Scottish cup football, America’s MLS soccer league and all 152 matches a season of the Guinness PRO14 rugby tournament into pubs under its partnership with Screach.

However, with a near-constant churn of new OTT players, and scope to collaborate with content-producing sports teams, tournaments and organisations themselves, the Premier Sports partnership is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Rawlinson.

“The opportunity for us to open up new content for pubs is growing every day,” he says.

“It’s really interesting, I saw last week the launch of the first OTT women’s only service – I think it’s a Norwegian company that’s going around signing up all the rights for women’s football in different countries. That’s the sort of service we’ll look to get onto Screach. OTT allows for really vertical, niche markets. If women’s football is on the rise, there may be pubs who say ‘actually we’d really like that women’s channel and games in our pub’. We’ll do a deal with that platform, take the live games into our system and charge a subscription to the customer.

“We’re talking to eight organisations but there will be 40, 50, 60-plus that we’ll be talking to over the next two or three years – including the big boys but also the niche players. Who are we to say what a pub should show? We want to give pubs simple access to as much live sport as possible.”


Open to collaboration

But ultimately, does Rawlinson believe Screach’s ability to partner with multiple rights holders will see it do battle with the likes of Sky and BT for the pub market? “We’re absolutely in the space of collaborating with these people,” he explains. “We’re not a competitor to Sky or BT, we’re a platform provider.

“Currently BT uses Sky to distribute its content because that’s the platform that’s been used for the past 15 years. The next generation of distribution isn’t going to be on satellite, whether it takes one year, five years or 10 years to change.

“Sky has already made the strategic move that the future is about streaming – it has shown this via its app Now TV in the residential market. If organisations want to put their content into a streaming place and make sure the quality is right for their brand, for the consumer in the pub and for the pub themselves, then we’ve built that platform and are offering the opportunity. Just as importantly, we’ve merged it with venue marketing, which helps the pub get the payback.”

Esports expansion

The opportunity to collaborate with new and existing streaming services may not end with sports broadcasting.

The upcoming launch of cloud gaming service Google Stadia on 19 November – available via the Google Chrome’s web browser on desktop, smartphones, tablets, smart televisions, digital media players, and Chromecast – potentially heralds an opportunity for operators to harness the popularity of esports, and appeal to a hard to reach demographic.

“It used to 15 to 18-year-olds who were into esports but now the world’s moved on,” Rawlinson says, “I was looking at some stats for an American esports competition at Miami Bowl stadium where 70,000 people turned up, the average age was 18 to 24. That’s pub age.

“We’ve already got mobile phone interactive technology in our platform, so we already have the capability to get people to collaborate or interact with a screen on their mobile phone,” he adds.

“This means we could play video games via mobile as a social experience with the screens showing the content. I know it’s stargazing a bit, but we could do inter pub competitions in the same way that you have darts and pool, we could have competitions where people sit there as friends and play across 10 pubs in a live esports competition.”

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