Nine CEO Mike Sneesby on why a splintered sports streaming market is good for consumers

Nine-owned Stan Sport recently wrapped up its coverage of Wimbledon including a free-to-air element on the Nine Network that culminated in Ash Barty's win becoming the #3 rating program of the calendar year. Nine Entertainment Co CEO Mike Sneesby goes behind the numbers with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson to chat BVOD measurement, Stan Sport's growth, commercial opportunities and landing the rights to the UEFA Champions League.

Mike Sneesby, the man credited with the rise and rise of Stan and now chief executive officer of Nine Entertainment Co (NEC), is rightly pleased by the performance of Stan Sport in its early months.

The platform is dovetailing well with Nine’s free-to-air assets, Sneesby says, and subscriber numbers are growing, with consumers who want more than the surface level match coverage getting their value for the $10 a month Stan Sport costs on top of a regular Stan subscription.

“Nine has a really unique ability to arrange sports in a way that would be very difficult to do if you didn’t have a free and paid platform in terms of giving it the breadth of audience on free-to-air, and the yield of commercial opportunity on the subscription side,” Sneesby explains.

Nine CEO Mike Sneesby

While he wouldn’t be drawn on exact numbers, Sneesby insists the subscription numbers are “accelerating” since his subscriber update earlier this year, at the time indicating that Stan Sport had around 150,000 subscribers.

“What I’m happy to share around that is, the Rugby test last Wednesday night, delivered an audience of over 200,000 on Stan Sport.

“These cross-platform deals that only Nine is positioned to do are working really well across our subscription and our free platforms. On the free-to-air side of things and 9Now you can clearly see the success of those events on television.

“It’s been a really important week in terms of how that strategy is coming together, how successful it’s been for our business, and also how it’s driving the result for us on free television.”

However, the cross-platform proposition is about to get some competition from ViacomCBS and its free-to-air Network Ten and paid streaming platform Paramount+. Already the two platforms have signed up a five-year deal with the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) to broadcast the A-League and W-League along with Australia’s national football teams, the Socceroos and Matildas.

ViacomCBS has secured the rights to all international matches outside World Cup, including the World Cup qualifiers, and games by Young Socceroos, Westfield Young Matildas, Joeys, and Westfield Junior Matildas, as well as the FFA Cup, and various AFC (Asian Football Confederation) competitions.

Meanwhile, Nine wrapped up its Wimbledon broadcast over the weekend, with a time-adjusted metro audience of 1.551 million tuning in to watch Ashleigh Barty win the women’s final, and another 502,000 in regional markets.

The tournament reached a total of 6.363 million national viewers across its two weeks on Channel 9 and 9Gem, while Nine shared that 51.8 million live minutes were streamed on 9Now (equating to 1.7 million streams).

Sneesby says having the option for consumers to go beyond the free-to-air broadcasts and dive into a significantly enhanced offering on Stan Sport, was key to hitting those numbers.

“In the case of Wimbledon it’s every court, every game, every minute, it’s ad free, it’s live and it’s on-demand. The combination of the assets, it gives the consumer the ability to choose whether they want the whole lot on Stan Sport or to watch those key, free-to-air moments.

“For commercialisation, Nine is able to bring more sport into its schedule through that cross-platform opportunity, which means great opportunities for advertisers.”

Ash Barty’s Wimbledon win was the #3 program so far this year

Ahead of its recent Wimbledon and Wallabies broadcasts, Sneesby says the Stan Sport team took learnings from Roland Garros and the Super Rugby season.

We’ve gotten better and better at understanding the opportunities to cross-promote, to give our audience a sense of what’s available on each platform,” he says.

“As an example of that, during Super Rugby on Saturday nights you’ll see that as you go to ad breaks the commentary team will talk about the fact that commentary continues over on Stan Sport, and also talk about some of the other games that aren’t available on free-to-air.

“Again, this is really a first in television, the ability to have both those disruption channels.”

Stan Sport will soon begin its first foray into football, and European football at that, after it picked up the rights to the UEFA Champions League. “We’ve obviously entered into the partnership with UEFA because we believe in the competitions, we believe in the product,” Sneesby says.

Nine’s CEO admits that Optus Sport walked so that Stan Sport could run when it comes to European football. “What Optus has done is break new ground. I’d echo what Clive [Dickens] has said, these big competitions stand on their own two feet.

“We believe in the competitions. The current Euro 2020 finals are a really good example of how passionate Australians are about European football.

“It’s the best teams, the highest level of competition in the world. So no surprise that people get excited, particularly when we’ve obviously got a lot of English folks in Australia who are very passionate about their English team.”

Sneesby agrees with Optus’ Clive Dickens, that there are plenty of football fans to go around, despite the sport now being shared between the likes of Optus Sport, Ten and Paramount+ and Sports Flick.

Despite this increasing fragmentation, he says the proposition is still better value than back in the days when Fox Sports had the rights to most sports, leaving consumers with only one option: paying for an expensive pay television package even if they were only interested in one sport or competition.

“When services like Stan Sport are offering sport at [an additional] $10 a month, you are giving consumers the ability to choose their competition and pay the right amount of money rather than spending their entire pay television subscription in order to get that.

“So as much as there’s some rights moving around, the outcome is better value for consumers. The guys at Optus Sport have done a fantastic job with football over the years, but there’s plenty to go around.”

Chelsea celebrate winning the 2021 Champions League / Facebook

When asked whether the inability to present an industry-recognised figure that sums up the total impact of Stan Sport across free-to-air, BVOD and even Stan Sport, Sneesby admits that industry measurement “has lagged a bit” with the reporting side of things.

“We are almost there on that… what I’d probably turn to is that the growth in that category in terms of both audience and revenue has hit a really important inflection point.

“We are seeing the major growth in live streaming, across all our great television shows, and you’ll see that more and more as you see really meaningful audiences numbers coming through across our 9Now platform.”

Since becoming CEO of Nine, Sneesby is yet to announce his own full-time replacement at Stan, but says that Stan’s chief financial officer and director strategy, sport, business development and product, Martin Kugeler, has done very well filling that void.

“He’s done a fantastic job in that business, he is extremely familiar with every part of it and we’re delighted with his performance.”


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