Opinion

Why streaming won’t destroy the relationship between sport and mass media

In a response to Mike Chmielewski, Nine’s director of sport, Tom Malone, argues while the online streaming of sport will continue to grow, the symbiotic relationship between mass media and the major sporting codes must and will continue.

Mike, thanks for taking the time to write about our deal with Tennis Australia. We think it represents a big shift for our industry and not just because Tennis is moving to “Channel 9” the TV station. What’s important here is it is about comprehensive partnership between both sport and media.

We’re excited because this is a sports rights deal which covers all platforms and speaks to a change in how content and distribution businesses like Nine engage with the major sporting codes. Indeed, most of Australia’s major sporting codes and their media partners are already working together to adapt to how audiences and their behaviour are changing.

Some of the attention of the past week has been on this as a “television deal” with media focusing about the free-to-air and pay-TV rights. But that’s not the only reason this is a transformational deal for Nine and Tennis Australia. Yes, our primary channel will benefit from exclusive and premium tennis content across 14 consecutive nights, at a strategic time of year for traditional FTA businesses.

More importantly, Nine views this as a landmark deal because we have secured exclusive live rights across all platforms – mobile, digital and social – and we intend to exploit them all with a view to driving greater engagement through an anytime, anywhere, any platform approach, while also maximising the commercial return.

It’s why we’ve invested significantly in building our broadcast video on demand platform 9Now (and very glad to hear you’re a fan of it).

Tennis is the next step on our sports rights journey, but I take issue with your suggestion this is a new step for Nine. Over the past two years Nine has reinvented rights deals with the likes of Netball, the NRL, and The Masters.

This weekend we are streaming three additional content offerings from The Masters to complement our broadcast on 9GEM. Golf fans can switch between 9GEM, or the Featured Groups, Holes 15 and 16, or Amen Corner on 9Now. And this year we have full and exclusive rights on State of Origin for the first time – even exclusive against the NRL. Again we’ll be providing over the top (OTT) streams to complement the broadcast signal.

9Now is also a platform that requires users to log in. This is important as it is at the core of Nine’s data strategy allowing us to build a powerful single sign on (SSO) database of millions of users to whom we’ll be able to serve dynamic and addressable ads. This is core to how we’re future-proofing the Nine business model by ensuring we can offer advertisers a brand-safe environment around premium video content.

It’s also a win for the consumer who gets more relevant advertising and also the advertiser who gets to target the audiences they want to speak to in one of the most powerful advertising formats – brand safe online premium video.

However, this isn’t and shouldn’t be about supremacy of one medium over another. If you want to watch a game on mobile, fine; if you want to watch it on terrestrial TV that’s great too. Indeed, the revenue stream available through FTA broadcast means digital is a supplement, not a replacement.

Right before this deal was announced, Nine’s CEO, Hugh Marks, wrote in The Australian: “(At Nine) we are breaking a traditional ‘old media’ viewpoint where one medium, say television, is supreme, and shifting our strategic focus to making sure we are owning a conversation, not within just one medium but rather all mediums.”

Take the case of the NRL. We have only been streaming it since the new rights deal kicked in early in March. Fans are definitely streaming the games, with millions of minutes of content already being consumed each week.

We’re giving consumers the choice of where and how they watch, whether it’s watching on their phone on the commute home before they revert to the big screen when they get home; watching on their desktop as they work late in the office, or on their tablet if the kids are watching a movie before bed on the main TV screen.

In the end, consumers don’t care about the pipelines for delivery of content. What they care about, and what media and the sporting codes have to focus on, is whether we are meeting the needs of sports fans regardless of the platform, and in the process, are we growing/building the game?

This need to partner and build the game – for media owner and sporting code alike – is a key factor in why we did a deal with tennis. This wasn’t just about a sporting rights acquisition. Tennis Australia (TA) wants a strong alignment around wanting to build their events and our brands. We’ve even been able to incentivise TA against Nine’s value drivers, and Nine against TA’s key initiatives so there is a deep commercial partnership.

There is an obvious alignment between their various tournaments and events, which focus on tennis, food, kids and music, and many of Nine’s big franchises, such as The Voice and Family Food Fight. Watch this space to see how we develop and build them.

We are confident of forging a successful partnership that works for both Tennis and Nine. After all, we have already done it with netball. Two years ago we announced a revenue-sharing partnership whereby Nine in effect became the game’s marketing partner, selling sponsorships across everything from TV to digital to in-stadium signage.

The deal is working well for both sides, and Netball Australia know we are helping to build the game through live and free exposure. Indeed, this year Netball will be on Nine’s main channel, available to tens of millions of Australians.

Streaming does open the door for sporting codes to go direct to consumers but they face a trade-off in going behind a paywall. Niche events like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) have been using OTT for years with success, but when it comes to mass participation sports like Netball, NRL and Tennis, they all see the benefit of reaching 100% of households through our free-to- air spectrum.

This isn’t about a magic trick (be it a rabbit out of the hat or otherwise). If we as a broadcaster do our job correctly, and are a real cross-platform partner, then I don’t believe the power of the symbiotic media/sporting code relationship will erode in this tennis deal, or the next one or even the one after that.

Yes, the methods of delivery and engagement will evolve. What won’t change is our passion to execute the best sports experience for fans. We are investing in a true any-platform strategy so we can deliver real audience-first experiences to ensure the best live and free coverage is available to all.

Tom Malone is Nine’s director of sport.

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