Q&A: Sam Jones, chief executive, OverTier, global distributor of NFL Game Pass

Sam Jones, chief executive of OverTier

NFL Game Pass is the fastest-growing single-sport OTT service in the world, targeting both casual and avid fans. Here, Sam Jones, chief executive of OverTier, the distributor of Game Pass in 181 markets, explains how fan data is driving a constant evolution of the product.

Since the time OverTier first took on distribution of NFL Game Pass what is the single most important thing you have learned about OTT?

We started OverTier with Bruin with a thesis: the fan, the customer, is the single most important part of OTT. That view and approach haven’t changed.

We have combined data, technology and marketing with a pure consumer focus to everything we do. That has implications for strategy, for culture, for monetisation. Dedicated direct-to-consumer expertise, with the fan at the centre, was what we thought would help us be successful. We continue to learn.

What we are all learning as an industry – whether that is media, sports, entertainment – is that OTT isn’t a purely technological point. It’s a consumer business model opportunity. That means OTT is most deeply connected to all the other parts of the sports value chain, and for us, with the NFL itself. It’s an incredible sport and an incredible partner to work with.

Looking more narrowly, we have learned that fans want a multi-screen experience, but – crucially – they want that experience to be as bespoke and as relevant to them as possible. That means in terms of platform, time zone, content preferences.

We spend a lot of time on building out our multi-platform offer. To the point that the average Game Pass customer across the world watches on three devices at once. The more avid subset of the fanbase watch on four devices at once. I don’t think that is something any of us would have predicted when we set out on this journey and it just shows how fast the consumer behaviour is changing and therefore how fast the business models need to change.

Your portability capacity allows viewers to use multiple devices simultaneously. What does your user data tell you about how that opportunity is being exploited by fans?

We see significant growth in mobile, as you would imagine. We also see very significant growth in games consoles and smart TV. But we note that our consumers are dual screening: smart TVs with mobile, even traditional desktop with tablets. So, it’s not just about how fast mobile consumption or another platform is growing. What is really growing is a new and enhanced behaviour around how fans watch a sport. It’s the holistic experience of viewing that we see changing fast. That’s exciting for us.

Is there something inherent in American football which lends itself to this type of experience or is this simply the direction of travel for all sports consumption?

It is a trend across the board in sport, but I do see it very strongly in the NFL. It’s the quality and the uniqueness of the sport, which we are very fortunate to have. The NFL is incredibly data rich and lends itself to a lean-forward experience. It also lends itself to multi-screen and multi-game viewing. At peak periods we have multiple games happening at any one time. That’s a very exciting prospect for us.

It is also a sport which lends itself to lean-back viewing. If you think of Red Zone, which is curating the live experience for the viewer. But I do think the NFL is unique and that is one of the reasons why Game Pass has been so successful: the sport itself is perfectly positioned for OTT.

If we look at other industries: look at how Spotify and others changed music – more about playlists, less about albums. There are different audiences out there which consume sport in different ways and changing behaviours.

Watching multiple live matches simultaneously is something new. What take-up are you seeing on that?

It’s very popular. We saw that need increasing through our first season of operation. We offered that experience from day one, and we saw the take-up increase throughout the first season. Then we introduced a new feature called Watch with Red Zone, where you can watch a live game simultaneously with watching Red Zone and jump in between them at will.

When your deal was expanded to 181 markets, you talked of applying your ‘unique model.’ Can you explain what that is, how it works?

Our unique model is to marry up the best available technology, data businesses and tools and marketing, and create an experience we think fans love. We then use those one-to-one relationships to constantly learn, evolve and improve the product and the experience. That ultimately means we have one of the richest data sets in direct-to-consumer sports globally.

So, when we move into a new market, we have a head start in terms of knowing what the majority of fans would wish to see in terms of platforms, content, packages, pricing and product. So, for example, in Europe we found our way through prototypes, data and insights to the right blend of subscription packages, the right blend of prices and the right blend of content for different types of fans.

We also learned how the avidity of a fan changes over time and in Game Pass we can support that and help them on their journey through the NFL. Starting from maybe a fan who signs up to our freemium product to watch network and highlights, through to the top-tier Pro product, where they can watch any live game.

That has become a really important part of the puzzle for us: being with the fan as they go through their journey from a subscription point of view. We took that model from Europe and we applied it to the new markets, and we found that the majority of the learnings applied. We could then spend our time on fine tuning the model to take account of local market intricacies and behaviours. That enables personalisation in 181 markets around the world.

That’s now how we spend a lot of our time: creating an experience that is as relevant to the fan as possible in each of these 181 markets.

We’re truly fortunate in OverTier that we have best-in-class global marketing and technology capability with Two Circles and Deltatre. We spend a lot of time thinking about how we best integrate them into a people-focused approach. The more we can integrate all these functions, the more successful we will be. We have a vast and rich dataset. We speak every day to fans – qualitatively, quantitively. We run surveys continuously through the year and we use all this information to feed back into product decisions.

In terms of the success of penetration, how would you rank the impact of these factors: time zone; size of expat US population; ethnicity of players in NFL teams; availability of live coverage on local free-to-air networks; the relevant country’s technical infrastructure; and language.  

Fanbase and accessibility are the two key components. Fanbase always comes first, which is why OTT is such a transformational tool for sports. Accessibility is equally important. We spend a lot of our time working through the various friction points for a fan’s ability to be able to interact with the sport – adding value and reducing those friction points along the way.

Making content as accessible as possible through things like Game in 40, which condenses an entire game into 40 minutes, or Draft in 40, which condenses the draft experience into 40 minutes. We do a lot to reduce the friction of time zone. That could mean being able to jump into a live game after it’s started and rewind to the beginning or being able to move through different devices as your time zone dictates. Having said that, 87 per cent of our subscribers globally have watched live games.

What does your user data tell you about how important the shoulder content is in the overall mix?

We think it’s a critical part of the value proposition. Not only in the core product but also as we work with fans to develop their ability to engage with the sport. We are lucky in that we have an unrivalled collection of shoulder content of any sport within Game Pass.

A lot of the focus we have put on the product, the marketing of the experience and the communication over the last three years has been moving the Game Pass experience to be truly 24/7/365, not just a Sunday streaming service.

This season, for example, we have worked very closely with the NFL on their landmark 100 season to take advantage of content that is built specifically for this season and servicing that content for fans within the Game Pass product. Viewership of shoulder content has grown significantly year on year.

How can you leverage WPP’s network of companies and clients in terms of your distribution of the product? 

The WPP relationship has been very valuable. WPP brings a unique global footprint. Within that we can, and do, drawn down upon very specific local market intelligence. We also partner with best-of-breed WPP businesses to support OverTier. Two Circles head up our insight into fan behaviour. We also work with GroupM and Wavemaker to get the most effective media buying throughout the 181 territories. Finally, we can leverage WPP for further distribution relationships, whether it be Molotov in France to Vivo in Brazil.  So, it’s global footprint, local market intelligence and best of breed tools to better reach our fans.

This interview is part of SportBusiness’ coverage of NFL Game Pass. Return to the main feature here, or read the other Q&As below:

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