The astonishing acquisition of Italian Serie B football rights in June 2021 by Helbiz, a business previously only known as a global leader in micro-mobility services, heralded the birth of Helbiz Live, a new over-the-top (OTT) streaming service.
The simultaneous creation of Helbiz Media – a new division managing both Helbiz Live and the distribution of Serie B rights worldwide – was a serious diversification for the company, albeit with the central aim of fulfilling the company’s core development and engagement objectives.
However, it was the project to build a new OTT platform to deliver coverage of the 2021-22 campaign – the first of the three seasons covered by the non-exclusive domestic streaming rights deal – that required an extraordinary turnaround.
Built from scratch
“I am very proud of what our IT team achieved: an entire OTT platform built from scratch in 60 days,” says Helbiz Media chief executive Matteo Mammi.
“What they did was unbelievable. However, Helbiz is a tech company first, and we have a talented internal IT team based in Belgrade that counts more than 50 full-time members of staff.
“It is now clear to everyone how technically difficult it is to manage live sport via OTT platforms, and I am proud to say that we have done a great job in Italy so far.”
The OTT platform is underpinned by a front end developed entirely in house, incorporating CRM, a content management system, authentication, payments and the media player. Elements of the back end, including the technical delivery and the provision of graphics and commentary, were developed with the support of an external service provider.
“Our OTT platform supports whatever features we would need to have, with plenty of flexibility,” Mammi adds. “Moving forward, we will deploy new additional services that can enrich the customer experience and make it more interactive. However, today we are still focused on the core service, with the aim of offering high-quality streams, professional commentary, great usability and an appealing look and feel.”
For Helbiz, the opportunity to launch an OTT platform complemented the company’s broader engagement, development and global expansion strategy.
“Helbiz Live will follow and support the core business – this is the principle,” Mammi adds. “Geographically, it will be operative in the markets where we have a strong mobility presence and a big enough customer base.
“We started in Italy and also in the US, where we stream all Serie B matches live in the Italian language for Italian fans and communities living in North America. More territories will be launched in the future and for each market there will be a specific content line-up based on local needs and content rights opportunities.
“Helbiz Live will certainly grow in terms of content, expanding its offering. The content acquisition plan will be based on the usual rationales of strategic and marketing value, a solid business plan, and benefits for the micro-mobility business.”
Mammi is clear that Serie B will remain Helbiz Live’s main asset for the Italian market and the “backbone of the entire offering” for the next three seasons. All 390 matches per season are offered live, with recaps of each game available on demand, alongside highlights, special features and interviews with club coaches, players and presidents.
For Helbiz, a company founded by Italian Salvatore Palella, investing in Serie B rights in order to launch Helbiz Live made perfect sense.
“Serie B domestic rights have been always a good investment from a cost-benefit ratio perspective,” says Mammi, who adds that he acquired the rights “a few times” during a stint of more than eight years at pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia earlier in his career.
“Furthermore, Serie B TV rights were historically undervalued. This was the initial reason we started looking at Serie B,” he says.
“Additionally, the league structured the tender to include non-exclusive packages for the first time, and it was a great opportunity for us given that exclusivity was not a priority for the model we had in mind. Ultimately, most of the 20 Serie B clubs are in cities that were perfect targets for the Helbiz micro-mobility business, and we wanted to be able to build a joint offer of football and mobility in these places, where usually the local football team has a strong appeal.”
However, while Serie B will remain central to the offering, Helbiz Live’s portfolio of rights will undoubtedly continue to expand.
In October, rights in Italy to German football’s DFB-Pokal cup competition and American football’s NFL were added to the platform. Live matches and highlights from the 2021-22 campaign of the DFB-Pokal have been added to Helbiz Live subscriptions, while the NFL content, also running initially for the 2021-22 season, covers non-live programming, including a 30-minute weekly highlights show and various documentary series.
Today #Helbiz goes Live!@HelbizLive will be in Ferrara to stream the @Lega_B Serie BTK 2021/2022 draw.
Follow the event live on https://t.co/pfvBh0uJ4h to know in advance the match that will open the season with our host @CarolinaStrama1 ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/ZjKqINIzVH
— Salvatore Palella (@palella) July 24, 2021
Whilst the platform is just beginning life, Mammi is convinced that the pricing structure for Helbiz Live is enticing for fans, while the coverage is supported by additional advertising income.
There are three different offers for users of Helbiz Live currently. A monthly subscription costs €5.99, including €4 cashback in mobility services, while an annual plan costs €49.99 and includes €30 cashback for the company’s mobility offerings. In addition, the Helbiz Unlimited package, which costs €39.99 per month, provides full access to Helbiz Live across all platforms and unlimited trips booked through Helbiz Mobility.
“The pricing position is at an affordable level, which makes it very convenient for the consumer, because we have a broader model that also includes the micro-mobility services we offer,” Mammi says.
More broadly, the experienced sports-rights executive is convinced about the long-term engagement prospects for OTT platforms in sport.
“The OTT and streaming app platform is a unique option for several reasons,” Mammi says. “First of all, Helbiz is an app-based service for mobility, and our customers are heavy app users. Also, the operating costs in running an OTT platform are much lighter in comparison with satellite or digital terrestrial television, and ultimately it is in line with the Helbiz marketing and commercial DNA.
“For our business model, our positioning and the size of sports properties we look at, OTT platforms are the best option.”