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Digital disruption threatens media-rights income, Tebas warns

Image credit: LaLiga, Branded - All That Matters

The changing media landscape may lead to significant drops in media-rights income for unprepared sports rights-holders, Javier Tebas, president of Spanish football’s LaLiga, has warned.

Speaking exclusively to SportBusiness during the All That Matters entertainment and media industry conference in Singapore, Tebas said LaLiga was ramping up activity in fan data-gathering and working on next-generation smart TV apps, among other initiatives being developed in response to the changing media environment.

He said: “We are facing a complex time when it comes to broadcasting rights, because in many markets we are seeing a disruption through the arrival of OTT that, if we are not very wary of it and cautious, can make the value go down a lot.

“So we need to work a lot in AI [artificial intelligence] to have much more data, try to keep up with consumer behaviours, and improve interactions with our followers.”

Tebas made the comments in response to a question from SportBusiness about faltering sports media-rights revenue growth in Asia, where even premium properties like the English Premier League have recently suffered significant drops in income in multiple markets.

Tebas said continued growth in LaLiga’s revenue and fanbases at home and around the world will happen on the back of a major push to collect and analyse fan data: “The initiatives we are going to conduct to increase the viewership and number of fans – all of it is related to the world of data. We know we’re growing, we know more people are watching us on TV and digital media, but we need to know who they are, their behaviours, how often they watch us, and what they watch.”

LaLiga has developed state-of-the-art fan data collection and analysis systems under a partnership with Microsoft which has been running for the last four years. In the last two years, the league has invested in a team of analysts to help it derive insights from the data.

Tebas also said sports media platforms must adopt innovations developed by disruptive digital companies if they are to continue attracting viewers. For example, he said: “HBO, Netflix – they are the ones who started to work on how to apply artificial intelligence when it comes to consumers.

“They suggest to you what type of movie you want to watch…this is teaching us in other industries such as football where we are headed to. We should be able to suggest and recommend not only matches, but also documentaries and other goods and products for our fans, so that we can keep growing and can increase the expenditure of customers on LaLiga.”

Among the media technology innovations that LaLiga is working on are apps for Samsung and LG smart TV sets that will incorporate functions such as voice assistance and personalised statistics.

“TV is the essential medium to watch movies and sport. Applications such as voice assistance can improve the experience of the viewer. [We can] provide stats that are personalised for a particular viewer instead of sent by the broadcaster to everyone. There are thousands of interactions that can help the product have a much stronger footing.”

Speaking at last year’s Sportel Asia convention, Tebas predicted that OTT could be on a par with linear satellite television by 2025.

He said: “The question everyone is asking themselves is when will OTT be the major player when it comes to broadcasting of sport. When will IPTV and satellite TV stop having the biggest share when it comes to reaching the clients? Of course there is a transition period ahead, but we believe that by 2025 then it’s going to be level: 50-50.

“Maybe by 2030 – and I’m talking from a global point of view as each country is unique – then sports, cinema and leisure will all be through OTT platforms.”

At that time, Tebas and LaLiga had already started developing their OTT platform. The new LaLigaSportsTV platform went live in March of this year as a multi-sport proposition offering free coverage of Spanish sporting competitions ranging from badminton and handball to petanque and weightlifting.

The service has streamed live games from the second-tier Segunda División, but behind a paywall. Short highlights from Spain’s top two soccer leagues are also offered on the platform.