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IMG’s Edgesport returns to China, solidifies US presence and looks to Latin America

Edgesport, the action sports channel operated by IMG, is now available in over 50 countries through distribution deals agreed by the agency, including a return to China and additional deals in the US market.

Having been absent in the world’s most populous country since the 2017 financial collapse of former distribution partner LeTV, the 24/7 Edgesport channel is now available on Youku, China’s popular live streaming and video sharing platform.

The recent distribution agreement with Youku comes with action sports rights-holders which showcase their events on Edgesport increasingly staging events in China.

The channel made its US debut in November 2018 in a deal with Roku, the ad-supported streaming platform. Distribution has also now been secured on Stirr, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group-owned streaming platform, and Xumo, the California-based OTT service.

A deal for US and UK distribution on Samung TV+, the electronics giant’s ad-supported streaming platform, has also been struck. Edgesport was previously available through Eleven Sports UK, an arm of the international subscription broadcaster in which IMG acquired – and then sold back – a stake.

The channel, which was created by IMG Media in 2012, is available in German-speaking countries as the result of a recent agreement with subscription broadcaster Sportdigital. The Sportainment Medien-owned broadcaster secured a licence for the channel and then agreed carriage deals with pay-television broadcaster Sky and OTT platform Waipu.tv.

Speaking exclusively to SportBusiness, John Grabowski, IMG’s commercial director for the channel, said: “A big focus of our growth over the last two years has been Western Europe and North America. When the channel launched, it was pretty popular content solution for platforms in Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.”

Grabowski said that the channel’s previous absence from “highly competitive media spaces” such as the US market had led to a strategic review.

He remarked: “For the last two years we’ve been reviewing the content, the platform technically and the business model to adapt it to suit growth in the US. So much user traffic is now generated by connected TV and IPTV platforms, [and] we want to be a part of that content mix.

“Partners like Roku or Samsung are bigger than us so we’re eager to ride their coattails of growth.”

This year, the channel has also boosted its distribution in southeast Asia with deals in Indonesia and the Philippines.

In Indonesia, an agreement was struck with the new streaming platform Mola TV. That deal – unlike the bulk of IMG’s other distribution contracts – is not for carriage of the full linear channel, but solely for video-on-demand content. Distribution in New Zealand through telecoms operator Spark was also put in place this year.

Close to all of IMG’s distribution agreements are non-exclusive in order to allow for increased exposure across multiple platforms. The agency has avoided one-year contracts, preferring to sign longer-term agreements that improves the channel’s chance of “finding an audience”.

Elsewhere, the channel remains available in Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, India, Macau, the Middle East, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Turkey and Vietnam.

Latin American ambitions, bringing down the paywall

Distribution in Central and South America has so far been hamstrung by a lack of Spanish- and Portuguese-language content but remains a focus for IMG.

Grabowski said: “The big one for us is that we haven’t quite cracked Latin America yet. There is so much talent from that region among the athletes in the events that we show, [but] we don’t as of yet have distribution there.

“Language is a big consideration and localising the content for that market, which is something we haven’t yet done and would be key to growth there.”

A subscription model for Edgesport is, meanwhile, not one that IMG will be pursuing given the wide availability of action sports content available free of charge elsewhere. Instead, IMG has largely sought deals with free-to-view ad-funded platforms.

Grabowski added: “The style of content that we have on the channel is the type of thing that a younger audience has been getting free on YouTube for most of their lives. A platform like Edgesport does not work behind a paywall. We’ve learned that ourselves over the years.”

Outside of countries in which distribution deals are in place, there is video-on-demand programming available on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. However, there is no full linear version of the channel available as it is held back for distribution partners.

The distribution model recently adopted with Sportdigital in German-speaking countries is one that could be replicated elsewhere. The Sportdigital agreement was a departure from IMG’s typical model of dealing directly with the platform on which Edgesport is then distributed.

Sportdigital acquired the licence to redistribute the channel to third-party platforms and it now sits as part of Sky Deutschland’s ‘Trend Sports’ package of action sports, esports and football channels.

The work with Sportdigital is expected to be expanded to afford the broadcaster a more operational role, opting in to additional content and begin localising certain Edgesport programming (by dubbing or subtitling).

Looking ahead to the debut of certain action sports’ Olympic debut next year in Tokyo, Grabowski claimed that there is a real opportunity to widen the channel’s audience.

He noted: “Action sports has the chance in 2020 to have a bit of a moment. We have the qualifying for the skateboarding [and BMX] events on the channel and we’re working with the rights-holders to promote that, educate the audience and let people know that it will be in the Olympics.

“Skateboarding is one that we have very high hopes and a real focus on in our content strategy. It’s so accessible, [whereas] for skiing you need to go to a mountain or for surfing you need to live by the right beach. Anyone can pick up a skateboard.”