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Otro player platform bins subscription model just seven months after launch

Otro, the digital platform founded by 23 Capital and 17 of the world’s leading footballers, has announced it is moving away from a subscription model. The company said it would focus instead on becoming “a digital content studio” that publishes original content across its social media channels.

At its launch in December last year, Otro’s founders claimed the platform would provide football fans with a deeper connection to the stars of the game. With 17 current and former players, including Lionel Messi, Neymar and David Beckham, as stakeholders in the business, it argued it was well-placed to create an exclusive content proposition that fans would be willing to pay for.

But the company is now tearing up its business strategy just seven months after launch.

“Otro has today announced that it is removing its paywall and is pivoting away from a subscription model, to set up as a digital content studio focused on creating, publishing and distributing original content and experiences which deepen fans’ love of football,” a statement said.

“The brand, which builds exclusive relationships with the world’s most inspiring and entertaining football players to create content on an exclusive basis, will build its core social channels – Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, as well as launching its YouTube channel in the coming weeks.”

Otro argued that the move to becoming a digital content studio came after it saw content published on its social channels perform ‘incredibly well’ outside of the paywall. But Charlie Beall, consultant at digital agency Seven League, argued that it was a sign that it had failed to make the subscription model work.

“It’s not entirely surprising. To some extent the content proposition didn’t stand up to warrant a subscription,” he told SportBusiness. “While there is increasing evidence that people are paying for content more than they used to, it has to be pretty damn special. If you’re trying to monetise a business by direct-to-consumer subscriptions, then you’re effectively competing with Netflix and Spotify.

“In Otro’s case, you’re selling access to famous footballers and that’s not content that people are missing out on – it’s fairly widespread.”

Beall predicted that Otro would now seek to develop its branded content capabilities and try to compete with the official social media accounts of the major football clubs for advertising revenues.

“Branded content is flavour of month at moment,” he said. “If you look across football clubs everyone is building up their capability in branded content. That’s largely how the Player’s Tribune monetise their content. I suspect they will pivot to branded content rather than display advertising.”

To compete in this space, Otro will have to persuade advertisers that it has higher engagement rates, a desirable audience and better creative capabilities than these clubs.

“I imagine theirs will still be a scale play. If you’re dealing with Beckham and Messi, you’ve got an enormous following that potentially outstrips any club. I think at the moment they probably don’t have that, but if they create an open ecosystem, like they are planning to do now, they could build their scale up. If they can get a well-known consumer brand being seen by a lot of people, that would make their content offering compelling because they would be able to offer a global creative solution.”

But he added that the success of the business would depend on the continuing cooperation of the players that have invested in it.

“The advantage they [Otro] have is these players are incentivised to make it good, but to what extent that incentive is there when they are already millionaires is the other side of this. This is clearly a pivot, and if it works, I don’t see them walking away, but there will be a limited shelf life to which they dedicate time, resources and energy if it’s not delivering a commercial return.”

At the time of writing, Otro had replaced the subscription paywall with a registration page where customers were invited to share their data to access the now free content.