Optus is set to run ads alongside its English Premier League content and is currently in market signing up broadcast sponsors, with its new offering set to go live in early July.
optus EPL deal new
In a briefing with Mumbrella Paul Rybicki, Optus head of TV, mobile video and content, admitted they had expected a backlash from fans over the decision to make people sign up for an Optus service in order to access the content, but said the new online-only offering was providing “evolution” for the market.
“If you look at Australia versus US in terms of sport being delivered over the top we are quite behind in this market, and this is one of the first times a mainstream sport will be delivered in that way,” he said.
“In October when we announced we had the rights and the way fans reacted to Fox Sports and Foxtel, we knew some of the anger would come because it’s change, it’s new, it’s changing something that’s been in place for 18 years and when you look at other markets where this has happened it has changed the way people consume content. It’s evolution.
“Netflix came in and changed the market last year and introduced the concept of watching content over the internet, and this is another example where watching sports over the internet becomes more prevalent.”
While initially announcing the content would only be free to people on plans costing over $80 per month or more, Optus last week created a special offer allowing anyone signing up for a plan from $30 per month to get the EPL for free for the first year.
Rybicki told Mumbrella that $30 price point was cheaper than the current $50 minimum people have to pay to get EPL content from Fox Sports as part of its sports package.
“We want people to get into it before the start of the season, and that’s why we have the free first year offer so people can access it for as little as $30 per month, and with that get a bunch of data and voice inclusions,” he said.
“That is a very low price point relative to what you had to pay up to now to get the Premier League. Not only is there more depth and coverage of the Premier League but there’s a lower price point.”
The content offering
The new app will feature simultaneous live streams of all the matches, plus the ability to replay games as soon as they have finished and will also boast highlights, news, stats and score updates and access to the 24/7 live EPL channel.
optus EPL screens
It will also allow people to scroll back through live programming, and click on icons like a ball or a red or yellow card on the timeline to access screen-in-screen highlights of major incidents.
The TV channel will feature content created by the EPL including two news shows per day, analysis shows, magazine interview style shows and two fan phone ins per day which it hopes will engage viewers in a global debate in issues. It will also have a show dedicated to looking at the popular Fantasy League offering from the EPL.
Big matches will also have pre, mid and post game analysis from a panel of experts, with Optus touting presenters including James Richardson, Manish Bhasin, Andy Townsend and Ian Wright as part of the talent line up, however other streams will not.
“If you look at the studios, talent and access that these guys have in the UK it’s pretty phenomenal,” he said.
The app will be available for mobile devices and computers, with up to four devices able to be registered, although only one will be able to use it at any one time. While people with the right technology can cast that to their TVs Rybicki warned the content would be optimised for the mobile screen rather than the TV screen.
To watch on TV Optus is asking people to get either a Yes TV by Fetch mini box for an extra $5 per month, or a larger Yes TV box which gives access to more channels and the ability to record shows, which costs more.
A satellite box is also available for people who cannot get good enough broadband reception, and that is the solution which will be rolled out to pubs and clubs who want to take up the Optus service.
paul rybicki optusRybicki also revealed the new service would carry advertising from external partners.
He said: “The way the stream comes it has a bunch of gaps for ads in there, it’s the way the Premier League produces the content. There will be no ads whistle to whistle, but at half time and pre and post there will be some commercial space for advertising, so there will be some of that in there.
“We’re selling it through a sales team, we’re talking to potential partners and looking for potential sponsors. We’re not really interested in breadth but having a key number of good partners that we partner with to sponsor some of the broadcast.”
But subscribers will not be served ads in on-demand content through the app with Rybicki confirming: “In things like on demand and news clips and extras you won’t see any other commercial brands out there.”
Asked if Optus was looking at the EPL as a money maker he said: “Do we make money from this? For us it’s a journey it’s not just about the Premier League, it builds over time. We started with Netflix, we ran a great promotion with Stan, both of those are available on our Yes TV devices, and we did a deal with cricket which we’re one summer out of three into.
It’s a growing investment, it’s something that hasn’t stopped and we’re looking at other opportunities. How that pays back is the sum of the parts, it’s the whole thing, it’s not just an individual investment it’s a strategic intent and we’re looking to become known as a media and entertainment business.”
The entertainment journey
Asked if he was confident Australia’s internet infrastructure was up to handling the extra streaming demands for fans Rybicki told Mumbrella: “We’ve known about this for a while and we’ve been down the entertainment journey for a good year and a half now, we partnered with Netflix then we brought the rights to some of the cricket then FIFA, so it’s been building over time.
“Over that time we’ve invested in the network to optimise for that. Firstly, most of the network decisions we make are focussed around video and what’s best for video. Two, we’ve invested in the content distribution network. And we’ve extended ourselves into the NBN further.”
He pointed to the company being number one on the Netflix speed index, which measures internet connection speeds, for nine months in a row as evidence of that.
Optus has also been named as a potential acquirer of the A-League rights which are currently in play. It already holds digital streaming rights with Cricket Australia, and has the rights to the next few major FIFA tournaments including the 2018 World Cup.
Asked whether the channel would remain dedicated to the EPL for the three-years of the contract Rybicki said: “We look at all content individually as it’s all unique. If you look at cricket we have access to some exclusive content. If we were to build an app for that what we do with cricket is different from what you do for the Premier League, that would be a different kind of experience you would build for a different sport.
Whether that would sit on the same channel would depend on the content, the overlap between a cricket fan and a Premier League fan for example potentially isn’t there. For us at the moment the focus is on creating the first 24/7 channel for the Premier League, and we’re pretty comfortable that has enough depth in there.
“If we then go ahead and acquire other rights we’ll work out where the best place is to put that kind of content for the fans. Right now the focus is on creating this experience and putting it in front of fans, and we’ll see how that goes.”
He added it was not just sports rights in Optus’ sights, pointing to the other channels on the Yes TV platform and adding: “For us it’s not just thinking about sport and what we put on this sport channel but what is our entertainment proposition.
“This one allows us to get into households that are Premier League households, but they don’t just consume that and for us it’s about how do we complement that well?”
The marketing push
The brand has already started to run some ads and promotions for the service, including an online ad from Premier League player turned actor Vinnie Jones telling people he’s had enough of “the chatter” of concerns around the new offering.
“That’s the start of educating and helping educate and starting to talk about what these things are about,” Rybicki explained. “It’s different, it’s not a Foxtel subscription, so there’s an education piece to be done here both in terms of the content available and how you get it.
“If you look at the style of Vinnie and the stuff we did with Ricky Gervais we like that kind of talent, it’s on brand for us. Vinnie was a conscious choice because he resonates with that passionate fan base.”
He also pointed to another ad, which ran during the Champions League final, featuring actor Idris Elba, as another example of that kind of content.
There will also be a direct response element marketing to people who have signed up with expressions of interest on the website, with the brand pushing snippets of content and information to them as the start of the new season gets closer.
Content on the service will go live from early July, while the International Champions Cup coverage starts on July 22 and the EPL season kicks off on August 13.