SPORTS marketing agency Total Sports Asia (TSA) didn’t start out with digital ambitions, but it tried to embrace the Internet age as far back as 2000, its chief executive officer Marcus Luer recalls.
“In 2000 we launched totalsportsasia.tv. This was during the first Internet boom period of the early 2000s and at that time, it was still much more about the written content part, the aggregation of where you could go to find all your sports. That didn’t exist at the time, there were similar platforms around the world and we thought there was a way to do something like this in Asia,” he tells Digital News Asia in a recent interview.
Then the dotcom bust hit. “We were too late in the game at the time, so we had spent a certain amount of money and were about to make the whole thing bigger, and then the dotcom bust happened. So in a sense, for us, we never got fully into it, but it gave us the first taste of what the digital world was all about,” he explains.
Like many others, for a reasonable period of time they didn’t really play in that space anymore, he says. “But I had a sense that it was an obvious place for us with our skills. There’re many things on the Internet to do with sports, such as sports apps for fitness but that’s not the space we were in. It took a while and for 20 years we were more in the brick-and-mortar space of sports, running events and creating new revenue streams for sports.”
Entering the digital world
Then the Netflixes and iflixes of the world emerged, and it became obvious to him that content was shifting from the traditional players to the new world, he says. “I found an old email exchange with Patrick Grove [of the Catcha Group] in 2014. iflix hadn’t existed then; I said we have to figure out how to get into your world.”
However, Luer says he didn’t just want to start something which had a digital element to it. “I wanted to do it in the space I know best, which is sports. The ‘aha moment’ really came when Netflix and iflix started to happen. I also saw that there were pockets in the world where this was happening with sports as well, where companies were taking their content and delivering it in an OTT [over-the-top] environment, taking charge of their own content in a sense. WWE was one of the first ones out there who started their own channel and said ‘I’m not going to wait for a broadcaster to buy my content but I’m going to make it available to my customers directly’.”
Around 2013 or 2014 Luer realised that this was happening. “Good things take a little longer, and now we’re in 2017 and Sportsfix is finally happening. It took us quite a few years to put something together and also go with confidence to the market, to raise the money and do all those things. I think that there was a bit of an evolution to this. We’re taking all that we’ve done for 20 years and pulling it into the digital world,” he explains.
Luer, who has been in Asia for 23 years, points out that traditional television platforms like Astro, are no longer the new kid on the block. “They have a monopoly in their space, but it is running out. The traditional model of bundling content in the form of a cable operator, that model is now fading. In most of the mature markets in the world, they all have declining numbers. What was exciting in the early stages of these companies was that they were basically saying ‘I have 200 channels for you and it only costs you RM200 a month’ and at that time, that was fantastic. But if you do a survey of people, they typically only watch five channels.
“In reality, you’re paying RM200 for five channels, now that gets a little more expensive at RM40 a channel. Where OTT is actually coming from, it’s actually the debundling of things, where you really only pay for what you want to see, you’re no longer paying for a big bouquet of 200 channels. In a sense, it is a pay-as-you-choose model, and I think that’s where the Astros of the world will struggle because their model is based on a hard-bundled bunch of content.”
“In the simplest way to look at it, from the exciting world of big bundles, which is really what drove the cable guys, it’s now going back to debundling, where the customer picks and chooses what he really wants to see and no longer pay a gigantic bill,” he adds.
A different audience
However, without Astro where do consumers get their sports content? That’s where the Sportsfix service comes into play, Luer says. “We’re not going after the Premier League and such, we’re quite happy for Astro to continue that. What we are doing really is we’re taking on a whole bunch of content that for them doesn’t make any sense because the audience we’re going after are on a mobile device, not a TV screen.”
Luer explains that there is a whole bunch of audiences out there that are different from Astro’s audience and they watch their content on the mobile phone. “So that audience will never most likely be an Astro customer, they’re of a younger demographic. There are others also who don’t have access to a TV or don’t bother with the TV world anymore.”
One of the audiences Sportsfix is targeting is the overseas foreign workers in Malaysia, who consume all their content on their mobile device. “We could deliver Indonesian football content to their device. For Astro that would not make sense, the Indonesians don’t have that kind of money or setup. Astro has to go after the big stuff, we go after the long-tail of sports in the region and that’s how Netflix started too. So we’re saying there’s so much content out there and so many niche markets we can go after, such as the overseas foreign workers.”
Luer explains that while they do not have a large income, they have some disposable income and that’s what TSA is going after. “If you’re a Japanese, German or Korean expat living in this part of the world, you’re most likely with a better job and your disposable income is a little higher, but there’s a high chance that a lot of your sports content is not available out here.
“We’re just lining of a whole bunch of niche content in a sense, that’s the whole game of Netflix and iflix as well. Sportsfix caters to ‘the displaced fan’ or the fans which are spread around this whole region, whether a foreign worker or expat. Or if you are local or studied abroad, you would have been exposed to sports from that part of the world.”
He highlights that Sportsfix is all about live sports content, which is what drives sports. “So what we’re combining is content that no one is catering to it right now, and we’re catering to it via the mobile phone, which is the device of the future,” he says.
The other thing that linear TV struggles with is that replays are co-ordinated by schedules, says Luer. “If I like to watch Champion’s League football, I have to figure out when I want to watch it. It’s just not convenient, the OTT world has the catch-up function, so your prime-time is whenever you want it to be. It’s whenever you have the time to watch it, the linear world can’t programme that way.”
“We’re trying to put the power in the hands of the consumer. If you’re a hard-core fan, you can check the live game off and on, whenever you have the time. OTT is away from the structured habits of linear TV…you can be wherever and have access to the content. The way we’re looking at it, we’re trying to create the ultimate sports platform, where the content is the underlying asset—live first, catch up second — and we’re building the ultimate indulgence for sports fans. We will have statistics, fantasy games, we will have all the other stuff which make sports fun. We will also have a social media platform so you can communicate with everyone who is watching the same stream,” Luer explains.
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