Optus opens up EPL offering to advertisers

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 28 July 2016
Idris Elba for Optus

Optus is in talks to lock in a brand sponsor for its English Premier League (EPL) coverage but head of TV and content Paul Rybicki says growing share of voice through its positioning as an entertainment platform is key to its profitability – not ad revenue.

Speaking to AdNews ahead of the August launch Rybicki wouldn’t be drawn on specifics, but says the telco is looking to add advertising to the content offering, locking in a main sponsor for the broadcast and some advertisers to sponsor the delivery of live content.

Rybicki says as both Optus and the Premier League are "very protective" of the game as an asset, advertising will be kept to a minimum, noting there won’t be any ads between the start and the finish of each half, during play.

Instead, it is looking around that including half time and at the end of the game, with Rybicki noting it will “be a small group of partners and not an overwhelming presence of ads”.

He says the revenue model for the telco is still focused on its value proposition as an entertainment platform.

“We’re very much looking for customers to look to Optus when it comes to entertainment not just their core mobile and home broadband services,” he says. “We’re looking at content that will help us grow as a business.”

What fans want

The network is focusing on customer experience starting with the Optus Sport app that the EPL will be broadcast through. The app is already available and is currently screening The International Champions Cup (ICC) which Optus is also the rights holder to.

The app, which is available on Apple and Android devices, through “Yes TV” on Fetch TV, Apple TV and satellite boxes, features 10 channels which will be used for streaming content and live action matches.

Optus spent time speaking with rights holders across the globe and the EPL to develop a best in class app experience. Insight from fans is that what they want more than anything is to watch games live, a challenge given the time difference between Australia and the UK.

For that reason the app has a 'one-click-to-live functionality' but also has a number of functions to create a “near-live” experience, including matches of current rounds being available on demand within a minute of the live game finishing and a hidden score card on the app so fans can watch gameplay without accidentally spoiling the result.

The other function for the near-live experience offers fans a number of short-form match highlight to watch the best of the game without having to watch the full 90-minutes.

“A lot of feedback was from fans – what do you like, how do you behave, what are you missing today that you're not getting from your experience,” Rybicki says. “We also wanted to take it to another level. Today, if I have a PVR box at home, the whole behaviour of recording a game is gone. It's all on demand – where you want it, when you want it, on which device you want it. We've built our offering for that.”

It's also the idea of “live” sport that Rybicki says protects Optus and its huge investment in EPL from football deals made elsewhere, including Fox Sport obtaining rights to the club channels, which often show the same EPL matches at a later time.

Surrounding the matches is other content including pre-game, mid-game and post-game shows, analysis programs, a magazine-style studio show called Football Today, a fantasy-league program and a fan engagement show giving viewers the ability to call, Skype or tweet in.

Most of the content will from the UK, as part of a package put together when bidding on the EPL rights but Rybicki says some will be localised on launch.

“We think some of the stuff out of the UK is excellent – it's top notch in terms of the quality of the studios, presenters, the different talent available, their access to the pitch and locker rooms,” Rybicki says. “But we want to see how the fans respond to it, what they think. So we'll work with fans as we develop the offering overtime.”

Optus paid $189 million for three year rights to the EPL as part of its bid to be an entertainment platform, not just a telco. It also spent several years bolstering its network in order to ladder up to its ambition.

It means the EPL app is free, but viewers need to be an Optus customer on fixed line or postpaid mobile to access the content.

While there has been criticism by some EPL fans on being unable to watch EPL without signing up to Optus, Rybicki says its because Optus is delivering Australia's first IPTV sport offering.

“It's not unusual in a market where there is change like this, where the incumbent has held the rights for so long, that there is a bit of a journey people have to go through,” Rybicki says. “Australia is probably a bit behind in this regard. If you look at markets like the US it's just inevitable that this is where content will go.

"I think once people get more used to it, more sports content will be become available in this kind of way. It's good to be shaking things up a bit.”

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