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Broadcasters seek better esports scheduling and world feed given rising rights fees

Leading European broadcasters of esports competitions have called for improved guarantees over scheduling and the world feed to be provided by organisers and promoters in order to justify rising rights fee costs.

As rights fees continue to show steady progression to match the increasing audiences generated online or on linear channels, expectations over the quality of the product delivered have heightened accordingly.

Delays and technical issues with linear TV production and a lack of co-ordination in providing teams’ schedules are among the broadcasters’ chief frustrations.

Speaking at the Spobis conference in Düsseldorf, Allan Hvid, the sports editor-in-chief at Danish commercial broadcaster TV2, highlighted the logistical and technical challenges of covering the sport on linear television.

Asked by SportBusiness about the broadcaster’s appetite to spend sizeable fees in the future, Hvid said: “I definitely think that we are at a point now where the rights are increasing as we would expect if you take into account how the ratings are.

“But one of the things that gives us some headaches is that if the rights keep on going up then we would definitely also need to have a more solid delivery when it comes to the world feed, planning and communication.”

The broadcaster has made the TV2 Zulu channel the home of its esports content, generating impressive audiences in the target demographic of 15-to-40 year olds.

Hvid, who was joined on stage by Daniel von Busse, chief operating officer at Sport1, another prominent esports broadcaster, called for a “certainty of which teams are playing”.

He said: “We also have LaLiga and Serie A rights on our sports channel and I know Barcelona will play every weekend. But I’m not guaranteed that [leading esports teams like] Astralis or Liquid will play in 14 days. That’s a big issue.

“If we are to see the TV rights rising then we definitely need to have more guarantees about the product.”

Von Busse, who has helped oversee the launch of eSports1, the first linear esports channel in German-speaking markets, remarked: “For premium money I’m expecting a premium product. The time is right to have a very well organised product.”

However, he also sounded a note of caution on expectations of hefty rights fees.

He affirmed: “What we all want to do is develop a sustainable market for years so it’s not worth looking at short-term licensing fees. Everyone wants to earn money of course but in Germany we’re in a very early stage in the life cycle do don’t be too focused on the licensing fees.

“Let’s think about what we are developing. Let’s develop a sustainable market and we’re very happy to be part of that market.”

Coverage of Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) events make up 16 per cent of all viewing time on TV2 Zulu among 14 to 40 year olds despite commanding just 5 per cent of the airtime. The channel’s share in its target group is 61-per-cent higher on average at weekends when showing CS:GO.

The channel’s highest-ever CS:GO audience peaked at 140,000, Hvid said. Action from the DreamHack Leipzig event on Saturday was watched by around 40,000 viewers, equal to a 7.8-per-cent market share among 15 to 40 year olds.

Speaking just after the one-year anniversary of the launch of eSports1, von Busse defended the decision to launch a linear channel for a pursuit which enjoys huge popularity on streaming platforms (such as Twitch).

He noted: “I definitely believe it was the right decision because esports, as an entertainment product, needs to be treated in an editorial way. So we add value to the product and something editorial behind it, explain the sport and its beauty to make it even more valuable.

“So yes, it’s worth it to have a linear channel. Let’s make this product better and more valuable than it already is.”

Coverage of CS:GO faces no legislative hurdles in Denmark and esports has received strong government support in the country. However, CS:GO events must be shown after 10pm (CET) in Germany due to its violent content.

Von Busse revealed that Sport1 decided to keep the CS:GO content behind a paywall given the lingering social discussion around that title in Germany.

He said: “We thought we could serve our responsibility better having it behind a paywall. There are some reasons to maybe have it in the future on free-to-air, [but] we will see. As a media company I see us having a responsibility to treat this topic very carefully.”