GolfTV audience spikes on back of Tiger Woods content, additional rights markets

GolfTV displayed substantial growth in users and subscribers in July, with content featuring Tiger Woods, a global content partner of the Discovery-owned subscription streaming platform, a major contributor to the uplift, along with live PGA Tour rights taking effect in certain countries.

Users of the platform rose by 122 per cent last month, compared to July 2019, while subscribers were up by 62 per cent.

Following a hit to its live audience and subscriber losses, the PGA Tour’s return in the middle of June following the Covid-19 shutdown led to the upturn, coupled with the ongoing popularity of content featuring Woods, who signed an exclusive multi-year content agreement with Discovery shortly before GolfTV launched at the start of 2019.

Last year’s acquisition of the Golf Digest title for between $30m (€25.2m) and $35m has also bolstered the traffic in 2020, particularly during lockdown when amateur golfers sought out non-live and instruction content.

The Golf Digest website has this year averaged over 6.1 million unique visitors per month, up from 4.8 million users from May 2019 (when Discovery acquired Golf Digest from mass media company Condé Nast). Average time spent on GolfDigest.com showed a 23-per-cent year-on-year rise in June.

Alex Kaplan, president and general manager of Discovery Golf, told SportBusiness that there “wasn’t a huge drop in traffic on the Golf Digest side during Covid”. The postponement of April’s US Masters had a negative impact, he said, but the platform was “generally able to maintain and grow some non-live traffic”.

However, as an advertising video-on-demand (AVOD) platform, Golf Digest revenues have suffered.

He said: “On the revenue side everyone got hit. In Q2 there was no golf and the endemics that drive a lot of the revenue in golf were pulling back for good reason. I don’t want to suggest there wasn’t a [financial] impact but in terms of engaging customers we actually did quite well.”

Since its launch as a live streaming service showcasing the PGA Tour and European Tour in selected markets, GolfTV has expanded its businesses to incorporate the (largely US-focused) Golf Digest and with it, the addition of golf instruction, equipment and travel videos.

The service launched on the back of Discovery’s 12-year $2bn agreement to manage the PGA Tour’s international multi-platform rights.

Kaplan remarked: “GolfTV launched as a live content play. There’s a lot of non-live [content] on there but the bread and butter is the live golf content.

“One of the reasons we were excited to bring Golf Digest into the fold is it gave us a content creation engine and a level of expertise to build out this non-live content engine.”

The non-live offering during lockdown was headlined by Woods content, including Zoom videoconference calls with GolfTV presenter Henni Zuel, and also included tournament re-runs and localised short-form content.

The second series of the My Game: Tiger Woods masterclass series was filmed in June during lockdown and the 10-part season launched globally a week ago. That release coincided with the launch of the new Golf Digest Schools app and Golf Digest will soon offer interactive golf coaching to subscribers via their mobile phones using the ‘Mobile Launch Monitor’ technology from sports analytics company Rapsodo.

Growth in the live content has been shaped by the addition of live PGA Tour rights in certain markets, notably Canada, Japan and Italy. The rights in additional international markets kick in as existing deals with broadcasters expire, although the US market is excluded from the PGA Tour contract.

Sublicensing agreements have been struck by Discovery in some markets, including in Korea with broadcaster JTBC Golf and with pay-television broadcaster Golf Network in Japan, where GolfTV retained live and on-demand digital rights to all PGA Tour content. The rights in Australia were also added in 2019 with Discovery, which has a joint international sales operation with the PGA Tour, agreeing a sublicensing deal with pay-television operator Foxtel.

Live rights in Belgium China, Germany and South Africa will kick in next year, before the rights in the Nordics, India and the UK become available in 2022 and then in France in 2024.

Kaplan noted: “Each market is different. We want to build out GolfTV everywhere but exactly what that looks like and how we partner with the various different linear and digital players in golf today (or those who want to get into the business) will vary by market.”

“In terms of how our business grows, we want to strike partnerships that deliver the most content in a way that the consumers will engage as much as possible. Whether that’s exclusively on GolfTV or exclusively on another platform, it really is going to vary market by market. In most cases we do plan on having a significant GolfTV presence.”

‘Still early days for GolfTV’

Given the lengthy duration of the PGA Tour contract and live coverage in some crucial markets – such as the UK – still restricted to featured groups in certain windows, Kaplan stressed that it remains “early days” for GolfTV.

Kaplan said: “We had a year one launch in a few markets, we still don’t have all the markets and this is year two and it’s August, but basically our year was cut down with Covid. Like a lot of companies we had to make some difficult investment decisions. In some ways we’re barely at the beginning of year two.

“There’s still a lot of room to grow around improving the product and around other areas, introducing new features such as instruction and e-commerce.”

Golf TV, which will launch a ‘2.0’ version with a new front-end design next year has, according to Kaplan, made a “ton of progress” over the past two years. However, he conceded that “we haven’t made it easy on ourselves as it’s awesome to acquire new rights and businesses and introduce Tiger [Woods content], but it’s also really hard to launch an app in over 200 countries and start to commercialise that”.

Kaplan continued: “I feel like we’ve started to figure this thing out. We’ve got more people using it more often and that’s a good place to be. And then the Golf Digest business continues to grow and shift more and more to digital as we planned and wanted it to.

“There’s still a lot of work to do and we’d like to scale this thing more as we don’t have all of our markets. There’s been a lot of progress and this was never supposed to be easy and was never going to happen overnight but we feel good about where we are.”

GolfTV has secured rights to some of golf’s majors, namely US Masters rights in Norway, Poland and Russia, plus Open Championship rights in southeast Asia, and remains open to further acquisitions, according to Kaplan.

He said: “We’re always going to be opportunistic. We have relations with several of the majors today in certain markets and we would certainly always engage in discussions.

“But we feel pretty good about what we have right now on the platform. If there’s a way to add more content that our customers then we’ll of course look at that.”