Premier League pressing ahead with OTT plans, Masters says

The English Premier League is developing its plans for an OTT service and is moving towards a “a mix of direct-to-consumer and [traditional] media rights sales”, chief executive Richard Masters has said.

As reported by SportBusiness Media in late 2018, the league wanted the ability to launch an OTT service in time for the 2022-23 to 2024-25 media rights cycle. It has begun selling rights for this cycle, and got off to a stunning start last week with a six-year deal with pan-Nordic media group Nent, running from the 2022-23 to 2027-28 seasons.

UK newspaper the Daily Mail reported at the weekend that Richard Masters said: “During the last [rights bidding] process [for the 2019-22 seasons] we spent quite a lot of time and invested a lot of resources in building our expertise and capacity in ‘direct-to-consumer’.

“We considered whether strategically it would be the right time to test a few markets then and decided not to. We were ready last time and we will be ready next time should the opportunity arise. Eventually the Premier League will move to a mix of direct-to-consumer and [traditional] media rights sales.”

Masters’ comments should increase the competitive tension during the upcoming sales processes – media companies bidding for the rights will know that the Premier League has another option if it doesn’t get satisfactory offers.

The league was close to launching an OTT service in Singapore in the current cycle, but changed tack at the last minute after clubs pushed for the safety of a traditional broadcast deal. The value of the league’s rights in the territory dropped significantly, as incumbent rights-holder Singtel, the telco, was the only bidder.

Stagnating and falling media rights values in markets around the world, including the league’s domestic market, is one of the major reasons it has been examining the OTT option. The league saw its media rights value decline in most markets in Asia in the current cycle. Across the globe, the pay-television companies that have been its traditional customers are being squeezed by new competition from the OTT sector, subscriber declines, and other economic pressures. Although it has got off to a good start in the Nordics, it will face tougher negotiations in many other markets this cycle.

The Daily Mail noted that any move to embrace a global OTT model would entail huge challenges, including building a large production capability delivering content in multiple languages, attaining a £10-per-month price point in all markets, and giving up on a model that continues to deliver large, secure revenues.

The paper reported that Masters said: “There is risk associated with it. The Premier League has been successful by seeking partnerships with established broadcasters and having secure funding as its model, as opposed to direct consumer revenue, which is an entirely different strategy. The transition from one to the other if and when it ever happens would be a big moment.”