Talksport began broadcasting to the UK as Talk Radio in 1995. After rebranding to its current name in 2000, it was acquired by UTV Media in 2005. Since then a gradual evolution has taken place on the air, with the station moving away from its “cheap and cheerful”, perhaps brash, early days to become the world’s leading sports radio station with a listenership of around three million. Live sports coverage has been added to opinionated and punchy discussion.
Now, Talksport is turning its attention further afield. In April it signed a four-year contract with the Premier League to take the international audio commentary rights across multiple platforms. From its 30 newly constructed broadcast booths at its London headquarters, Talksport Live now broadcasts all 380 Premier League games per season, each one in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Ahead of a major, in-depth interview to be published in the October issue of SportsPro - a broadcasting special - Talksport chief executive Scott Taunton outlines the thinking behind what he calls the “most exciting” project in the brand’s history.
How did the deal, which was only signed in April, come about?
In this case it was us approaching them. It was about a year of negotiations with the Premier League. I guess the issue for the Premier League is relative to the cost of television rights this isn’t a huge transaction for them but they buy the argument that it’s incremental, that any additional revenue and rights they get are incremental, and as an existing broadcaster of the Premier League I guess there was some comfort that actually we would do the service justice in other markets – it was taking away that element of risk.
And if over this next four years we prove that model, which we expect to do, then ultimately we will pay for our own success renewing those rights with the Premier League at a level that recognises people’s ability to generate revenue out of the business.
What was the technical challenge involved to get everything ready before the start of the season?
"It’s about six years since we became an official broadcaster of the Premier League and I think that was a key point of difference"
We’ve had to build the technology behind the transmission. There’s lots of little things that complicate the whole process, like having to geo-lock a lot of the content, the multilingual facets of having our website and commentaries available in Mandarin and Spanish initially – we hope to grow those.
There were a lot of hurdles. I had hoped to complete the negotiations with the Premier League by about October of last year and that, we thought, would give us plenty of time to get the studio build in place. Having signed it in the middle of April, and not being able to even discuss it with our wider team prior to that, the guys here had to hit the ground running. I’m really pleased with their efforts and what’s been put in place. Our first broadcast was the Community Shield on 12th August and we completed testing of the studios on 10th August, so it was pretty tight.
How successful has the early sub-licensing of the rights been thus far?
Given the relatively short lead-up to the start of the season we don’t have all the sub-licensing agreements in place that we expect to have at the end of the season. But our ability to generate revenue is via a syndication fee, if someone actually wants to buy the rights – so from the first Premier League match that we broadcast on 18th August we were syndicating our broadcast in Canada, on the Sirius platform in the US, analogue radio in Ghana and Nigeria and New Zealand.
There are other services that will come in as well. We also carve out an element of the breaks such that we can sell advertising across those, which we’re using at the minute to cross-promote our own online service and offering, and during the commentaries themselves we clearly brand it up as a Talksport offering and put in place incentives for people to come and visit our own website and make it clear to them we’re broadcasting every single match of the Premier League – so if they’re listening at 3pm on a Saturday and there are five matches going on, through our broadcast platform they can actually switch between those commentaries. We’re encouraging people to join in that way.
How does the Talksport Live service fit into Talksport's overall development as a brand?
"What we’ve always been about at Talksport is investing in the product and I don’t think you can do it as one big sea change"
What we’ve always been about at Talksport is investing in the product and I don’t think you can do it as one big sea change. Over my time running Talksport it’s been about annually looking at what else can we add in to the service. It’s about six years since we became an official broadcaster of the Premier League and I think that was a key point of difference; up till then the BBC had effectively exclusive rights to that.
More recently, people like Andy Gray and Richard Keys joining the station is an investment for us but it pays off at the back end: advertisers want to be a part of the station. The audience has grown significantly in that period. Over the last three quarters we’ve been sat well over three million in listenership – 2.9 million in the last Rajar [the UK radio industry’s ratings measurement].
2.9 million still has us as the largest sports radio broadcaster in the world. It says a lot about people viewing Talksport now as a mainstream sports offering, whereas it wasn’t that long ago that it was maybe seen as a cheap and cheerful alternative to 5 Live. In 2011, for instance, we had exclusive rights to the Rugby World Cup and that brings in a new set of listeners to experience the product and I’ve no doubt that’s helped us grow the audiences overall.
Is there a particular sport that Talksport has not covered before that you would like to see it get involved in?
The one sport that all broadcasters are looking to get more involved in, particularly in this country, is cycling and wondering whether there are things we can and should be doing given its widespread nature as a sport. It would surprise me if we or others don’t look at some sort of programming on that – we’re not eminently about to announce anything on cycling but it’s certainly something I’m saying to our programming guys.
The full, in-depth interview with Talksport’s Scott Taunton will be published in the October edition of SportsPro. To subscribe to SportsPro click here.