The launch of a new streaming platform is no longer considered to be a novel venture. With broadcast industry trends pointing to increasing digital advertising spend amid a continued consumer transition away from traditional pay-TV subscriptions, over-the-top (OTT) media is fast becoming a staple of the modern-day, home-viewing experience.
In that sense, the global rollout of Aser Ventures’ new LiveNow OTT product is by no means a revolutionary step. But while the industry scrambles to commandeer a portion of audiences turning their backs on paid monthly contracts, a pay-per-view (PPV) offering that serves multiple verticals and consumer preferences could well help rights holders and event organisers within sport expand their reach, engagement and revenue.
Media conglomerates are beginning to bundle their sports OTT services into wider digital entertainment offerings in an effort to incentivise subscribers looking for a more rounded content package. It should come as no surprise, then, to see a standalone direct-to-consumer (DTC) service dedicated to the live experience adopt the same guiding principle.
As part of LiveNow’s launch last month, Aser Ventures founder and chairman Andrea Radrizzani vowed to “disrupt the current pay-TV market with an innovative new service that democratises access to live content”, one that would do so by becoming what the company calls ‘the world’s biggest live content PPV network’ across sport, concerts, plays and conferences.
Now, having carried out extensive beta testing, including the live streaming of content from sister company Eleven Sports’ portfolio of rights, Aser Ventures director Marc Watson says the platform is committed to building out its own unique sports rights offering on a freemium basis, including PPV events priced at between €2.99 (US$3.50) and €5.99 (US$7.10).
Here, Watson – who also doubles as executive chairman of Eleven Sports – tells SportsPro how the LiveNow service will seek to convert new and younger fans as part of a “truly global” offering that aims to transform a “struggling” sports rights model in the wake of Covid-19.
What was the inspiration behind the LiveNow product?
Marc Watson: It came together in 2019. The idea was to create a new kind of distribution platform, devoted to live events. This came out of Andrea’s and our passion for live events as a medium. We come from the sports space – we’re doing 30,000 to 40,000 hours of live content a year around the world – and the ability to bring a live audience together is such an important medium.
Secondly, we also have the belief that the distribution model needs to be innovated. This was before Covid-19, by the way, and while sports values are maxing out under the current model and current OTT providers are struggling to maintain all of the value in customers coming out of cable and going into OTT, the majority of sports fans remain disenfranchised from the system.
They can’t access premium sport because it’s behind a paywall, so when you look at all of those factors, you see that sport has got an issue – it’s not reaching enough of a new audience and bringing enough new people in. We think that is a long-term problem but it is also an opportunity.
We think it is ready for disruption and LiveNow is a platform that is designed to do that. We started to think about that in the context of sport but since then realised that it is an opportunity to expand beyond sport. For example, they might want an opportunity to watch the rest of an ongoing match.
Most rights owners are not able to capture that demand, so we wanted to create a platform that could do that; to take that demand, reach the consumer wherever they are, give them the opportunity to transact, and do that within a very protected environment.
Fans attend a concert at the Nou Camp in Barcelona during the Cruilla XXS Festival in July
How has the dearth of live events impacted your rollout?
MW: What we’ve seen since Covid-19 is that some of the trends in the market that were there already, and that we were looking to, have accelerated and that the demand in the marketplace to stream events has obviously grown while people aren’t able to go and see them in the stadium. However, there has always been demand beyond what you can fit inside a venue.
If you are hosting a music event, wherever that might be in the world, we can see that there was always a lot more demand than the artists could meet, so LiveNow is designed to meet that demand and allow fans to see their favourite artists. We’re not trying to replace the physical experience; we’re trying to add to it and to provide an alternative.
We’ve built a platform that is very robust and is designed to take live events and distribute them to fans wherever they are – in any country, in any language, and in any currency – but not ask the fan to find us; rather, we will go and find the fan and make it very easy for them to access content.
It can easily be embedded into a publisher’s website, to use via mobile phone companies and social media platforms, so wherever the consumer is, they can see the promotion for the event. Therefore, if they like the promotion, they can book and buy the ticket very quickly, whether they are music or sports fans, or something entirely different.
How will LiveNow’s diverse offering serve sports rights holders?
MW: Rights owners who are trying to sell their rights now, in the context of the coronavirus, are struggling. We really believe they need to be open to a new approach and that LiveNow is one of the things that will give them a new way of reaching new fans and generate incremental revenues. It is something that we really do believe the sports industry needs to embrace.
We want to create the world’s premier destination for live events across different genres. The more live events we put on it and the more content we bring, the more it will become a destination of choice, we believe, for consumers, whatever it is they are looking for. There is something very special about live and the concept of joining and sharing in an event in real-time.
In the Eleven Sports business, we were the first to launch a shared video room experience. We are going to bring that experience to the LiveNow platform. We are working on a raft of other innovations to turn the experience of watching a live event into a truly immersive and engaging experience.
We think it will make LiveNow a much more effective marketing platform than a traditional digital marketing campaign can give you in reaching more fans.
Singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding headlines LiveNow's global rollout from the V&A Museum in London
Will there be a relationship between LiveNow and the Eleven business?
MW: Eleven Sports is running a profitable business now at the group level, and we are very proud of that. It’s growing exponentially, with a new CEO in Luis Vicente who has a clear vision of how to take the business into the digital space. He will focus on doing that and taking that forwards.
While LiveNow is a different distribution model, there will be opportunities to work with Eleven and to find some synergies across the companies. But we’re really focused on building LiveNow as a distribution business of its own, separate from Eleven.
We might see Eleven events on LiveNow in the future – that is possible – and there might be some synergies in the rights acquisitions space, perhaps. We will see, but this is a different business line.
From a rights owner’s point of view, the notion that they are going to maintain and continue to grow their values in the way that they have before – and that broadcasters will absorb the costs of corona and the costs of piracy, without them having to innovate their distribution model – that’s simply not going to happen.
We believe that rights owners have to approach the market with an open mind and they’ve got to be willing to embrace new models of distribution and new ways to commercialise their rights, if they want to maintain and grow the value of the rights in the future.
LiveNow won’t be the only way to do that but it will certainly be one of the ways in which they can look to reach new fans in new ways and collect revenues that they are simply not collecting today. I am not saying that the subscription model is dead – it certainly isn’t – and it will continue. We don’t want to replace it; we want to build on it and that’s what LiveNow is here to do.
Do you see LiveNow becoming a competitor for live sports rights?
MW: We are already talking to rights owners around the world about what we can offer and how, by working together in partnership, we can create new business for them and find new value. The answer is: yes. We can absolutely see LiveNow acquiring live rights in the future. Let’s see how that develops.
What we’re really looking to target, in the sports space, is those that want a more flexible basis to consume sports and to consume live events. Those are the customers that we’re targeting and it is those customers who are currently locked out of the sports market and who nobody is getting value from. That will be incremental value and not substitutional value. We want to increase the size of the pie.
Aser Ventures founder and chairman Andrea Radrizzani has said LiveNow will “disrupt the current pay-TV market”
Is there a risk it will disrupt the Eleven business model?
MW: It won’t disrupt Eleven because we ourselves are targeting different sets of demand. There is the consumer who sees subscription as the perfect product and Eleven is a subscription product. Whether you buy it on our OTT app or via one of our cable partners, essentially it’s a subscription product.
We’re not looking to damage that – in fact, we are looking to enhance it. What we’re looking to do is to bring new customers and new fans in sport, who may have been priced out of the market and don’t like being locked into a subscription contract, which is particularly true of younger people.
Sport has got a real problem with younger people because they are not coming into those cable contracts as subscribers, as previous generations have done. We will find those fans and give them a fantastic experience, so that, when we find that they are coming back and want to consume more, we can work with our partners to give them the opportunity to subscribe.
How will you distinguish PPV and free content across LiveNow’s freemium offering?
MW: We’re conscious that not every event is suitable for PPV and that some events are more suitable for free distribution. We want to create a destination platform where consumers will continue to come to, so there will continue to be free content where we can look to introduce advertising and sponsorship to help commercialise that content, and will act as an incentive for customers to come to the platform.
Can LiveNow’s global offering help Aser Ventures expand its other businesses into new markets?
MW: This is genuinely a global platform. There will be opportunities to take learnings across our companies and, from an Aser Ventures point of view, we are always looking at what synergies we can create across our companies.
As we sell tickets and we offer events in new countries around the world, we will learn about retailing in those countries. We will create new partnerships with distributors, sponsors and brands, and I am sure we will be able to leverage off those relationships into the Aser portfolio and businesses.
That is absolutely part of the ethos behind Aser Ventures as a company and one of the principals behind what we do at Aser Ventures: whereby we have a set of companies that are distinct but related, and the success of one can help us to build success in others.
Aser Ventures director Marc Watson explains why LiveNow could be a game-changer for the distribution of live sports content.