The Business Of Sport

Live content going mobile: Eleven Sports Network's (Singapore) managing director

Shalu Wasu, Eleven Sports Network (Singapore) managing director, holding an iPad showing the start-up screen of the Eleven Sports app. Eleven hopes to expand its subscriber base with a slew of over-the-top sports content.
Shalu Wasu, Eleven Sports Network (Singapore) managing director, holding an iPad showing the start-up screen of the Eleven Sports app. Eleven hopes to expand its subscriber base with a slew of over-the-top sports content.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Exclusive content in a tough market is key to Eleven Sports' expansion strategy

Online piracy and illegal streaming might be the bane of pay-TV operators, but for Eleven Sports Network (Singapore) managing director Shalu Wasu, they represent a unique opportunity to be seized upon.

Quoting a report that analysed the future of the multi-billion-dollar sports industry, he stressed his belief that consumers are willing to pay for sports content - but only if it was exclusive, reasonably priced and available in high definition.

Wasu said: "If fans cannot find their favourite content on legal streams, that's when they look for illegal ones which are usually of poor quality.

"We want to solve this."

Eleven, a London-based online streaming service provider which started operations in Singapore last year, has been aggressively expanding its subscriber base.

It secured the exclusive rights to the Euro 2016 football tournament and now screens three live English Premier League matches weekly. Last month, it announced a four-year broadcast deal with the National Basketball Association to complement its plate of sports offerings that include world-class swimming, badminton, table tennis and tennis events.

  • 100k
    Eleven Sports hopes to hit a six-figure subscription base in 2017.

    54%
    More than half of 2,585 Singaporeans and permanent residents used over-the-top video services, Media Development Authority's inaugural OTT survey released in July noted.

    $60b
    Global value of sports media rights in 2016.

The addition of cricket's Twenty20, rugby's Six Nations, international bowling and poker tournaments are also being considered as it seeks to increase its over-the-top (OTT) stable of content.

Eleven is offering a 20 per cent discount on new subscriptions. It will apply to all three subscription models, including a $19.90 monthly option for 12-month contracts. A cheaper package, with less content, will be rolled out soon to attract new customers.

Eleven claims to have tens of thousands of OTT subscribers - from its own app available on Apple TV and Samsung Smart TVs or through partnerships with Mediacorp's Toggle and telcos StarHub and M1 - and hopes to cross 100,000 in 2017.

Wasu said: "Six figures, that's our goal for next year."

Part of his confidence stems from Singapore's connectivity. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report in June, smartphone penetration rate here was more than 100 per cent - meaning that, on average, Singaporeans own more than one smartphone.

This is well ahead of the South-east Asia's levels of around 40 per cent. The global figure is around 54 per cent.

Wasu noted: "The audience here is digitally very savvy. Our objective is to allow everyone to consume our content anywhere, on any device."

The ground in Singapore appears ripe. The Media Development Authority's inaugural OTT survey released in July noted that more than half (54 per cent) of 2,585 Singaporeans and permanent residents surveyed used OTT video services.

Among adults, millennials - those aged 15 to 34 - watch sports the most, and 60 per cent of adults aged 15 and above watch videos on their mobile devices.

With a global value of US$43 billion (S$60 billion) in 2016, sports media rights is big business and the rise of digital platforms has led to even more players entering the market.

Advertising giant WPP Group, Facebook and Amazon were among those interested in bidding for the rights to stream the next few seasons of cricket's Indian Premier League. Other sport OTT platforms that have recently arrived in Asia, include RugbyPass and DAZN.

This has led to a growing shift away from pay TV by "cord cutters" - customers who cancel their cable subscription. StarHub has seen a 35,000 drop in pay TV subscribers this year while fellow telco Singtel has also lost 11,000 subscribers in the first two quarters of its 2016-17 financial year.

Aravind Venugopal, vice-president at consulting and research provider Media Partners Asia, said: "As consumers' attention and eyeballs get diverted, there arise two sets of issues for the 'traditional' sector.

"The advertising dollars accrued to traditional TV (linear pay TV and free-to-air) will experience slower growth, and over the long term, could even decline.

"The subscription dollars start to shift, as consumers shift spend away from pay TV, and to subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Viu."

Similarly, in the United States, the top nine cable operators lost 1.2 million subscriptions in 2014. A 2015 Nielsen survey found the number of US households with at least one OTT service rose from 36 per cent in 2013 to 40 per cent in 2015.

Content is king for consumers but they will want channels and programmes to be unbundled and an a la carte selection, said Wasu.

"Eventually they want to pick one game here, one game there, create their own customised package and pay only for that. The technology we have makes this possible. That's the future we're moving towards."

• The Business of Sport is a monthly series that explores the current trends and talking points of Singapore's emerging sport industry

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'Live content is going mobile'. Print Edition | Subscribe