International sport production to play key role in ITN's 'Vision 2020'
By Jonathan Rest
The importance of sport to ITN Productions, a division of the UK-based television news and content provider, is set to increase over the next four years as the parent company seeks to meet ambitious financial targets.
ITN Productions has a ‘UK-centric’ sports client portfolio at present, headed by its multi-million-pound, three-year deal with the English Football League, but the company is now eyeing international rights with which to swell its coffers, according to Mark Browning, ITN Productions’ managing director.
ITN’s ‘Vision 2020’ strategic roadmap, unveiled earlier this year, aims to achieve revenues of £180 million ($224 million) by 2020 - revenues were £120 million at the end of 2015 – of which half is expected to come from its broadcast news business and half from ITN Productions, of which Sports Production is one of four pillars, along with TV Production, Advertising Production and Digital Content Services.
Speaking to the Broadcasting Press Guild at ITN’s London headquarters, Browning said there are “three buckets” in which ITN Productions foresees opportunities in the sports sector:
• applying commentary, graphics and insight into existing sports assets of rights-owners and rights-holders;
• news gathering: the filming of raw footage into an asset that can be sent out to clients, as is the case with its Football League contract; and
• programme making.
Browning said of the third 'bucket': “We are not yet in the sports programme-making space, but given that we make television programmes, we don’t see that as an insurmountable leap.”
ITN Productions’ headline agreement remains the contract to film and edit matches from English soccer’s second-tier Championship, plus the League One and League Two divisions (as well as the League Cup and EFL Trophy), for which it is in the second season of a three-year deal.
It already works with SNTV, a joint venture between IMG and the Associated Press, providing thousands of clips, and produces near-live match clips and highlights for The Sun and The Times, the News UK newspapers.
Although the scope of the News UK work was reduced after pay-TV’s Sky won the ‘near-live’ clips to England’s Premier League from the 2016-17 season onwards, the deal still includes the provision of clips for the Scottish Professional Football League, FA Cup, England’s international soccer, English rugby union’s Aviva Premiership, England international cricket and cycling’s Tour de France.
Browning said the company’s outlook is increasingly international and it is confident of landing big contracts, noting: “We will be commissioned or appointed by federations and associations and by broadcasters and right-owners to make their content. We are having conversations with big federations about host broadcasting, digital content and programming.
"The requirement to film and produce live event sport is a massive market and an international market, and increasingly through technology it is becoming accessible wherever you are in the world. Instead of relying on satellites, you are relying on fibre and you can move this stuff around in real time. We see that as a big space."
He continued: "There is an appetite within federations for new players [production partners] in this space, and an appetite for understanding how to exploit their rights more aggressively. Some are very proactive at this, but others, even though they are established sports, have not yet seen digital as an opportunity, partly because the price barrier has been too high. That is changing significantly with technology. You no longer have to have the big expensive infrastructure, you can do it through internet delivery."