EBU has appetite for (non-violent) eSports
The European Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of mainly public-service broadcasters, is looking to ramp up its acquisition of rights to eSports events, but is likely to focus on sports simulation games as opposed to the “certain violent” shooting and battle titles that dominate the industry.
Earlier this year, the EBU supplied eSports content to its members in a deal with Ubisoft, the video game publisher.
That agreement allowed the final of Ubisoft’s tournament for 'Steep: Road to the Olympics', the official video game of the 2018 PyeongChang winter Olympic Games, to be televised by EBU members and similar deals now look likely to be struck by the broadcasting body.
Speaking at The SPOT conference in Lausanne, Stefan Kürten, the EBU’s director of sport, said: “We are in contact with the eGaming industry to buy or use rights and to offer it to our members. Our members are extremely active in this field already so it’s not a different world for us - a minimum of 15 to 20 members are already active in this field. Some of them doing highlights, some of them doing broadcasting, some doing news items.
“I believe there is more to come. We might not start with certain violent sports, we might start with other sports and very conservatively with the simulation of sports parallel to our live shows [broadcasting sport].”
He added: “From our perspective the sports simulation games are interesting and we want to push that further. For us it’s the best entrance [into eSports].”
Kürten's comments on acceptable eSports genres echo those of Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, who said last year: “We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn't match with video games, which are about violence, explosions, and killing. And there were have to draw a clear line.
“So if ever somebody is competing at playing football virtually or playing other sports virtually, this is of high interest.”
The EBU held its first eSports workshop in Berlin two years ago, and will stage another event for its members in Helsinki next month and, while its interest in the sector appears to be growing, it remains unwilling to commit rights fees until the sector’s potential is fulfilled.
Kürten stressed: “As long as something has to be built up then it’s difficult to get access to these revenues. We are willing to build it up but we’re not ready to pre pay.”
He admitted that the EBU is “bad at catching the interest of the youth” and could look at eSports to reverse that.
Kürten said: “Both worlds are looking at if and how to merge at least various sectors of the activities. Where does it go? I think it will happen – the merging of the traditional and the new sports.”
The airing of highlights programmes by EBU members has, according to Kürten, generated heightened interest that has led the Geneva-based body to exchange eSports news items for member broadcasters.
The EBU’s director of sport was joined on stage in Lausanne by Jan Pommer, director of team and federation relations at ESL, the Modern Times Group-owned eSports organisation.
Pommer, the former managing director of Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga, was understandably upbeat about the prospect of the EBU members committing to more eSports coverage.
He said: “We are of course interested to reach as many eyeballs as possible so the EBU and their member stations are of the highest interest to us. We feel more and more that linear TV stations are reaching out to us for magazines and for live events. In Germany there was ProSiebenSat.1 broadcasting live Counter-Strike (after 11pm) and it went very well. This will grow.”
Pommer continued: “I believe the two worlds have to start to use the same language and to have exchanges. I don’t think we’re completely fishing in different ponds. We should do more together.
“If you move away from the pure TV perspective, even Twitch is looking at the traditional media by having a 24/7 sports channel [Stadium, the OTT service] on their platform. So it’s not only us [the sports sector] looking at the eGaming industry, it’s also the eGaming industry looking at us and trying to combine things.”