LaLiga launching OTT TV service, as Mediapro takeover completed
LaLiga will this year expand its broadcasting presence by launching a free-to-view and multi-sport over-the-top television platform, which could provide a home for Spanish top-flight soccer matches, albeit only in the “medium- or long-term,” according to the league’s president Javier Tebas.
LaLiga is preparing to conduct the all-important tender for domestic media rights to the top league from 2019-20 onwards, but is also eager to develop its own broadcast offering, which will combine Spanish soccer programming with action from other sports.
In an interview with Spanish business newspaper Expansión, Tebas (pictured) said: “LaLiga will launch its own multi-sport internet television in August.”
The league registered the name ‘Sportflix’ with the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office on 12 December, according to the Economía Digital website.
The proposal represents an expansion of the LaLiga4Sports project, which launched two years ago with a website that offers coverage of sports that do not enjoy wide television exposure, through an agreement between LaLiga and 64 national sports federations and the Spanish Paralympic Committee.
The live and on-demand content on the new platform is set to include futsal matches after LaLiga4Sports this week became an official sponsor of the LNFS, the Spanish futsal league, in a deal that entails exclusive coverage of one match per round, and other games from the first and second divisions.
Tebas told Expansión that a free-to-view offering “is the best way to reach our fans directly,” adding: “In addition to our own content, we will broadcast other sports as long as they are of sufficient quality, which will be the key factor beyond the level of audience that each discipline can generate.”
He claimed that LaLiga will “look for the way to give visibility to those sports that audiovisually it is impossible to enter the line-up of mainstream channels, because there are not enough broadcast hours.”
These could include the likes of aquatics, equestrian sports, field hockey and gymnastics.
Asked about the soccer content, Tebas said that in addition to archive matches, interviews and reports, there could be matches from the second-tier Segunda Division “which would remain non-exclusive unless a very significant offer comes up.”
He dismissed the possibility of live LaLiga matches on the new platform, at least in the short term, saying: “For now, and for some time, that distribution will be by telecoms operators or thematic OTT.”
However, Tebas said this “should not be ruled out” in the “medium or long term. That will be determined by the market.
“What is evident is that content owners are increasingly launching more strategies to be directly related to their customers and fans. Netflix and HBO produce their own films to reach their audience directly.”
On the sporting front, he pointed out: “When the NBA sells its rights internationally, it always reserves space so that its customers can directly access [games] through their OTT.”
Domestic rights and Mediapro At present, Mediapro, the Spanish sports rights agency and production company, and its pay-TV partner BeIN Sports, and Movistar Plus, the satellite and IPTV pay-TV service of telecoms giant Telefónica, hold the major live rights packages for LaLiga in Spain in three-year deals worth a total of €2.65 billion ($3.3 billion).
The tender for the next cycle is set to be launched between March and May, “at the latest,” according to Tebas, and Mediapro’s position may have been strengthened by the confirmation today of the acquisition of a 53.5-per-cent stake in its parent company Imagina by Orient Hontai Capital, in a deal worth €1 billion.
The Chinese private equity firm has bought the 22.5-per-cent stake of Torreal, the company of Spanish billionaire Juan Abello, the 19-per-cent stake of Mexican media giant Televisa and the 12-per-cent stake of Mediavideo, the company of Mediapro founder Gerard Romy.
Jaume Roures and Tatxo Benet, the other co-founding partners, are to remain at the helm, each with 12-per-cent shareholdings, while advertising giant WPP retains its 22-per-cent stake.
The agreement, which was thrashed out last October, values Imagina at an enterprise value of €1.9 billion, it was announced on Friday.
In a joint statement, Roures and Benet said that for Imagina, the deal represents “a significant boost to its competitive strength in its traditional markets of Spain and Europe” and confirms “the markets’ confidence in its business model and its growth strategy.”
They added that “the agreement will provide the Group with access to an emerging market like China and the advantage of accessing this market in association with such an important partner as Orient Hontai Capital.”
Roures and Benet claimed that Imagina’s three main areas of activity of rights, content and audiovisual services present excellent opportunities for consolidation and growth in its established strongholds of Spain, Europe and the Americas and growth in China and the Asian market.
Mediapro last week strengthened its hand internationally as it agreed a deal with Serie A worth €1.05 billion per year to acquire the media rights in Italy to the country’s top soccer league from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
Mediapro and BeIN Sports have already landed exclusive rights to the Champions League and Europa League in Spain for three years starting next season, in a deal valued at a total of €1.05 billion.
There has been talk that technology giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Twitter could start to challenge the established broadcasters for rights to Europe’s top soccer leagues.
However, UK pay-TV operators Sky and BT Sport this week retained the major live rights to England’s Premier League for three years starting in 2019-20 in deals worth £4.46 billion ($6.27 billion), and Tebas does not expect the technology companies to threaten the status quo in Spain.
He said: “There are conversations with these platforms, but we must be very clear on something that all telecommunications operators already know: Amazon and Facebook are not going to buy all the rights to national football.
Tebas added: “They could be interested in our product in different areas of the world, such as Italy or Germany.”
Asked if the current value of the domestic premium LaLiga rights would be matched in the forthcoming tender, Tebas said: “In case economic expectations are not met, we have a Plan B for growth and an approach to the prospects for the upcoming seasons.”
He has previously claimed that the league will be looking to generate €2.3 billion per season from the sale of broadcasting rights in the next cycle, comprising €1.3 billion from the domestic market and €1 billion internationally.
Tebas is himself the subject of an approach, with Serie A having offered him €1.2 million per year to be its next chief executive.
However, the LaLiga clubs this week approved an increase in Tebas’ salary, from €629,000 (plus fees of €250,000), to €1.2 million (plus fees of €250,000), in a bid to convince him to stay.
Tebas has admitted to being tempted by the Italian offer, although he is minded to remain at LaLiga.
He said: “I want to be in Spain, but there are many factors to consider when you are made an offer. I am very flattered that they are looking at the chief executive of the Spanish organisation.
“Italy wants to develop as an industry, as has happened in LaLiga, where we have developed our workforce from 30 employees to 300.”