FIH's Weil: OTT platform to complement, not replace, rights deals
By Tariq Saleh
The FIH, field hockey's governing body, is not in a position to risk transitioning from traditional broadcast rights deals to focus solely on digital and prefers to find “the right mix” between the two to complement the launch of its revamped over-the-top offering, its chief executive Thierry Weil has said.
Having signed a 10-year partnership with Nagra, the Kudelski Group-owned company that provides security solutions for digital media, in May to create an upgraded OTT platform and integrated digital channels, the governing body is ready to roll out its new Watch.Hockey service tomorrow.
The streaming service, which the FIH describes as a “ground-breaking fan engagement app” will replace FIH.live, which the federation only launched in January 2019, in partnership with MyCujoo, the Netherlands-based streaming platform. That contract has been terminated.
The launch of the revamped platform will coincide with the resumption of the FIH Pro League, the fledgling national teams competition, on 22 September and is being marketed as the 'home of hockey', essentially a central community for the 30 million players, fans and officials worldwide.
The cloud-based digital platform, which will be available on iOS and Android devices, will be developed for web, mobile and smart TVs, and will include live matches, replays, highlights, videos, archives, news, interviews, live scores, results and stats, as well as social sharing functionality where fans and participants can capture and share instant moments online.
Despite the FIH’s commitment to the platform and its hope that it can extend the reach of the sport globally, it is not prepared to eventually show all games on the streaming service and end deals with broadcasters and will instead look to engage in renewal talks.
In a media conference call, Weil said: “I do not see why we would be that sure that we do not need to have broadcasters on board again because today the broadcast part is quite relevant for us.
“Having those broadcasters on board today, most of them are producing the games for us and we have good partnerships. My personal view is it would be wrong to start to be confident that we do not need them.
“I have followed the discussion in the market now for at least four or five years where people said broadcast is over and it is digital, but broadcast is still there and will still be there tomorrow and I think nobody should risk, even in two years’ time when our contracts come to an end, to go digital only. We will soon start discussing with broadcasters to renew the contracts.”
He continued: “We are happy with the broadcasters we have. They have helped us to start with the Pro League and the other events we have. Those are four-year contracts for the cycle until 2022. We are constantly having discussions about whether digital is the future for smaller federations like ourselves instead of traditional broadcasters but I honestly believe it is the right mix.
“You need to have the right mix between broadcast and the digital platforms and then the rest will be seen by who is using digital and who is using broadcasters but currently we need to have the right mix and therefore we will continue with our broadcasters.”
In territories where the FIH has broadcast deals, games will be geo-blocked on the Watch.Hockey OTT platform, which the federation said is presently in 11 of the participating countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, China, Germany, UK, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and USA.
The FIH has deals with several major broadcasters in those countries including ESPN, Fox Sports, BT Sports, Ziggo Sport, Eurosport, DAZN and Star Sports.
Pro League matches will be available on Watch.Hockey in every country where a rights-holding broadcaster does not show them live. However, any games that broadcast partners decide not to show will be available on the OTT service. A number of broadcast partners have traditionally only shown their country's matches and not others in the competition.
The FIH is keen to provide content “on a worldwide basis” and is happy to respect geo-blocking restrictions but Weil is hopeful of having conversations with broadcasters about co-promoting content and potentially opening up some live games.
He said: “What we potentially will have is a discussion about if we in parallel can have our games without geo-blocking but that will be a discussion between the parties because they [the broadcasters] will need to measure if its damaging them or acceptable for them, how much is acceptable for them.
“Also what needs to be done there, which we have discussed from the beginning, is that both us and the broadcaster should promote each other. We would be happy to promote if it is a geo-blocked game and promote which broadcaster is showing it, and also when you see our match schedules, we can clearly highlight where you can watch the game so that people will not get a surprise when they go on the app and will know immediately which broadcaster will show the game.
“I feel like this is a nice promotion for them and I am sure vice versa they will do some of the promotions for us.”
The FIH project falls under Nagra’s new ‘sports-as-a-service’ platform offering, which the company is ready to roll out widely.
The federation took the rare decision to commit to a 10-year deal with Nagra with a long-term approach to continually develop the app.
Weil admitted the move raised some eyebrows but said it will allow the FIH to progress the platform over the next decade and adapt to evolving technology.
He explained: “There was some criticism when we announced the 10-year deal but in such an area, where technology is moving fast, a short-term deal would not allow us to work together in the proper way in a partnership and the contract would actually come up for renegotiation.
“When you are going in for renegotiation, quite often you are losing a certain period of time, sometimes a long period of time where all the things stand still because you do not know if you are continuing the contract or not.
“If this happens, you have a six or seven-month standstill in the technology world because you are potentially in the renegotiation phase that could mean that you are missing a lot of things.
“We looked into the possibilities and who was on the market and we made the decision, with the experience and what Nagra and the Kudelski Group has already done in the last 10 years, that this is the right partner today.
“For us, it made complete sense to do a 10-year deal so that we are not losing three years within that to renegotiate the contract and we can concentrate more on developing, moulding and moving forward with the technology and what is coming new to adapt and to get into our app.
“It is a matter of making a choice and this was our choice. This app and OTT platform is about moving because we need to look at what is coming new and what the young generation wants and we can adapt.”
Watch.Hockey will be free to use to begin with, with an additional paid, premium-service expected to be rolled out once it is firmly established.
The FIH and Nagra are seeking to broaden its audience before potentially opting for a subscription model and will initially look to advertising and sponsorships to monetise the service.
Jean-Luc Jezouin, Nagra senior vice-president, sales development, said: “We decided not to put a paywall because we want to have the maximum audience and we know a paywall will reduce the size of the audience. So we will monetise through advertising and sponsorships but we will have to wait until we have a user base before we can go to sponsors.
“We will also work towards merchandising and ticketing which is not on the app at the moment and will not be effective until fans can go back into the stadiums but that is something that is already on our roadmap.
“At some point, when there is more content, we will look to introduce subscriptions to remove ads as some people will want to pay to remove the advertising. But we will go slowly and take our time to learn from the responsible fans.”