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October 13, 2019

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Q+A: Streaming and the future of consuming sports content

Mike Kelley, Grabyo's president of the Americas

Mike Kelley, Grabyo's president of the Americas

Watching sports no longer means making an appointment with your TV and couch when you get home from work.

As much content as you want can be streamed on any number of devices no matter where you are. The nature of sports broadcasting and content consumption changes rapidly, and Mike Kelley of Grabyo stands at the fore of that dynamic landscape.

As president of the Americas for the company, which develops social video production and publishing tools, Kelley negotiates deals with the English Premier League, La Liga, Wimbledon and The Rugby Channel, among other sports partners. Kelley previously led TV business development and strategy for NeuLion, where he worked with the NFL, NBA, NHL, UFC, MLS and Univision to secure broadcasting/streaming deals.

Kelley spoke with the Sun about the future of sports content. Excerpts from the interview follow:

The NFL recently signed a deal to stream some of its games via Amazon Prime. What’s the potential for a deal like that?

There’s a lot of potential on numerous fronts. One is, the NFL did a Twitter deal last year where the content was open and free like a broadcast deal in television because broadcast channels are free. Now they’ve moved to a more traditional pay model, where you’re going to have to be a Prime subscriber on Amazon to view this content. It’s a digital deal, but it’s somewhat similar to a traditional deal they might do with a pay-TV provider.

It’s interesting to see if that translates into digital and whether people are willing to pay to be a Prime member to get the NFL content. The NFL is obviously a great use case because it’s the No. 1 sports league that everyone wants to watch, at least in the United States. I think they will see some uplift from that.

There’s an advertising component to that, but it’s minimal — they don’t have a lot of ads to sell because they’re going to be passing through some of the CBS and NBC ads. That’s the first foray for Amazon into the advertising game, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they do with that.

The third component is how they leverage their commerce platform around the NFL content. Obviously there’s all kinds of commerce opportunities: tickets, merchandise, selling other media content around the NFL games. I was in the interactive TV business for years, and everyone was talking about how to bring commerce to the TV set through your set-top box. That didn’t really come to fruition.

What’s happening now is you’re bringing media and content to a commerce platform through Amazon. So it’s kind of flipped on its head a little bit.

How does advertising change as content moves to digital vs. broadcast?

It’s part of the evolving nature of discussions between the sports rights holder and their broadcast partner, whether that be a traditional broadcast partner or a digital partner, and the advertiser. It’s still evolving. Ideally, the content owner and their digital partner like an Amazon want to see the ability to replace broadcast ads and sell the advertising separately because in their view, it’s a different platform and a different audience than is on broadcast.

Obviously the big broadcasters out there, the NBC and CBS of the world, will fight that as long as they can. But even they are selling separate digital packages and broadcast packages for the Olympics and NFL. The idea is, an impression is an impression, and you want to sell that. You don’t want to just pass it through on digital.

Facebook is a great partner. Other partners we've worked with like Periscope and YouTube are all trying to build the digital advertising ecosystem. It’s all very nascent at this stage. There’s a lot of trial and tests of things.

You have to build enough case studies and use cases to present to the audience. You can envision maybe a year from now some of those formats being a part of the upfronts in New York with the big ad agencies.

How can regional sports networks leverage the power of digital to help their product?

It’s an interesting question. What’s happening on social media now in terms of live broadcasts is a major part of the evolution of broadcast in general, and for the regional guys as well. You have fans of NHL teams or the Raiders across the country, so using social and digital to reach those fans will be really interesting.

At the end of the day, it’s partly a rights game. Every team likes to have a local rights deal with a regional network but maybe a Facebook or a Twitter or a YouTube becomes that local broadcaster if they wanted to be, or at least play in that space. They can geotarget all their content delivery. If you want to do a target by ZIP code, so you only deliver it on social media to certain ZIP codes, you can do that.

So you have these social platforms competing for big national or international rights deals, but you can also compete on a local level because they can geotarget and distribute a lot cheaper than a traditional broadcast system.

I use this example all the time — Real Madrid has a channel called Real Madrid TV. That was sitting on satellite TV languishing. Not a lot of people watched it day in and day out. They decided to revive it through social media. They started just with highlights and clips from it, but then they started running their linear channel through Grabyo 24/7, so they could go live with the channel on Facebook and other platforms whenever they wanted to.

All of a sudden, with their tens of millions of followers and the way people could easily discover content in their news feed, they were getting hundreds of thousands of viewers for each piece of content. And they can then monetize that with sponsors. You can see where some these sports properties and teams will do that.

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