Rights Holder panel – Broadcast, Media, Streaming

Frank Leenders, Director General, FIBA Media & Marketing Services SA

David Proper, Senior Executive Vice President of Media & International Strategy, NHL

Fabio Calamosca, Head of Fan Strategy & Planning, F1

Trojan Paillot, Senior Vice President – Sports Rights Acquisitions and Syndication, Warner Bros Discovery Sports Europe


Digital streaming has fundamentally altered the broadcast market at large but for sports rights holders, there is not yet a clear picture of what is to come.


Day one of ISC 2024 brought together a panel of international sports bodies and broadcasters to work through the issues this technological change has introduced to the sector.


One thing that is apparent is that the situation is still developing very fast. Frank Leenders, the director general of world basketball’s FIBA Media and Marketing Services, pointed out that digital streaming is a space where “you learn quickly what works and doesn’t work” – and one where service-based startups formed a few years ago can achieve huge scale, influence and financial success.


The other qualities common to the streaming era are flexibility and uncertainty. As David Proper, the senior executive vice president of media and international strategy at the NHL, explained, streaming offers a wealth of different options for reaching audiences, from data-rich broadcasts to kid-focused collaborations with networks like Nickelodeon.


But the decline of conventional pay-TV on linear channels has disrupted productive business models for media groups and rights holders alike. Fabio Calamosca, the head of fan strategy and planning at Formula 1, noted that this change extended to media measurement, with no standard practice for sizing up audiences across different platforms and devices.


Broadcasters are also faced with a balancing act between consumer choice and financial stability. Trojan Paillot, the SVP for sports rights acquisitions and syndication at Warner Bros Discovery Sports Europe, identified twin concerns in subscriber churn and smaller audiences for dedicated sports streamers than traditional cable bundles.


Nevertheless, the streaming ecosystem offers more possibilities than ever before. Viewer data is more sophisticated than ever before, while companies can also offer trials where they show the early parts of events for free before asking viewers to subscribe to watch the crucial moments.


Sports content can be offered in different combinations on a range of platforms, with new storytelling routes each fanbase. Discussing the smash-hit Netflix docuseries Drive To Survive, Calamosca noted that newer F1 audiences had been attracted by the stories of a range of drivers and other personalities in the sport – and were less put off by the on-track predictability of Max Verstappen’s recent dominance.


For Proper, agility and sensitivity to audience needs are central to this new era – while there will continue to be unexpected effects, like the proposed US joint venture for a sports streaming service from WBD, Fox and ESPN. He also believes that the evolving relationship between technology and consumption makes future viewer behaviour harder to predict, and that the habits of Gen Z are not fixed.


Streaming has also opened up more room for more sport, leaving sports media companies with no excuse for leaving women’s events out of their future plans. Paillot noted that while WBD-owned Eurosport covers many disciplines with a strong gender balance, like tennis and winter sports, its new UK joint venture TNT Sports has been scaling up coverage of women’s football, rugby and cricket.


The global reach of internet-based services raises the prospect of worldwide media rights deals for sport. For the moment, Paillot believes the complexity of delivering content in multiple markets – and multiple languages – will make it difficult for many companies to derive value on those terms. But Proper suggested that Apple’s universal partnership with Major League Soccer will be one to watch.