Disney and Viacom18 last week struck a $6bn deal to share rights to the Indian Premier League cricket, with the Mouse House taking TV coverage and the Paramount-backed firm taking streaming. Richard Middleton explores the deal’s relevance to the rest of the content ecosystem and delves into the rapidly changing world of windowing.
Sports have always been somewhat removed from the other forms of programming available on screens and despite the proliferation of content over recent years – most notably the spending on premium drama – rights to the world’s top sporting competitions remain among the most valuable of crown jewels.
Still, the news last week that the brains behind the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket had managed to more than double revenues in their recent rights auction was an eyebrow-raising moment. It is even more surprising because the two companies had paid huge sums of money for access to the same matches.
The only difference, aside from the pre- and post-match analysis – is that the medium of delivery will be different. Both companies had their own reasons for paying several billion dollars for access. Disney+ Hotstar’s average revenue per user in India would hardly have supported such a giant outlay for streaming rights, but the Mouse House’s broadcast side can more than recoup those costs, it hopes.
For Viacom18, its streaming rights deal makes more sense because it is looking to rapidly expand its subscriber base and IPL cricket is probably the quickest way to do exactly that. But it also raises a question: if sharing what are effectively premiere rights to the same live matches works, could we see linear channels and streaming services sharing ‘exclusive’ rights to genres outside of the sports sphere?
“It’s not really comparing apples to apples,” says Banijay Rights’ CEO and all-round rights supremo Cathy Payne, as she swiftly deflates any ballooning predictions of the same show being sold within what is effectively the same window to different platforms.
“What they did was split who acquired the linear rights and who acquired the non-linear rights – both have levels of exclusivity for their respective rights package and platform,” she tells TBI.
“We saw the experience last year when Amazon – who held the exclusive rights to the US Open Tennis – agreed a deal to allow Channel 4 to take the feed. Of course, we had a Brit in the final and Amazon subsequently invested that money into British tennis. However, the key difference was that Amazon controlled all rights and had the ability to agree that sub licence.”
Tim Westcott, senior principal analyst for digital content & channels at research powerhouse Omdia agrees. “It’s an intriguing idea but I’m doubtful the IPL rights auction will be emulated in TV licensing.
“The really premium sports rights are usually carved up into packages but it’s quite rare they are divided by technology. Rights owners are very wary of cannibalising their rights. They are also usually live, and licensed only for a period of time, with another window (usually highlights) following in a matter of hours.”
Dealing out the drama
Yet the world of rights is changing on an almost daily basis. Shows are now available across a plethora of different windows, with the rapid emergence of FAST channels among the more nascent opportunities for savvy content sellers.
AVOD is also offering numerous opportunities, with recent deals such as SBS in Australia just this week acquiring Traitor, the drama produced by multi-service provider Elisa Estonia and Estonian public broadcaster ERR.
The pick-up via distributor GoQuest Media sees SBS buying the exclusive AVOD rights for the thriller and the window is an huge opportunity for those with IP to sell. Research last month suggested the global spend on AVOD series and movies is set to approach £70bn within five years.
It is also a window of opportunity for increased sales in a country. Jimmy George, co-founder at India-based GoQuest, tells TBI that while there are no plans at present to sell the show into a linear window in Oz, “if it creates enough buzz on SBS VOD, and if a linear channel considers it, then we could look at an exclusive linear window, post six-months maybe.”
There are of course clear differences between, say, a drama and coverage of a live IPL match and the rights value attached. Taped shows like drama are sold over a longer period of weeks and months, Westcott says, and rights to make a show available via a sibling on-demand service (as well as a scheduled linear channel) are always likely to be part of a deal.
Further, as George points out, while an IPL-style window deal “could be a possibility” the biggest hindrance he sees is that content that works on streamer may not work on a channel or vice versa. “This could affect the amount of revenue to be earned in a combined manner – but if there is content which can lure audiences on TV and streaming, then that would be a big opportunity.”
Competition & considerations
There are also rules around competition, which could potentially hamper such deals being struck, but Westcott adds that “it could happen” in other countries.
“We are seeing that Amazon is much more prone to licensing rights for a specific territory and not worldwide,” he continues, “while Netflix is far more likely to buy worldwide rights. Competition is especially intense now with all the big D2C brands now being rolled out and competing for subscribers.”
Payne also doesn’t rule out the potential of a shared window in the future. “It would depend,” she says, particularly where the discussion is around a show that has been commissioned, rather than when the rights to an acquired series is being sold.
“Normally these big television pieces are commissioned by a party that will own a bundle of exclusive rights for certain platforms or channels with holdbacks,” she explains. HBO, for example, have unveiled a raft of Game Of Thrones spin-offs, but “how will they play across HBO linear and HBO Max (or what those channels end up being) will be up to HBO to decide along with how they sublicence,” she adds.
The subject is certainly in its most nascent of stages and there are clear differences to the IPL scenario, as discussed. But in a panel at Conecta Fiction, Jose Pastor, the director of fiction & cinema at Spanish broadcaster RTVE, admitted he was open to far-reaching discussions around windowing.
The Spanish pubcaster, like many of its equivalents around the world, has seen its revenues squeezed. In return, it has been partnering with global streamers to push budgets further, with Boundless among its recent slate.
Amazon has already snagged the series – exploring the 16th century voyage of Juan Sebastián Elcano and Ferdinand Magellan – for exclusive premiere in the UK, Spain, the US and Latin America, but Pastor said streamer deals could provide for all audiences.
“The windows can be decided by the level of participation,” he added. “If TV pays more they could premiere, if a platform pays much more, they could go first. If they pay the same, perhaps we could premiere at the same time.”
Westcott adds that he is now seeing “a few overlaps between on demand catalogues in the US”, mostly with regard to theatrical movies. It is still quite rare for a TV series to be on more than one service, although he adds that there have been some shows on Disney’s Hulu or Showtime (on SVOD) and other platforms like Peacock, Tubi and Freevee (AVOD).
While the windowing opportunities for distributors and rights holders have mushroomed over recent years, it is yet to be seen if any streamer or broadcaster would consider sharing ‘premiere’ rights to a piece of acquired IP.
That means the question of just how much they would pay remains an unknown, but if the opportunity emerges for both parties to win financially and – crucially, not cannibalise their own audience – then there seems little reason for it not to be experimented with.