Having secured an exclusive six-year broadcast partnership with the English Premier League (EPL) starting from the upcoming 2022-23 season, StarHub is investing heavily in Premier+, a new channel on its over-the-top platform StarHub TV+.
A report by Grabyo in 2021 found that 79% of sports fans are ready to go streaming-only and are unhappy with the lack of streaming options. They may also choose not to watch live sport if it is only available through broadcast TV subscriptions. By 2026, Grabyo's report suggests that the pay-TV market will only have a 28% customer share of global sports fans.
Fans' hunger for sports streaming has seen tech giants like Amazon Prime sign an 11-year deal with the NFL for exclusive rights to 'Thursday Night Football' for $1 billion per season, a contract to carry France Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games for $1 billion, and a rights agreement with mixed martial arts promoter One Championship.
Apple has also inked a deal with Major League Soccer (to MLS) to stream all live MLS matches on its Apple TV app from 2023 for the next decade.
As live sports continue to transition from linear pay-TV to streaming, StarHub sees streaming as an opportunity to create more innovative solutions because it goes far beyond just live transmission in a studio, says Yann Courqueux (pictured below), the vice president of home products at StarHub.
For example, Premier+ will have features like Party Watch, Multi-Viewing, Key Highlights, Time-shift, Club Pages, Live Game Statistics and Match Stories. They will allow viewers to virtually invite friends to watch and chat about games in real-time and access real-time team statistics during live games, among other things.
"We want to reach different audiences with slightly different formats for different screens because the opportunity is there and was not exploited until now. Beyond the game itself, there is data that is not being used to enhance the comprehension of what is going on in the game," Courqueux tells Campaign Asia-Pacific.
"Previously, fans would use different apps to check the squad lists and statistics of the game and might miss out on certain aspects of the match. Now, when fans check on their phones for these, they can see live comments from other fans while watching the game on their screen simultaneously."
He adds: "We want to create this experience where fans immerse themselves in the game and get some of the content, like real-time stats. There will be a lot of innovations like team substitutions in the future which will be progressively introduced."
Helping advertisers reach audiences through streaming
The rise of streaming, in general, has seen much of the industry rethink TV measurement as viewership is no longer concentrated. As a result, advertisers are moving away from basic targeting demos and toward data-driven tools when making their commercial ad buys.
With Premier+, StarHub is bolstering its incremental reach capabilities to help advertisers connect with those viewers who have shifted from linear to streaming platforms for sports.
Courqueux says streaming allows StarHub to target audiences, unlike traditional broadcasts where marketers must schedule ads and have an ad slot to create one ad for the whole population.
"With on-demand streaming, we can do pre-rolls on highlights and programmatic advertising. That is something that we have launched very recently and allows us to target different demographics. So, for example, based on our customers' data, we can know their family demographics and how many phone lines they have with us etc, so we can target eligible households," he explains.
"Now that we have different viewing formats, we can also propose to advertisers that we not only carry their ads but also use the pre-roll ads to show some of the match highlights that we would be distributing outside of Starhub TV Plus for platforms like YouTube and Facebook to reach a much broader audience. This means we can move beyond our properties and have the content reach the entire population of Singapore. That enhanced reach is appealing to our advertising partners."
The appealing reach has seen brands like NTUC Income, Ogawa, Carlsberg, IG Asia, Lazada and McDonald's come on board StarHub's coverage of the EPL. As the presenting broadcast sponsor, NTUC Income will be sponsoring StarHub's broadcast of Premier League for the next three seasons, while the remaining sponsors have inked up to two-year deals.
Bankable inventory on Premier+ also opens new avenues for advertisers to reach fans in Singapore. Courqueux says StarHub's advertising packages are a mixed model because they can offer advertisers a fixed rate if they want to sponsor the highlights or the banners on the user interface.
For its pre-roll ads, StarHub is adopting the same principle as digital, where it is the cost per thousand.
"This means we are changing how we sell advertising, compared to the traditional ads, where we estimated reach and use rate cards. There will be instant visibility on the exact numbers as our platform will generate the reports almost instantly, like how many households are streaming the matches," he explains.
"We are reporting the exact number of people, which is a significant change compared to what has been available, like panels and estimates that are inflated very often. Now, we have accurate data that will be very variable, so we know who is watching what and when."
The future of EPL broadcast rights in Singapore
StarHub's six-year broadcast partnership with the EPL sees the league return to StarHub after 12 seasons with its rival Singtel. The cross-carriage arrangement signed in 2013 between Singtel and StarHub will continue for live EPL broadcasts on TV.
Explaining the six-year deal, Courqueux says StarHub did not want a short-term relationship because it takes a while for the fan base to settle. Having the rights for six years guarantees the fans that they can safely move without switching back to Singtel in three years.
He adds this long-term deal also allows StarHub time to invest in the tech needed for Premier+ because it wants to provide the best experience. However, it also takes years to get a return on these investments for StarHub.
"We needed to provide long-term visibility, guarantee, and appeal to the Premier League. They recognise that we are an innovative partner with our new TV plus hybrid platform and trust that we can create a unique experience for viewers and advertisers," he explains.
"What we want to do with Premier League is bring it back to mass entertainment for people and localise it for Singapore. You can see this from how we position the product and its pricing. We want this product to be available for everyone, not just the elite, which it has become because of the pricing over the years."
For example, prices for StarHub's customers (those with a mobile postpaid, broadband or TV plan that costs more than $15 a month) will be $24.99 a month. Non-StarHub users will pay $39.99 monthly to catch all 380 games.
In contrast, for the previous season Singtel customers paid either $49.90 a month for live games via its OTT platform Cast or $64.90 to watch the EPL on TV.
StarHub has plans to give rival fans from EPL fan clubs to "fight" verbally during games separately or in the same room and broadcast the audio as match commentary. This is unique because they will have local slang instead of match commentary from European broadcasters, notes Courqueux.
"There is also a big community of Fantasy Premier League managers in Singapore, and we can look into involving them in the streaming of the games as part of our efforts to be a localised product," he explains.