Sportall. A brand new live-sport business model.
The live sports exhibition model is changing. The space reserved on traditional television for sports is very small and it is the most popular event which takes “the whole pie”. Struggling to capture the viewer’s attention is a tough task these days taking in count entertainment offering across multiple channels and devices. But what about the fan of cycling, athletics or MMA fighting – where can they enjoy that content without having to travel to the venue?
That is where Sportall comes in. A platform designed to host as much live sport as possible so that every fan can enjoy their favourite sport, no matter how minor they may be. We have chatted with its CEO and creator, Thierry Boudard, to understand the business model of a company like Sportall, capable of bringing to the table the production, broadcasting and promotion of any sport across France.
How was Sportall born?
Sportall was born two years ago. Arnaud, who was a former colleague and good friend of mine, and I decided to apply our expertise on video platforms, cloud video, and how to manage content delivery to TV viewers onto sports.
We have worked together for sixteen years and decided to go for Sportall together. It was just an association between passionates of video and sports. All happened at IBC world trade fair three years ago. At that point, Sportall was defined. After that, we follow the course of Bell de Mai, a French start-up incubator.
During this incubating process, we talked to twenty French Sport Federations and then we spent two or three months listening to the market. Afterwards, we knew exactly how to help these Federations in their visibility, in the monetization of their content and we also knew how to solve these big issues for a lot of sports not being visible on traditional TV.
Two years after, we reached a perfect time to market in France. The situation for these Sports Federation was very bad and that was because sports right holders did not invest on these sports. A lot of sports are not visible anymore on the traditional TV, like, for instance, basketball, volleyball, handball or swimming. They are not able anymore to sell their rights. They are alone.
The only solution for them is to try their own capacities on producing, promoting and streaming their content. Some tried. They tried on Facebook, they tried on YouTube, but it is very hard for them because these platforms do not have their audience, their fan bases behind. The only solution, actually, for all those sports rights holders is to go direct to consumer, so to have their own platform. And these right holders are not as big as LaLiga, which could build its own platform.
And this is the reason to be for Sportall. We work now with 40 different sports. We help them to produce, to promote ant to stream on Sportall and, after all, to monetize their content.
You mentioned that the TV channels have forgotten these sports rights holders. Why, in your opinion, is that?
Because traditional broadcasters have to manage their own business model and there are two main reasons. Firstly, when they produce that sports content live broadcast the cost is very high. Also, the promotion of that content on TV is very expensive as well. Secondly, traditional broadcasters do not have much space on the grid, nor infinite television space. For instance, if on a Saturday night they are delivering a football match, there is no room for another sport.
With digital capacities, particularly webcast technology, the first point is really different. We can produce for a cost ten times less than real broadcast quality costs. The second point I have mentioned is also different. We do not have any problem with grid space. If we want to stream water polo at the same time than basketball, we can do it. There is any issue, we have an infinite capacity of parallel streams on Sportall. So, as you see, we have already solved these two problems that traditional broadcasters have.
Back to your initial question, if a broadcaster holds the rights for football, Formula 1, basketball, or any other “premium” sport, they do not need anything else. And that is because every big fan is going to subscribe to their channel. They do not need additional sports, they do not need a, let us say a sport with less fans across the world, for example waterpolo. Actually, they do not care about waterpolo. On beIN or Eurosports do not need waterpolo to reach more fans. They have enough fans and subscribers just broadcasting football, basketball or Formula 1. So, to summarize and taking this waterpolo example, a match of that sport on their grid will be an inefficient time slot for them.
What is, then, your business model?
Our business model is very simple. We produce, promote and stream sport content and this activities create value for end-users and for the sport right holders. We manage several sources of revenues.
First are the premium subscriptions, advertising, and sponsorship contracts. We gather all this incomes, but, of course, we share all this money with the right holders. The percentage of the sharing depends on what we do for them. If we just stream the content, we keep a small part. If we do marketing, editing, delivering, etc., we take a bigger part. If we do the live producing of a complete season championship, we can make a lot of money. We are very flexible on that.
Some right holders have teams to market their content. Others possess small networks to produce it. It depends on all those federations around the world and the stage of their delivery content capabilities.
After that, we adapt our B2B2C offer depending on our own range of action, as I mentioned before. That is quite simple and it is really, really new because it is completely different from the previous business model in the Sport TV broadcasting; which was: “Give me your right, I will give you money.”
We have a revenue-sharing model, so we are in the same side. Previously, when the right holders sell their rights to a TV channel that is all. The job of the right holder was done. Then, the TV channel was alone to market, to promote and to make money. In the same value chain, they are at two different seats. Nevertheless, by doing the revenue sharing, we are in the same side now. It is really exciting because we are changing the way that the sport right holders make money with their content.
You’ve already mentioned somewhat of what you do in your business model. I want to focus first on the production side. Do you offer production equipment to sports federations?
On the production side, we have several tools. The biggest one is that we created a national network of webcast companies that have signed contracts with Sportall. We call them the Procasters. They are webcast companies, composed by two people or less, that are able to do a live stream. These people can use their own equipment or they acquire some special equipments from Sportall.
The Sportall Kit is a very light production equipment that we have built for these cases. It is formed by two cameras, commentary and, graphics insertion, apart from a router, a mixer, and a software that is able to run on an iPad. Every device connects into the router et voilà. We have trust on really low-cost devices such as Sony and Panasonic cameras and the rest is agnostic equipment.
For managing these devices we have created two solutions depending in the amount of cameras involved. We use an existing software solution, with some enrichment behalf ourselves, for multi-camera production. Otherwise, we have developed our own software for a set up with just one camera and a smartphone. It is formed by an open-source player, an open-source video recorder, and we built it using a React Native language.
It is very low-cost solution. As a sport club, you invest once, and later it is almost free. You can get a volunteer to handle the kit and we will train these people for free. As a federation or a sports club, you can invest on use the Sportall Procaster Network, or you can buy the Sportall Kit.
Managing your distribution and hosting network must be hard. In which cloud services did you trust?
We are 100% over IP. RTMP is the standard that we used on IP networks. Also, we can do international contribution when content comes from, for example, Bahrain in the case of MMA. Or the other way around. We are able to bring back content from the Diamond League, produced on England or on Belgium, from satellite or from IP to France. Otherwise, through our contribution network we can produce a sport, here at France, and send it to another streaming platform at the US.
On the stream side we are able to do it all over the world. The end-user can enjoy the live sports stream although we got the option to geo-block some places. There, we have trusted on Amazon Web Services and we are also compatible with Google Cloud services.
On the other hand, we use Google Cloud for hosting our platform. We have a strategic partnership with another French company. Wildmoka is a French company, a specialist in the video clipping, automated content enrichment, and automated distribution to the social media. With them, we are able, for example, to do a short abstract of live content and to publish this video clip at a social network like Facebook or Twitter.
Speaking of which, are you trying to improve this clipping and tagging process with Artificial Intelligence?
Yes, but just a bit, although we have not tried automated detection of the highlight yet. We are investing in a kind of automated intelligence regarding video analytics, but Artificial Intelligence for tagging and clipping is not an aim for us. There is also a storytelling behind; you have to write it and to push it to the world at the right moment. We are still using the human intelligence because to do that task. Human intelligence is our preferred solution, is still the best one.
We would like to take production side up again. Is Sportall setting a minimum standard for streaming content?
Yes, we have defined a range of standards. We do not want to wrong a promise to the end-user on Sportall. The right holders have to attach to these standards, so. We have to know in advance if some content will be on broadcast quality or not.
Some sports federation can use the Sportall Kit through a low Sportall standard and we stream that content seamlessly. But, in some other occasions, we promote broadcast quality on a particular event. In those cases, the standard must be higher.
For example, let us say that we are going to stream two fight events. One is a pay-per-view content, so the quality must be the best possible. The other one is a fight evening host on a small club somewhere in France involving amateur athletes. In this case, the stream quality will be much lower.
How did you create and how do you manage your platform?
We have spent and we have invested much more than in any other part of the business. Our video platform manages an infinite parallel number of live sport streams. Also, the platform manages every subscription model for end-user, whether pay-per-view, pay-per-year or pay-per-sport. We cannot forget about the whole analytics world that our platform manages as well, security, etc.
We have developed all these capacities almost from scratch. As you know, there are open-source and commercial libraries that allow you to start faster. For example, we did not develop a content delivery network, we used the Amazon Web Services one. We did not develop a video clipping technology, this is the Wildmoka, as we mentioned before.
But in the side of business is quite unique. Sportall is multitenant software because several federations are using Sportall without knowing each other. It is probably the only sport video platform or service platform dedicated to sport video in a multitenant way. Well, we can compare it with YouTube Studio because you create your page, and then you manage your content. Afterwards, you publish or you modify, and modify and publish, and so on so forth.
What I mean is that all these 40 federations that Sportall is actually hosting are independent and, also, they are here, at our platform. For example, you can type on your browser to futsalzone.tv and you will be at their platform, which is managed by Sportall. And, on the other hand, if you subscribe to Sportall, you will find Futsal Zone content there, as well. Or even, you kind find this content on YouTube, Facebook, Twitch or any other network.
On top, Sportall platform is a kind of multi-sports major.
You have mentioned that you have different stages and subscription modes for end-users. How do you manage security in your platform?
Every viewer is authentified to our platform. In exchange of some data, they obtain an ID in Sportall. It is as simple as that first step. After that, every video is associated to a secure token and you, as a Sportall user, need that security solution to enjoy the content. The video is delivered via security via tokens, and then we made the link between the tokens and the user authentication. That’s a typical secured OTT mechanism. Also, the content is protected by itself. It’s encrypted. In that case, we use DRM standards.
Are you integrating your platform on as many devices as possible?
The first application we developed was on iOS and Android OSs and we performed screen adaptation solution that made is application available on smartphones and tablets from Android and from Apple.
On parallel, we developed the application in a web technology so that any web browser can open this application on a smartphone, tablet, computer, or connected TV.
The look and feel of Sportall is designed responsively. It is truly adaptive and, depending on the size of the screen, the graphic elements will be displayed adaptively so that the appearance is always the same and intuitive.
The next steps will be to put our application on Apple TV, Android TV, Samsung, and so on. There are many brands and each of them has its own Operative System. This testing and developing implies a large investment. We preferred to start with the web version and, as soon as a smart TV is equipped with a web browser, then our web application will run on it. We don’t need to go on an embedded version of our application. Maybe we will do it for Apple TV or Android TV because the installed base of these devices is growing, so maybe Android TV could be a good solution for us. In the meantime, pending that, we’re already available on big screens with the Chromecast feature.
What are your plans for expansion and do you plan to invest in translation or subtitling of content and offer it across borders, for example?
Yes. We already provide content worldwide for UEC TV, for example. We can also translate content from abroad into France to get French viewers interested in it. We push French content abroad, but we don’t translate it. That is done by others. We can offer an application dedicated to any international federation. That is very important.
When it comes to having multilingual content then it’s another thing. But it’s easy for us, for instance, to push one version of a video with the English language and another version of the same video with the French language and then the application will do the work to show the right language to the right user. In short, it’s kind of a multilingual solution. We are ready to deliver such a global application to an international federation with multiple languages in that application.