As part of our Leading Sport series of interviews with those determining the future of sport in Ireland we caught up with Glen Killane, Managing Director of eir TV and eir Sport at the launch this week of their new season offering on the eir Sport pack.
Killane joined eir last year from RTÉ where he had served as Head of Television and of television Sport. His thoughts on the future of broadcasting of sport make for fascinating reading though even he admits to not having all the answers…
Sport for Business: What are your own personal highlights from the new schedule?
Glen Killane: I’m really excited about the GAA Club Championships which are new for us this year as part of the latest five year deal of rights with the GAA
As an overall business we are focused on the rollout of high-speed broadband to rural areas and when you can ally top-class local sport it really allows us to get to the heart of local communities.
We have double headers in Donegal and Limerick over the first two weeks and it’s a real positive to provide coverage of events that would not otherwise gain a place on a broadcast schedule.
The higher profile events are great to be involved with again. We got great mileage out of the Europa League, Manchester United and Jose Mourinho last year and we have that exclusively again.
There is full coverage of all the UEFA Champions’ League as part of the BT Sport channels on the eir Sport pack and we also have European Champions Cup in rugby and the Allianz Leagues back in GAA.
There is so much to look forward to.
How do you go about the scheduling of the club games in particular?
There is a process of explaining what we are trying to do within the confines of a limited number of broadcast windows.
At club level we are working with County Boards, PRO’s and clubs, and with 35 additional games to last year’s TG4 coverage we hope that everyone will see the benefits of having us on board, even if things are slightly different to the way they might always have been with Saturday’s instead of Sundays at times.
AIB have done some great content work around the club scene in recent years, do you see a crossover in working together?
“We are not in each others space and I really believe that partnership is the way forward for broadcasters and companies like AIB.”
“We are at a stage of talking and it looks like a perfect fit around the Club Championships. It would be great to find a way to work with them.”
Will your GAA coverage be different this year to last?
“These are our games and we can help to shape the way that the sports are seen and appreciated.”
“We are very open to looking at how things can be done differently for the good of the sport, the clubs and the viewers.”
“We had as many as three games live on a Saturday night at the same time last year on eir sport and that will be a feature again this winter.
“We also introduced some innovation last year in the Allianz Leagues with Red Zones and score flashes coming in that we want to repeat and improve, using our network to bring great content in from around the country.”
How do you see eir fitting into the new world of free to air vs subscription sports broadcasting?
Well, the first thing to say is that live sport has that ability to engage the whole country.
We give away our content for free to those who are paying for the eir Broadband network coming into their homes. In that way, we are not a sports subscription channel. We are there for the free to air viewing through TV, for the paid subscriptions either on a channel like Sky or direct to the consumer and in many ways we are part of the democratisation of sports viewing.
The subscription model is forcing people to look at cost and the consensus across Europe is that we may be reaching near saturation. The key now for companies like Sky is how to maintain user bases. Our message is simple. If you take our broadband we will give you this package of sporting events for free.
The key now for companies like Sky is how to maintain user bases. Our message is simple. If you take our broadband we will give you this package of sporting events for free.
Is that message understood by those in sport and by those who want to watch?
We are being lumped in with Sky Sports because we are not ‘free to air’ in the traditional sense.
The distribution of rights is a lot more complex than that.
A lot of what we are focused on is on mobile and the new ways that people are watching. There is a changing ecosystem and free to air is part of that but only a part.
eir has over a million customers between broadband and mobile. We launched a new app for mobile this year and a cast app which allows you to flick from hand held to large screen depending on where you are.
We have all the assets to really leverage sport through a combination of rights and distribution. We haven’t got it all right yet but we are moving in the right direction and it’s a good position to be in.
How do you see the threat or opportunity of new approaches such as that last week between the GAA and Facebook streaming live for free and become a ‘channel’ themselves?
Partnership approaches are the way forward. The hardest nut to crack will be how to monetise and how to pay for the content but there is no doubt that the changes in how and where we view are being driven by what viewers are demanding.
We have to find them now in a way they want, as opposed to putting it up in one form and asking them to fit to our schedule.
How can broadcasters pivot into this digital world and make it pay?
There is no one answer. Our revenue streams give us an advantage because we have broadband and mobile revenues in addition to advertising.
That makes a difference when building a business case for going after particular rights. We have more than the traditional advertising sales line of income.
Broadband has become a utility now rather than a luxury as you might describe a sports subscription. Is eir a perfect fit for this new world?
If you look at paid for sport the consensus is that we are at or near peak subscription.
Broadband is different with there still being a massive potential in growth delivering higher viewing figures and extra capacity.
We are here for the long haul and to add value in terms of covering events that have not been possible before as well as major plays like the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
How did the Women’s Rugby World Cup work out for you?
It was a good thing to do. The players were top class to work with. Maz Reilly came to life as a wonderful ambassador for Women in Sport.
It didn’t work out for the Irish team but it was great to be able to show every game live and that can only help the sport.
We are involved with the Women’s international football team and there is more we are looking to do there.
Did the shared model with RTÉ set a marker for the Rugby World Cup in 2019?
We haven’t really begun to negotiate on 2019 yet.
The legislation requires that he have to provide a free to air service around Ireland games and the final stages and we are looking at that.
This could be with RTÉ, TV3 or TG4 or we could build out our own free to air offering. It’s all very much in the mix still.
In rugby, I think we could still add to our profile in the sport in the run up to the next Rugby World Cup. BT Sport offers strength in the European game and the Guinness PRO14 is out to market at the moment so we’ll see.
We had the Ireland All Blacks game in Chicago within weeks of launching last year and that showed the impact and the reach that Rugby can deliver so it is something we are working on at a very high level.
We are interested in looking at any opportunities at home and abroad.
How about beyond the major sports?
I think with soccer we are strong though I’d still like to build more in our SSE Airtricity League coverage.
We are open to looking. In Tier One you have GAA, Rugby and Football and on the numbers, you cannot ignore UFC.
Beyond that you have boxing where we have been strong with Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes and we did well nipping in to cover the USPGA.
It’s about reaching out to different ages and different groups and getting the message out that the coverage is free with the eir broadband service.
We are only one year in the market so it’s natural that lots of people haven’t got that message yet but we are working in a lot of different ways to get there.
Was it a blow to lose out on McGregor and Mayweather?
Well, we did go for it in a very meaningful way, in partnership with ITV and Box Nation but it wasn’t to be. We would hope that Conor will be back fighting in the UFC in the near future.
How does sport fit in your broader remit of TV and content?
Sport is a key component but we are also looking at the balance we need to get through a wider offering in TV.
Compelling content is a driver whether that’s in the drama of sport or the drama of a well-told story.
Entertainment is even more fragmented that sport and the direct to consumer model is challenging everything that was once seen as normal.
It’s a great place to be though and while we don’t know where it will end up yet it’s great to be part of finding out and perhaps even shaping it here in Ireland.
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