‘What’s next for OTT?’: Introducing Tom Middleditch, Global Head of Digital at ELEVEN SPORTS

The ability to stream direct to consumer is something sports fans are craving more and more of. The monetary commitment of a Sky or Virgin package in the UK has somewhat increased demand for a cheaper, more focused deal, tailored to each individual fan.

OTT platforms have started to deliver this in patches, with various sports and leagues streamed online or direct to devices for a simple one-off payment, or more likely a monthly commitment, usually far cheaper than the broadcasting options available.

Some theorise that the monetary gains from such a platform are not only to be enjoyed by the consumer, but potentially by rights-holders as well, though each case is different of course. If this were to be the case though, are we about to see OTT disrupt the market even further?

One of the big talking points has been Amazon’s recent streaming of the Premier League across two rounds of fixtures in December. For the most part, it was a successful debut for online soccer streaming. However, there still remains a lot of work to do before this system, one that allows fans to very easily dip in and out of games they choose to follow, can truly work on a larger scale.

We’ll debate this and more at our upcoming event, ‘What’s next for OTT?‘, which will take place at Vensy, Telefonica in Soho, London. Ahead of the event though, we caught up with one of our experts on the panel, Tom Middleditch, who discussed his role at live sports service ELEVEN SPORTS and gave his view on OTT. But first, we wanted to get to know our panellist a little more.

“I grew up a huge sports fan and after realising at a young age I wasn’t even close to making it a professional footballer I always hoped I would get to work in sport in some capacity,” he told us as we asked about his journey into the sports industry.

He continued: “I studied Media and Comms at Greenwich University and was lucky enough to get a job as an editorial assistant at Sky Sports 6 months after finishing. I was as junior as you could get and the job consisted of making senior producers tea, changing score clocks and logging goals for editors but I absolutely loved it.

“After a number of years in various production and project management roles I worked my way up and ended up as Head of Video, leading a team of video managers and producers with overall responsibility for all video content across Sky Sports Digital platforms.

“After 10 great years at Sky it was always going to take a lot to make me leave but the chance to join ELEVEN at the very start was too good an opportunity to turn down. The past four years has been a real adventure, working to build out our OTT offering across Europe and Asia and I am very proud of what we have achieved in such a short amount of time.”

Tom’s enjoyed a wonderful career that’s led to a fantastic role at ELEVEN, and his current day-to-day work involves making sure the company have a digital offering that delivers for their fans whilst constantly evolving as well. He ensures the OTT product is as smooth as possible to use, and works to enhance the offering with new features that add something different. For example, new tools like Watch Together, which they launched last year, allows fans to watch live sport in the same virtual ‘living room’ and share all the emotions of a match-day in each other’s presence.

OTT platforms and features are developing wonderfully now, but did our experts always think it would grow the way it has? We put the question to Tom: “Firstly, I should say that at ELEVEN we think of ourselves as ‘platform agnostic’. So yes there’s been a big move towards OTT, but we want our content to be available on all platforms so our fans can watch their favourite sports however they want.

“As well as continuing to offer our content through linear channels and our own OTT platform we are always exploring new ways to distribute and share our content. Recent examples of this include partnerships with Facebook and OneFootball to offer live content free to air and PPV to our fans.

“I probably didn’t expect there to be as much noise as there has been, but I definitely always felt it was the future. And there’s no doubt OTT is becoming a more and more important part of the sports media landscape.

“It gives fans more choice, more content, access to new innovative features like Watch Together and overall a great user experience. From the point of view of a broadcaster, we benefit from understanding exactly how and what content our users want which allows us to be always improving our service, and the way we’re delivering content to fans.”

But have ELEVEN SPORTS faced much resistance in the acquiring of rights to stream football? Tom addressed this too: “I think our track record shows that rights owners are open to working with a new platform, who are coming into the market and offering something different.

“In Belgium, we’ve just been awarded the rights to domestic football with the Pro League for the next 5 years so that’s a major milestone for us and shows that – after four successful years in Belgium – we’re trusted to deliver a great product for Belgian football which puts the fans at the centre of things.

“Basically – if you have a great product and a strong plan then you always have a chance to succeed, and the last few years is proof that new players in the market like us can break in and make a success of it.”

This is something Amazon have recently achieved, even if it was for only for a few set of fixtures. The Premier League enjoyed OTT coverage for the first time in December, and Tom was as excited as all of us to see how it would work.

“The digital geek in me was really excited to see it all come together and I think Amazon did a fantastic job.

“It was a big technical challenge to deliver all those games at the same time so well done to them. From a fans’ point of view – I think it was proof that OTT can be trusted to deliver top live sport, and that it doesn’t have to be a big complicated thing.

“I still believe there is perception from the average fan that watching content via OTT means you have to watch on a small screen, so hopefully Amazon helped showed you can still watch on your TV in full HD and the experience can be as good if not better than traditional delivery.

So what does the future hold for ELEVEN?

“We are always looking at ways to improve and grow, whether that’s looking at entry into new markets, new rights in our current markets or technological innovations to improve the content we already have.

“We want to keep developing and adding to our OTT platform to give our fans the best possible viewing experience. When you think that we started from scratch in 2015 and we’re now in markets around Europe and Asia with a very healthy fan base and some great rights – there’s no reason to think we can’t continue to grow at the same rate in 2020 and beyond.”

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