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Arris forms an unlikely team with new EPL soccer service

Set top giant Arris plans to integrate a newly launched English soccer fan OTT TV service into its hardware later this year, giving its 1,700-strong operator, telco and broadcaster customer base the option to offer the Ultimate Football Fans (UFF) app to subscribers.

The strangest thing for us about this announcement is how a set top manufacturer has jumped into the rapidly growing fan TV game ahead of the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, which have all expressed their intent to challenge the traditional providers of sports content.

Vlogging channels run by soccer fans might seem like a niche market, but today they rack up some 55 million monthly views across social platforms, with success stories such as London-based Arsenal Fan TV highlighting how mobile first viewing is helping fledgling YouTube channels blossom into serious enterprises.

UFF collates a variety of the most popular sources of soccer fan content from around the web onto one platform, and it has struck a partnership with UK app developer Digital Innovation Group (DIG) – for which DIG is providing the technology infrastructure required to make the difficult leap from social media pioneers to operator-complementary offerings.

The service first soft launched in June via South Africa-based telco MTN, as a 1 ZAR a day ($0.08 daily or $2.30 monthly) add-on subscription available to its 29 million mobile subscribers – showing unique content from English Premier League (EPL) fans. After three months, UFF boasts the second largest subscriber base on MTN’s short-form content service, Shorts. The app is being expanded to iOS and Android devices across multiple territories in October, with the help of DGI’s experience in areas including UI and UX design, social media analytics and advertising.

 

EPL matches are some of the most valuable video rights on the planet, and have so far successfully survived the changing face of TV and the piracy problem that online viewing brings with it. UK operators Sky and British Telecom have invested significantly in their online sports offerings and have reaped the rewards, but the stranglehold major operators have on sports rights has restricted smaller players from meeting subscriber needs where globally popular content such as the EPL is concerned.

Essentially a combination of vendors and fans themselves are gifting operators a way to diversify and step up to the big boys when bidding for live broadcast or streaming rights is out of reach, by building on existing social media success – from where the operators can provide additional investments for original content.

We can’t see this type of operator offering having much success in North America or Western Europe, but in countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, where there are huge EPL fan bases, there is potential to replicate the impressive take up of UFF seen recently at MTN. Arris of course has a widespread footprint in these regions.

The gist of content shown on channels such as Arsenal Fan TV, 100% Chelsea, United Stand and Redmen TV is capturing real-life opinions and reactions from fans before and after matches – often with amusing, abrasive and passionate results.

For our US readers, perhaps Barstool Sports is the best comparison, a satirical sports site which began life as a blog to become a major deal in US sports today. Investment firm The Chernin Group bought a 51% stake in Barstool Sports in January 2016, when it had a monthly viewership and readership of around 8 million and was valued at between $10 million to $15 million.

Naturally, sports content transitioning to OTT platforms has meant that post and pre-match commentary has drifted drastically to social media platforms too. Providing statistics, figures and background history used to be the job of the commentator and newspapers, so it is rather fitting that this week’s deal comes in the wake of famous soccer commentator John Motson announcing his retirement, probably the most famous voice of English soccer. Motson told the BBC, “Now of course, with all the technology we have got, you can watch something again from five or six different angles. So, in terms of calling something correctly, things have become easier.”

DIG CEO, Rob Walk, said, “All operators are looking for good football content but it is all tied-up in countries by the predominant pay TV operators. We are building a service that gives a chance to provide good football content in high-demand. We’re excited to bring our knowledge of multiscreen apps and digital design to build a truly outstanding service for UFF.”

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