Sports Illustrated goes for the win in PH
In the last 62 years, Sports Illustrated has evolved from a weekly magazine into an American multi-media franchise widely regarded as the gold standard of sports journalism.
Sports Illustrated is bringing this content closer to Asia through forays into Asian television and digital platforms, giving this region’s growing pool of sports aficionados two 24/7 channels with “compelling” coverage of global sporting events “with a local spin.”
Time Inc. recently forged a partnership with Hong Kong-based ASN Ltd., operator of two sports channels across Asia. This alliance seeks to develop a Sports Illustrated sports broadcasting and digital network across the region. ASN and ASN2 pay TV sports channels, companion websites and mobile apps will be rebranded to “Sports Illustrated” and “Sports Illustrated 2,” which are all scheduled for a spring 2016 debut.
The two English-language channels currently reach 29 million homes via 20 leading operators in 12 territories, including Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The network has rights deals for the National Football League, National Hockey League, National Collegiate Athletic Association football and basketball, March Madness and National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, among other content partnerships.
With its population of around 100 million, the Philippines is one of ASN’s significant markets in Asia.
This is also the market where the alliance will maintain the largest local team—comprising of 20 hosts and 15 editors—who will provide local context to global sporting events.
“We are very excited to join forces with one of the most revered sports media brands in the world to build a full-fledged TV, web and mobile network,” said Tom Kressner, the Swedish chief executive officer and founder of ASN. “We feel that the partnership with Time Inc. is a recognition of our position as the ‘Home of American Sports in Asia.’ In the coming months, we will bring an unparalleled amount of high-caliber sports content to more platforms and in more local languages than ever.”
“This groundbreaking partnership speaks to the power of all our brands—in this case Sports Illustrated—and enables us to build a significant international presence across new platforms,” Steve Marcopoto, president of Time Inc. International, said in a press statement. “Our partners at ASN have built a strong foundation, and together we look forward to creating a differentiated and compelling sports network in the most populous region in the world.”
The partnership leverages Time Inc.’s access, video, technology, marketing and international expansion initiatives with ASN’s well-established presence and growing popularity in the region. Time Inc. is also expected to provide the infrastructure technology for the networks’ websites and mobile apps that will power the launch and scale up the initiative.
“There’s a lot of sports news out there, but a lot of that is not professionally put together. Sports Illustrated,—their ethics, professionalism, their depth in their coverage, their respect for the game, for the scores and for the fans, I’d say, we looked at others and nobody comes close to them,” Kressner said in a phone interview with the Inquirer.
The new Sports Illustrated/Sports Illustrated 2 networks will feature a heavy mix of event coverage and original video programming from SI Group brands (SI, SI Kids and FanSided) surrounding live—and in some markets, exclusive—broadcasts of many popular sports leagues and events, including the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup finals and March Madness.
Popular video franchises such as the award-winning “Underdogs” series and SI Films will be featured on the network, along with local adaptations featuring powerful stories from the region.
2 SI Channels
This is a major TV comeback for SI since airing CNN Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2002. Since then, Internet infrastructure has greatly improved alongside the technology of video compression, growing access to smartphones and PCs, all against the backdrop of improved economic fundamentals and favorable demographics in the Asian region.
Sports Illustrated will have two channels giving as much live airtime as possible to a lot of sporting events globally, keeping in mind that for sports, entertainment value declines when action is not viewed in real-time.
Kressner said that much airtime was needed considering that sports fans in the region who have access to the Internet would likely breach 200 million in the next three years.
“If you take away the people who have no access to Internet, smartphone or pay TV connection, we’re still talking about 50-55 percent of people in most countries who do have an interest in sports, whether American sports, like NBA, which is very well known in the Philippines or soccer that works well in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia,” Kressner said.
“If you now imagine that you have two 24-hour channels running talking to a mobile generation..They are more mobile and Internet-savvy. They want to know more and the amount of information at the tip of their fingers is amazing. It’s very important that we have professional and quality content for them and this is exactly what SI is.”
Kressner said ASN had long been looking to expand its mobile and digital space presence for a long time and this partnership with SI was the key. For Kressner, SI is the authority when it comes to NFL, NBA, tennis and other well-loved sports and globally watched sporting events.
Meanwhile, he noted that there was content that works very well on mobile, but doesn’t work as well on TV. And as most people don’t have all day to spend watching TV, these people like highlights and summaries.
“Some of our contents are 6-10 minutes (long),” he said, noting that SI also produces short content as well as half-an-hour in-depth analyses.
“We didn’t have that luxury before and we were not large enough to give this large production before,” he added.
As most people access their phones around 50 times a day, if they come back to the site, there will be a new article 50 times a day.
In the Philippines, where there are more registered mobile phones than the actual population, the ASN-SI alliance will focus on those aged 15 to 35.
ASN’s channels are on Skycable and the group also has a very close relationship with TV5, which carries some syndicated content, such as Superbowl and some NCAA games, Kressner said.
Citing ASN’s existing exclusive partnership with London-based football club Chelsea for most Asian countries, Kessner said: “We are very used to taking a non-local language and localizing the coverage, whether videos or articles. It’s very important and that’s what’s exactly what we’re going to do with the SI content.”
The idea of localizing coverage is not to just exactly translate the content word for word “but to put a local spin on it,” Kressner said.
In Metro Manila, Kressner said the group was working with a team of local hosts—a mix of young adults and experienced people.
“Some will be in front of the camera doing video. Some will write articles. For those 20 hosts, we have 15 editors we’ll be using. We will localize up to 50 stories a day from SI and we will localize up to 25 videos a day,” he said.
ASN will have access to 18,000 articles and 9,000 videos from SI so it’s just a question of how much can be produced locally, he noted.
“From our side, it’s a huge commitment to make, so we want to make sure fantastic content from SI will be consumed by local sports fans, not only in translative terms but also in a way that will make sense for them,” he said.
Of all sports outside the Philippines, for instance, Kressner said NBA was covered the strongest because of the country’s strong basketball league and basketball association.
So the team will have court-side reporters talking about college basketball so if they know basketball, the local staff will be able to take an article or video produced by SI and reproduce it in a way that will be relevant to local audience and using the local language.
“The Philippines is very important for us, so we have more local hosts and editors today in Philippines than in every other market. This is definitely a priority market,” he said.
Why not broadcast in English, which is widely spoken in the Philippines? Kressner said: “We asked them (hosts), [in] what [language] are you going to write? English or Tagalog? The majority of them said I’d feel more comfortable writing in Tagalog because that’s the language I use to speak with my friends.”
The ASN chief also feels strongly for youth-oriented programs and other content that can be brought to the region, such as “Underdogs”—which talks about young people and how sports changed their lives.
He also cited “SI Kids,” where in the United States, SI taps kids to blog about sports and also create a lot of content for a much younger audience.
“It talks much about American sports but it can also be very localized. We’re going to look at gymnastics, many types of college sports. You have local basketball and it’s very important for us because SI kids start at five to seven years and moves up to young adults,” he said.
Apart from gaining an audience and marketing this alliance, Kressner said it was very important for this alliance to be a good local corporate citizen and help instill good social values in the Philippines.
And for the digital platforms, while 4G is not yet widely available in the Philippines, it is at least present in most parts of Metro Manila, Kressner said. While he would like to see better bandwidth, the current broadband speed—combined with the much-improved technology on compression—was sufficient to broadcast relevant content, he added.
“For our fans in the Philippines, it’s a win-win because we will supply something that they haven’t seen before in terms of the depth and width of the articles and the reporting on sports that are relevant to the Philippines like NBA,” he said.
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