Streaming live sports is a tough business.
It’s also ridiculously lucrative for all the moving parts involved, which is where DAZN comes in. Since launching in Canada last year, it’s been a rough ride for the streaming service, as it looks to rosier fortunes in 2018.
The jewel in DAZN’s programming lineup is the NFL, where its exclusive rights in Canada make it the only legal streaming service offering all the league’s games, including playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Beyond that, there’s a partnership with BeIN Sports delivering plenty of soccer matches, including Champions League and Europa Cup. Various other leagues and sports, including tennis, FIBA basketball, rugby, darts, billiards and the KHL, are also part of the mix.
So, what’s next? MobileSyrup interviewed Marcus Parnwell, director of product, new markets and strategic initiatives, at DAZN to get the details on the eve of CES 2018.
Q: Given the rough start DAZN got off to in Canada, what have you done to streamline things and avoid similar performance issues?
Marcus Parnwell: Since our initial platform challenges in September 2017, we’ve seen a 43 percent increase in the number of our subscribers streaming NFL games in HD and more than 90 percent of our subscribers are now enjoying an HD-quality stream among all of our living room devices and web.
These improvements are a direct result of us:
Reducing playback errors to a quarter of those received by customers on the first weekend, starting with the most impacted platforms with the biggest user base.
Dropping bit rates by over 20 per cent which has led to improved HD rates, while simultaneously reducing video start time and re-buffering. We plan to further reductions to ensure we are below average bitrates in the Canadian market.
Optimized relationship with Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and increased usage of better performing CDNs in the Canadian market.
Optimizing our pre-game checks. Looking at every incident, minor or otherwise, and putting plans in place to eradicate whatever has caused problems to our customers
Additionally, we have made new hires across the business and restructured to ensure that every new market has its own dedicated product and tech team dedicated to that market.
We continue to have an open dialogue with our subscribers, listening carefully to their feedback and putting solutions in place wherever needed. For example, our customers are now telling us the improvements we’ve made in customer service are making a positive difference — and we’ve got plans to do more still.
Q: What caused the performance issues in the first place? And why do some still happen? I recently had a case where trying to watch an NFL game took me to a French Ligue 1 soccer game instead.
Parnwell: Streaming live sports is incredibly complex. Every new market brings different challenges, and in Canada there was a combination of human error and unforeseen technological challenges at launch.
The vast majority of our subscribers are now having a much improved and enjoyable experience, and more than 90 percent are enjoying an HD-quality stream among all of our living room and web devices.
Q: How has the NFL’s involvement helped boost DAZN’s profile in the country?
Parnwell: We launched in Canada with the full NFL experience on DAZN. The NFL is one of the world’s premier sports leagues so it was tremendous to have them on board for our entry into the Canadian market, and they have been a great partner for us.
Q: What do you expect might happen once the NFL season ends? A drop-off in subscriptions?
We have some of the best European soccer currently on our platform, which will continue past the NFL season, and we will be adding more high-profile sports rights in all markets, including Canada.
We are constantly listening to our fans and understand their wish for new sports on the platform. Our aim is to deliver Canadian sports fans premium quality live streaming of their favourite sports — and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Q: What other leagues or sports are you interested in potentially adding to the service? Could the NBA be an option, or is any league with a Canadian team a tougher negotiation due to broadcast and regional rights?
Parnwell: Canadians should know that we are continuously looking for new opportunities to provide more sports for our subscribers on an ongoing basis. That includes domestic rights here in Canada, major U.S. sports, as well as significant international rights.
We expect to be able to make some announcements on this very soon.
Q: You have some English soccer, but not the Premier League, nor Bundesliga, Champions League or Europa Cup. Is your goal to be the go-to for all European soccer? What about soccer leagues from other parts of the world?
Parnwell: We currently have an excellent soccer offering in Canada — including Champions League and Europa Cup via our partnership with BeIN Sport, and are looking to expand to give Canadian soccer fans more options.
True, but with Champions League and Europa Cup — you have access to games BeIN Sports broadcasts, but it’s not quite the broad offering of having every game playing that particular day available to stream. Are there rights blocking you from doing that?
We see a lot of value in bringing more European soccer to Canadians and we will be actively pursuing this.
Q: Okay, what about soccer leagues from other countries then? What demand have you noticed for access to those, especially given how multicultural Canada is?
Parnwell: We recognize the cultural diversity that Canada offers. In fact, it was one of the traits that made it such an appealing market for us. Given our relationships with European soccer leagues, it makes perfect sense for us to pursue further content in this area. Of course, we are largely reliant on the availability of rights, so we will be looking at broadening both our international and domestic offering in other ways.
What feedback have you received regarding other sports content you offer on the service? There are various short docs and other preview material that seems to be produced by you.
We constantly hear from our subscribers that they love being able to watch sports such as soccer, tennis, rugby, FIBA basketball and darts on DAZN, due to how rights cycles work it is difficult to access these leagues all at the same time.
The ability to choose when, where and how to watch sports on DAZN is one of the most common feedback comments we receive.
Q: How much original content are you looking to produce to build your brand, and work with the leagues supporting you?
Parnwell: First and foremost, we are a live sport product and are focusing most of our efforts on evolving the immersive live experience for our fans. That said, we see great value in original content and over the next 12 months you will see more from us when it comes to original content. We will use our extensive relationships to bring fans closer to the sports, teams and players they love in new and innovative ways.
Sports streaming, at least from legal sources, is relatively new compared to the likes of Netflix. How do you see the landscape changing from the old guard of TV-focused broadcast rights to a newer world where borders may be less relevant?
Fans want greater access to sports and the ability to watch when, how and where they want. Online streaming makes watching sports more accessible and affordable.
It’s the way of the future, and we have the ambition and passion to provide a better experience for sports fans. We believe DAZN is at the forefront of this rapidly changing sports viewing landscape.
Q: Why do you not allow subscribers to access streams outside of Canada, even with a VPN?
Parnwell: Getting Canadians closer to the sports they love is a priority for us, and we’re always looking to acquire new rights. The sports we show come with strict broadcast controls around geo-location, therefore, we have to restrict access to users trying to view content outside of our rights agreements.
Q: What road map do you foresee for deployment? You have apps for mobile devices, plus the web browser and certain smart TVs. Where else would you like to be?
Parnwell: We are on over 90 per cent of connected devices in Canada already, including mobile, web, all leading smart TV’s, games consoles and other connected devices such as Apple TV, Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick (Roku app coming soon).
We will continue to improve our core experience with better video quality, multi-screen playback and increased personalization to drive innovation on the platform. However, we are most excited about how over-the-top (OTT) can change the live sports experience. With our heritage in sports data and production, DAZN wants to enhance the viewing experience and allow fans to immerse themselves in all their favourite teams and sports across their device real estate.