Coliseum bags investment from US giant Discovery, launches RugbyPass

Threat to Sky TV? With special feature audio.

Coliseum Sports Media has bagged an investment from US media giant Discovery Communications. The deal closed Tuesday.

Chief executive Tim Martin won’t comment on the sum involved, beyond calling it a "significant minority stake."

Ahead of the deal, Coliseum was 50% owned by $740 million NBR Rich Lister, sports nut and property developer Peter Cooper, and a 50% by Mr Martin and other individual backers.

Mr Martin hints it is not an all-cash deal, saying there are other elements Discovery brings to the table such as advertising on its networks and access to its customers.

The deal comes as Coliseum launches a new streaming video service called RugbyPass, which has now been up and running for eight weeks in 23 countries around Asia and south-east Asia, including China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

For $US14.99 a month, RugbyPass promises “more than 1000 games per year.” Its line-up includes Super Rugby, ITM, Aviva Premiership and European Champions Cup games. The new service will also show the British Lions Tour of New Zealand next year (Sky, whose Fanpass service costs $55 a month and includes Super Rugby, will no doubt be keeping a close eye on whether any Kiwis use unblocker services to access Rugby Pass).

Outside Lightbox Sport
In 2014, Coliseum and Spark's Lightbox formed a 50:50 joint venture, Lightbox Sport, with all of Coliseum's media properties (English Premier League soccer, US golf, European golf and French rugby) shifting to the JV.

Mr Martin says RugbyPass is a Coliseum-only project.

With Sky having snatched back European PGA rights, and Al Jazeera subsidiary beIN Sports winning EPL rights from August (which it might, in turn, on-sell to Sky TV), Lightbox Sport is now looking marginal.

Threat to Sky
In an email to NBR, Mr Martin included the cheeky line: “You’ll note RugbyPass is not in New Zealand – yet!”

But in a follow-up phone call he was more measured in his comments, noting Sky TV has a Super Rugby deal with Sanzar running through to 2020. The same goes for broadcasters in Australia, the UK and South Africa.

The Coliseum chief executive says a lot can change in a couple of years and it could well be a different media landscape when A-list rugby rights next come up for grabs. But for now, to state the obvious, they’re off the table.

Mr Martin says that nevertheless the 23 countries where RugbyPass has been launched have 400,000 registered rugby players, partly because of the growing popularity of Sevens. That number indicates the sport’s popularity extends beyond expats, he says. Regardless, it’s a decent number of eyeballs to target.

The Coliseum boss also notes that Chinese giant Alibaba recently signed a multi-million dollar deal with World Rugby to promote the sport in China.

How they do it on the Discovery channel
Discovery is huge. It’s best known for the Discovery Channel, but it now owns 13 channels in the US and has investments worldwide.

Last year it made $US1.03 billion on revenue of $US6.4 billion, but earnings slowed. It is looking to move into new markets to reanimate growth and streaming sports content is one of them.

Last year, Discovery paid €491 million to take full control of EuroSport, the European broadcaster that holds Olympic rights for Europe through to 2024.

“Money is important, but that’s not why we pursued Discovery,” Mr Martin says.

“Discovery brings real scale and is global in ambition,” he says, and the two companies share a keen interest in the potential for OTT (over-the-top content).  

Coliseum will be able to tap its new investor for, among other things, marketing muscle and streaming video skills.

However, in terms of immediate logistics, Fanpass' HD streaming video platform is managed by NeuLion, the same US company that hosts for Coliseum and Fanpass for Sky TV.

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