BeIN Sports looks to streaming service to boost awareness, lift linear networks

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BeIN Media Group LLC is aiming to bolster its linear TV brand and expand overall viewers with the recent launch of an ad-supported streaming service in the U.S.

The beIN SPORTS XTRA service, which offers a mix of European soccer games and related content, has reached a deal with Viacom Inc.’s Pluto TV platform and is nearing pacts with other digital carriers, according to the sports programmer’s head of North American distribution. The ad-based video-on-demand, or AVOD, offering launched on Roku Inc. devices in the U.S. on Nov. 18.

Roy Meyeringh, vice president of business development and affiliate sales for beIN Sports in the U.S. and Canada, said the plan is for the free streaming service to function as a vehicle to build brand awareness and sampling, while ultimately driving carriage and subscribers to its linear networks beIN SPORTS (US) and beIN SPORTS en Español (US), both of which debuted in 2012.

The networks took a major subscriber hit last year with contract disputes with the nation’s two largest distributors, Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. BeIN Sports US now has 14.8 million subscribers, while its Spanish-language counterpart counts 12.6 million, Meyeringh said. That compares to average subscribers of 19.6 million and 16.7 million in 2018, respectively, according to Kagan, a media market research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. Kagan data shows a decline in subscribers and operating revenue at both networks over the past couple years.

Kagan analyst Adam Gajo said beIN Sports XTRA must strike a balance in presenting enough content to entice more subscribers and add value to the linear network without diminishing the linear network’s value to its distribution partners.

BeIN SPORTS XTRA offers select matches from its portfolio of domestic rights, including LaLiga, Ligue 1 and Süper Lig, the top soccer circuits in Spain, France and Turkey, respectively. It also will provide access to the French national team, a quarter-finalist at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and Paris Saint-Germain’s distaff club. Moving off the pitch, the service dips into adventure and combat sports, among other properties. It also offers Connect, an offshoot to pay TV customers that also furnishes additional programming beyond the linear networks’ lineups. With the bow of beIN SPORTS XTRA, the company operates 59 local channels around the globe.

Meyeringh said the programmer’s goal is to have beIN SPORTS XTRA available to 60 million or more households in 2020. Its U.S. distribution partner Roku exceeds 32 million active accounts, and recently signed partner Pluto reports 20 million active monthly U.S. users.

The company is in “advanced stages of negotiations with two or three” other digital platforms, and it is also pursuing opportunities with free-to-air stations and traditional distributors, Meyeringh said.

The programmer has been working on the AVOD service since it began experiencing “reach challenges” for its linear networks last year, according to Meyeringh. The networks disconnecting from systems owned by Comcast and AT&T DIRECTV and U-verse platforms in August 2018 over a contract pricing dispute.

In March 2018, beIN Media Group filed suit against Comcast for allegedly violating program carriage rules by offering a “discriminatory and patently unfair renewal” of an affiliate agreement, claiming the cable giant favored NBCSN (US) and UNIVERSO (US), part of content arm NBCUniversal Media LLC’s portfolio. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission in July dismissed the complaint, concluding that beIN failed to make the case for discrimination against its two U.S. networks.

Meyeringh said the programmer is in carriage discussions with AT&T and is “open to talking with every provider” about linear carriage.