This week we interviewed one of our speakers in World Football Summit Asia, Lars Heidenreich. Lars is the Director of Mediapro Asia, and he talked about the newest trends in broadcasting, football piracy and other subjects that will also be a part of WFS Asia.
Welcome, Lars. It’s a pleasure to have you as one of our speakers in WFS Asia. We know you are the Director at Mediapro Asia, but what can you tell us about your involvement in the football industry and in broadcasting in general?
I’ve been working in the industry for over 20 years and I’ve spent most of my career in Asia, where I arrived in 1998. I’ve seen a huge amount of changes and vast developments in the industry; from working with traditional Free TV broadcasters to the arrival of PAY TV, digital and social media, which made it possible to deliver more football matches and distribute more content throughout Asia.
During these twenty years, I’ve also witnessed the changes of broadcasting industry and the arrival of new players and platforms, as well as new technology being introduced in the market, such as OTTs.
As the channels to bring football to the audience changed, viewership also did. We’ve seen how football has come a long way, from being a not-so-followed sport in many countries to the most watched and supported one in the whole continent. Countries like Thailand or China, where football was a sport followed by a minority of the population, are now hugely interested in football. What can you tell us about these changes?
Football is a commodity in Asia. There was always a following for English football; the English Premier League enjoyed a massive fan-base, obviously due to the cultural ties and for language reasons. But, over the years, Asia has witnessed how LaLiga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 have grown and gradually built and expanded their fanbase. Throughout the years, the interest among Asian fans to watch and consume European football has grown exponentially, also pushed by the arrival of many successful Asian players to the European leagues.
But the interest has not only grown towards the European football, as many countries have their own big fan-base for their domestic leagues. J- League, CSL in China or the Thai Premier League are just some examples of national competitions that are becoming bigger brands.
Has the domestic growth started along with the interest in European football? Is this something that has been happening for a while or just a few years ago, when countries like China and Japan started buying players like Paulinho, Fernando Torres or Iniesta? Many scholars on the subject have their doubts on whether this growth is something that has been happening organically or with the support and money injection from their national governments.
It is a mix of both things. Most Asian leagues woke up to this a little bit more recently, while in Japan or Korea, J-League and K-League already were well established when both countries co-hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002. In China the explosion of CSL is a more recent thing and some of the current interest levels, government and private business support may in part be owed to the Chinese President.
But the growth and investment are plain to see and it’s a recognition that their talents have become better. With the support of the domestic broadcast industry in each country, I think these leagues are getting greater exposure and turning into proper businesses in their own right.
A few weeks ago, there was a Piracy joint statement by AFC, UEFA, FIFA, Premier League, Bundesliga and LaLiga on BeoutQ. This marks a big milestone, as it represents a huge part of the industry coming together to fight piracy and make their intentions clear to the world. Coming from the broadcasting industry, this obviously affects you. What’s your take on piracy?
Piracy is the single biggest issue for the entire industry. It’s not something new but it has been a growing trend and a problem that attacks not only football, but the whole entertainment industry. Government bodies and industry bodies must share and compare notes to help each other fight it. At the moment, there are new systems and tasks forces being put into place to recognize piracy, share and exchange information between Football governing bodies and to lobby governments to introduce stricter legislation to fight piracy.
Piracy is a major concern to the whole industry and it’s not something that can be taken lightly.
On the other hand, new ways to bring football to the audiences are being tested. This year we’ve witnessed how innovation, technology and football came together when LaLiga, Mediapro and Facebook announced an agreement to broadcast LaLiga in India. What can you tell us about this new way of broadcasting football?
LaLiga makes strong strides in engaging with the audiences and reaches out to football fans anywhere, as well as engaging with younger demographics and new fans. LaLiga makes conscious efforts to reach a broad audience, even accommodating kick-off times for more suitable viewing times in Asia.
LaLiga closed a deal with Facebook in India, which is one of the biggest and most relevant markets for Facebook outside of the US. This was an absolute first amongst European Football leagues and a very innovative way to try something completely new in a non-traditional Football market. Facebook offers a very broad distribution as a free medium that enjoys a huge following in a very tech-savvy market. At the same time, sublicensing three matches per week to SONY TEN, offers LaLiga fans in India the best possible combination to consume Football on social media and more traditional linear television.
It is really a great example of digital / social media complimenting established operators in a country. Football is still a growing sport in India and LaLiga has been making efforts to capture that fanbase, including opening a dedicated office in Delhi some four years ago. Apart from working with Facebook on LaLiga, Telco ‘Reliance Jio’ have also signed up recently to broadcast the Copa del Rey competition.
Is this something that can start a trend? Social media platforms are in the center of how businesses are made nowadays. Do you think that something like that can start happening in football, making social media the preferred way to broadcast football internationally?
The trend is not new, depending on which market it has in fact been happening for many years. In China for example, even six/ seven years ago Mediapro Asia had distributed LaLiga literally on every Internet and video portal from PPTV, to SINA, Tencent, Youku, LeTV, Ali Sports and NetEase. That came on top of CCTV 5 and several provincial broadcasters showing LaLiga matches every week. through each and every platform.
Today, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter etc. appear to be the new trend to partner the football industry. Not just LaLiga in India. Apparently, Facebook also acquired English Premier League in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for next season. Whether it becomes the new go-to platform for football broadcasting remains to be seen. At this stage rights acquisitions by major social media networks still appear to be very selective and driven by both opportunity and geography. Initial results certainly look good. LaLiga likes the data they are receiving and the feedback is great, but it is too early to know what model really works best long term. There is definitely room for traditional media to remain significant in the sports industry for years to come.
With all the changes witnessed in the industry and in broadcasting in Asia. What do you think about WFS and WFS Asia? Why do you think it’s an important event?
It’s a fantastic opportunity to provide a platform for all the different stakeholders and industry players to come together in Kuala Lumpur and exchange information on all the topics while discussing all the subjects. Is great to have this platform and bring everybody together and build a relationship.
If you want to hear more about what Lars Heidenreich has to say about the football industry and Asia, you can find him at the World Football Summit Asia in Kuala Lumpur on the 29th and 30th of April.