BOSN talks to... Richard North


Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised in New Zealand, where I studied Law and Commerce at the University of Canterbury. I was pretty set on a career in advertising and was lucky to receive a solid grounding in digital fundamentals as a junior campaign coordinator in the digital team at ZenithOptimedia Sydney. I moved across to Google Australia in 2006, just a few months before the YouTube acquisition. At that time, the Google team I worked was quite small with less than 50 people. I worked in key account management and agency relations before breaking into a business development role, where I was acquiring data for Google Maps; doing AdWords syndication and reseller deals; and developing premium content partnerships for YouTube AU/NZ.


As YouTube expanded, I moved to Singapore as part of the Sports team. After YouTube, I spent a couple of years at a London-based video streaming business, Rightster, which ultimately morphed into an influencer marketing agency called Brave Bison that also offered OTT streaming platform services. It was one of our best performing businesses, with the AFL out of Melbourne being a major customer.


How did you come to join RugbyPass in Singapore?

During my days working at YouTube, I had the chance to meet Tim Martin (Founder and CEO) and Simon Chesterman (Founder and Chief Brand Officer), as they were launching their first OTT service, Premier League Pass, through their start-up Coliseum Sports. I remember the meeting well: they took me for fried chicken at one of their investors’ restaurants and then showed me their office, which at the time was just an empty room with a trestle table and a single computer, with a fat cable out to the wall, covered in tape and a large hand-written sign saying "don't f***ing touch!". That was the first major OTT product in New Zealand and the first-ever Premier League full service OTT offering anywhere. Three years later while I was already living in Singapore, a friend of mine put me in touch with Tim and Simon again regarding a job with their new rugby streaming platform, RugbyPass. It was a no brainer for me to join them.


RugbyPass originals


What is RugbyPass and how is it different to the existing offering? How did the idea come about?

RugbyPass is a digital OTT streaming service for rugby fans. NBA’s and NFL’s OTT streaming services inspired Tim and Simon and they decided to bring this technology to rugby as well. Asia was the entry point in terms of acquiring enough rights to launch a viable rugby service.


How do you see the sports broadcasting landscape in 5 years’ time?

I think this will vary markedly by sport but the common themes will be onlineand mobile, with ever more content touch points for fans. There's a big rights aggregation play taking place through DAZN, which others will need to respond to, so it raises the obvious question of what will the likes of News Corp, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Disney and Comcast do?


Why only Asia?

Asia was just a starting point for RugbyPass. We have since launched live rugby streaming products in Australia and parts of Europe, with more to come. We are also rolling out a global linear channel, RugbyPass TV, available now at www.rugbypass.com/rptv.


Comprehensive match centre and statistics


Is piracy an issue for you?

Sure, it's an issue for everyone. YouTube and Facebook are massive threats to our business model with pirated live and delayed sports coverage uploaded by public users on their platforms and very little proactive protection. Just a month ago beIN Sports announced that they will not renew an F1 broadcast partnership because of piracy issues, which is the same view I take that right owners also need to take responsibility for fighting piracy. However, realistically, I think this is something that only governments can fix and without much solid support, it is hard for individuals and small-to-medium sized businesses to fight. I think the result has been more legitimatecontent being made available on social media, which ultimately undermines the value of exclusive live rights under a subscription model.


What about next steps for the business - are you looking to grow into new sports within Asia or take the rugby product to new markets?

We're sticking to rugby, expanding into new markets, but also have been diversifying beyond live streaming to other user touchpoints: teams and players statistics and ratings; original editorial content that we have 40+ journalists producing; podcasts; and a large bet on RugbyPass Originals VOD content.


OTT is still a relatively new concept; what are the main challenges for the industry?

The models are still evolving. I think the early adopters - NBA, NFL, WWE - have done a great job but there seems to be a distinct lack of experienced talent in the industry. As we've seen on countless occasions for massive sports events, a total reliance on OTT for live sports delivery can be fraught with danger.


Are there partnership opportunities for those working in the sports industry in Asia?

We're always open to partnerships in Asia and internationally and will always take a call from corporates with a common interest in rugby, OTT or digital monetisation. We are flexible, which means as long as you have any partnership idea or proposal that may be noteworthy, we can always discuss.


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