Brazil Cable Sports Is Ready To Rise
The Sportel Rio conference in Rio de Janeiro last week brought together sports-rights holders and sellers last week and also provided an opportunity for the Sports Video Group to chair a session featuring some of the top leaders in the nation’s growing cable-sports market, a segment of the industry that is experiencing rapid growth. And, although current penetration is less than 20% nationwide, projections show that, by the time the first ball is kicked in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the nation’s infrastructure growth will include cable and satellite subscribers alongside new roads, airports, and stadiums.
Currently, pay cable and satellite services are in 13.1 million homes, with Globo’s Sportv service, the nation’s most widely distributed pay-sports channel, reaching 10.1 million homes. According to Rede Globo Director of Sports Raul Costa Junior, current projections call for Sportv to be in 19.3 million homes by 2014 and cable and satellite penetration to top 25 million homes.
“We are currently growing at about 30% per year,” he says of the overall growth of pay-TV subscribers.
ESPN Brazil Managing Director German Hartenstein credits the growth of cable sports to three things: the economy, which has resulted in strong expansion of a middle class; the desire for that middle class to have access to the content they want; and improvements in such technology as the Internet and delivery of sports over FM radio.
“And the local clubs have money from TV, marketing, sponsorships,” he adds. “It’s the best conditions for sports we have ever had.”
Sportv’s focus is on Brazilian sports and leagues, with football, motor sports, and volleyball top draws for viewers. A survey of pay-TV subscribers finds that 76% have an interest in football, 68% have an interest in motor sports, and 79% simply have an interest in sports.
Approximately 40% is produced within Brazil, so international events are also of interest. Costa Junior says that the Winter Olympics found an odd fascination, with sports like curling attracting football-viewing–size audiences. Sportv also has the cable broadcast rights to the London Olympics. A team of more than 140 staff members will descend on London to give a Brazilian flair to coverage from across the pond.
Whereas Sportv puts the emphasis on Brazilian sports, ESPN Brazil, which has been on-air for 17 years, is taking a wider approach in its effort to leverage rights to events like the NFL and NBA.
“Brazilians like to understand the game,” says Hartenstein. “And the NFL is an interesting case for us. Four or five years ago, we began a show called The Book Is on the Table, which is the first sentence in English that our students learn. And the idea was to teach viewers the rules of the NFL and help them learn about the coaches, players, and fans. So we planted a seed and then had the harvest two or three years after. And that is what we have today as the fans watch and understand what they are seeing.”
Late last year, ESPN Brazil, based in Sao Paulo, also moved to a 100%-tapeless and all-HD operation. It includes three master-control rooms with Ross production switchers, 24 Quantel editing suites, and six voiceover booths. The facility will also have a 3-Gbps infrastructure based on Evertz routers and distribution gear that supports (possibly eventual) 1080p and 3D broadcast needs and Yamaha audio consoles. Other gear includes Harris playout servers and processors, frame-rate converters from For-A and Snell, Aveco automation, a Front Porch archive system, Vizrt graphics, and cameras from Grass Valley, Panasonic, and Sony.
Sportv’s tapeless facility in Rio was built two years ago and, with the help of 12 master-control rooms, delivers more than 5,000 events per year via its three pay channels.
And then there is Fox Sports Brazil, which took to air just last month. The new facility in Rio delivers many U.S. and international sporting events as well as news and analysis.
Needs for Improvement
While bullish on the growth of sports broadcasting in Brazil, Costa Junior also sees some needs for improvement. For example, the network currently uses 15 cameras for its top events, and his hope is that, after the World Cup, that number will grow to 20. The network has three HD production trucks and produces all of its content in HD, but there is also a need for more HD distribution to subscribers, because cable operators do not have HD-capable plants. For those seeking HD-quality broadcasts, satellite is the top option.
The bigger problem, however, is something more fundamental: the quality of the venues. Costa Junior says the older infrastructure of many of the smaller facilities for sports like football, basketball, and volleyball do not have proper lighting, cable infrastructure, camera positions, and more.
“Brazil has a fantastic number of sports events,” he says, “but the quality, I believe, is worse than poor.”
Hartenstein adds that there is still much to be done in terms of cable growth. And ESPN research shows that, as in the U.S., Brazilians are embracing the dual-screen experience.
“Seventeen years ago, playing in this market was really a challenge, and now the story is great, and everyone is enjoying it,” he explains. “But, even if we double our penetration, we will still be behind countries like the USA and even Argentina, which is at more than 60% penetration.”