OTTAWA—Launched on New Year’s Day 2019, GOLFTV is a 12-year partnership between Discovery and the PGA TOUR to bring PGA TOUR-branded OTT video streaming to golf fans beyond the U.S. borders. The new network is now available in more than 200 markets and territories online via www.golf.tv; as well as smartphones, tablets and smart TVs in eight languages.
GOLFTV offers live golf tournament coverage and on-demand replays across multiple digital platforms, plus golf-related content exclusive to GOLFTV. Some recorded content is available to free registered users as part of a trial subscription. (GOLFTV is designed to be an international service and not available in the U.S, due to the sports focus of its group, Discovery, Inc. and the PGA TOUR’s existing broadcast arrangements.)
“When we launched, GOLFTV’s goal was to be the global streaming service for golf coverage,” said Tommy O’Hare, GOLFTV’s senior vice president of Product & Content Operations. “But it is already growing to be so much more.”
NO SMALL ACHIEVEMENT
GOLFTV now streams tournaments from the European Tour and the Ladies European Tour in addition to the PGA TOUR. It has also signed up Tiger Woods to serve as an exclusive content creator; including behind-the-scenes access to Tiger before and after PGA events, plus a video instructional series. (After Woods won the Masters, he gave an exclusive interview to GOLFTV.)
Currently GOLFTV’s ability to provide complete tournament coverage varies across markets, due to existing PGA TOUR rights’ agreements. Right now about 20 markets have access to full live coverage of the PGA TOUR, including Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, and some countries in Europe and Asia. More countries will gain full access as these exiting agreements expire. In all GOLFTV markets, the service provides live PGA TOUR Live coverage of Feature Groups and Feature Holes, which sit before the traditional TV window.
These limits notwithstanding, going from zero to global service is no small achievement for GOLFTV. But all these wins are not enough: GOLFTV’s long-term goal to be globally synonymous with “all things golf.”
“We want to touch upon every part of the golfer’s journey, whether they want to watch it, read about it, get into it, play it, or get better at it,” said Vishal Parikh, GOLFTV’s vice president of Product. “We want to power people’s passion for golf by building a premium destination for all golf fans and players across all digital platforms.”
This includes everything from watching the pros play, to improving the fans’ own golf games via instructional videos, and even tracking their golf balls on the course using GPS. (Discovery bought Golf Digest magazine in May; a move that will allow it to share on demand content—such as exclusive content with players—with Golf Digest subscribers and digital audiences in the U.S.)
SPANNING THE GLOBE
Offering both free VOD and paid live/VOD content (with rates adjusted to the consumer economies of its viewing countries), GOLFTV currently provides access to “Live & Replay” golf tournament coverage, Tiger Woods and fellow pro Francesco Molinari talking about their respective prep/practice routines, golf news highlights, Tiger Woods’ exclusive GOLFTV content, “Improve Your Game” instructional videos, top golf destination travelogues, and PGA archival footage; among others.
Given the sheer breadth of GOLFTV’s global offerings, it is astounding that a mere six months passed between the OTT service being announced and going live. So how did Discovery do it?
Besides assembling a team of crack sports producers to fast-track the service—O’Hare was Head of Digital Strategy at the IOC’s Olympic Channel, while GOLFTV Senior Vice President of Technology Eugene Huang helped Discovery’s Eurosport stream the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics across Europe—Discovery got a head start thanks to a smart technological move.
Specifically, “We connected the PGA TOUR’s Florida production facilities directly into Discovery’s global wide area network,” said Eugene Huang. “This allows us to send their feeds directly to our production hub in London. This is where we add the multilanguage commentaries and produce the various broadcasts; encode them, and then post them on the GOLFTV web site.”
Non-tournament content such as Tiger Woods’s segments are similarly ingested into Discovery’s global network, for packaging at the London facility. Meanwhile, GOLFTV’s European feeds are brought to London by satellite. Here they are produced into GOLFTV multilingual content, encoded, and posted to www.Golf.tv as well.
Although Discovery will not release specific subscriber numbers, the OTT service is experiencing a “growing number of users month-by-month,” GOLFTV confirmed in a statement. This includes “significant user number growth” in registered GOLFTV subscribers compared to “the legacy PGA TOUR Live product available previously to international users,” it said.
Internal measurements show that the minutes per visit that users are spending on GOLFTV are growing every month with “very low levels of subscriber churn.”
All of this speaks to a global appetite for professional golf outside of the U.S., which has typically been viewed as the sport’s viewing stronghold. This hunger comes as no surprise to Vishal Parikh: “More than 50 percent of the professional players on the PGA TOUR are from outside the U.S,” he said. “This validates the value proposition as a business for us to be able to take the live content to the international audience, knowing it will resonate around the world and especially in all those countries that follow their local heroes; such as Francesco Molinari in Italy.”
GOLFTV’s apparent success is also good news for paid OTT operators. It reinforces the business case for this distribution model, which is still proving its viability to investors worldwide.
What remains to be seen is GOLFTV’s long-term impact on the PGA TOUR’s U.S. broadcast rights deals, and golf on TV in general. As Luis Goicouria, senior vice president of digital platforms and media strategy at the PGA Tour, recently told sister publication Multichannel News, the “days of us just strictly licensing our TV rights to a media partner and then calling it a day are behind us. I think the Discovery deal will be sort of the model for how we do things going forward.”
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James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.