…In the Part 1 we talked about how things worked up until now, when public broadcasting in all key markets was largely paying for international skiing.
At the pain of being accused of oversimplification, that graph above tells the story not only of who is watching the World Cup on TV – it’s about general relative market importance for global cross country skiing.
Germany with its 80+ million of people remains the top ski market in every sense ( despite relative slump in performance by German skiers). The Germans send a whopping 8 billion euros a year to its public broadcasters in a form of a special tax. That translates into massive fees that ARD/ZDF can & is willing to pay for the rights for winter sports. Germany will mostly likely be the last country to part with traditional television, so xcskiing is safe on free-to-air national TV, even if it’s relegated to the “2d league of importance”, behind Nordic Combined, ski jumping, biathlon, luge etc.
Russia is a different matter altogether. Thanks to its climate and size of population it might have more active skiers than any other country on the planet. But the country was actually the first to drop the ball when almost all sport broadcasting was terminated by a public broadcaster, VGTRK, and picked-up by a commercial station Match TV & its online/streaming affiliates. One of the first things the new sports channel did is to rid of almost all cross country skiing bar the World Championships. Reason is clear and simple: television audiences are weak. So for the last few seasons the Russians had to buy Eurosport subscription ( yes, same Eurosport that owns Olympic TV right across whole of Europe) to watch Ustiugov, Bolshunov and Nepryaeva compete & win in the World Cup.
However, our story is about three remaining top markets: Sweden (2d), Norway (3d) and Finland (5th).
It’s time to meet new owners – not just in name, but in a way their business is structured & operates.
Let’s look at the biggest of the Nordic Region television/streaming markets – Sweden. For 399 SEK / month ( 38 euros) you get access to Viaplay Sweden package that includes UEFA Champions League, FA Premier League, NHL, Formula 1, UFC etc.
Viaplay is just one of many services of NENT Group, a pan-Nordic media group. And NENT or Nordic Entertainment Group, is the one who outbid NRK in Norway, SVT in Sweden and YLE in Finland for the international cross country skiing television rights in all three countries.
Two things that need to be known:
– NENT is a well-established company. It had a turnover of SEK 13,684 million ( 1.3 billion euros) and made a profit of some 170 million euros in 2017. Ergo, it has money to spend to expand and, looks like, it has a will to do so.
– It is flexible as it operates a mix of free-to-air channels in the area ( e.g. TV3, TV6, TV8 and TV10) along with subscription-based channels. Which means it could broadcast lesser races for free, while delegating more interesting ones to paid channels. Won’t be able to watch w/out a subscription. Not something an average viewer would approve of – but life’s , you know, increasingly like that. If we pay to watch Game of Thrones – why should we expect to be able to watch Klaebo vs the world for free?
Morever, blanket access to all competitions on subscription is oh-so-2015 ( or something). The fight between Khabib and McGregor last year gained 2.4 million PPVs or pay-per-views the world over. In other words, you’d have to pay separately for the privilege of watching it. 499 SEK on top of your regular Viaplay Sweden subscription. It’s true that it is still uncommon to make subscribers pay extra for specific events in other sports – but, the day is still young, as they say.
NENT has bought rights for the whole batch of winter sports – but here we talk about xcskiing and naturally assume the new owners have big planes for the sport of narrow planks.
Is it possible to to make money off that investment? Totally – cross country skiing has a great rap as one of the healthiest sports around, it has naturally good settings as it’s being practiced against a beautiful backdrop of snowy forests and mountains by a bunch of great looking young women and men.
But it won’t be enough. Let’s see how cross country would have to transform itself if it wants to survive under new conditions.
Stay tuned for Part III where we muse about changes that would have to come.