iQIYI Doubling Down on Sports: the First Video Platform to Broadcast the 2020 Euros in Mainland China

Yu Lingxiao, CEO of iQIYI sports, the sports arm of the online video platform (source: vning.net)

The summer of 2019 has ended, and for sports fans, the summer of 2020 heralds a new round of sleepless nights and exciting games.

According to the official timeline, the UEFA 2020 European Championship will be held from June to July next year. However, this edition will differ from years past. The first Euro was held in 1960, and so this year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the game. The games will be held in as many as twelve cities in eleven countries, with the semi-final and final held in London’s Wembley Stadium. Additionally, in July, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games will begin in Tokyo and, most importantly, from September 2020 to May 2021, the Chinese men’s football team will continue their quest in the Asian Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.

For Chinese fans, who have a love and hate relationship with the national team, both the Euros and Asian Qualifiers for World Cup 2022 will be broadcasted on the online entertainment platform iQIYI. And most importantly, fans wouldn’t need to stay up absurdly late anymore, as 50% of the Euros matches will start before midnight Beijing time.

“The last Euro in 2016 was exclusively broadcasted on CCTV, attracting a total viewership of over 420 million. The top viewership for a single match even exceeded that of the Olympic Games. Euro 2020 will also be the first one broadcast on a video platform outside of CCTV network. iQIYI is the first video platform to broadcast the Euros in mainland China,” Said Yu Lingxiao, CEO of iQIYI sports, the sports arm of the online video platform.

The UEFA Euro 2020 (source: new.zhibo8)

As seen from the last World Cup in 2018, social media and new media platforms in China serve as the main streaming channels. During the World Cup or Euros, people that would normally have zero interest in the sport are dragged into heated discussions on China’s Twitter-like Weibo. “Seen from the data of the last European Cup, total relevant reads on Weibo exceeded 200 billion, with total interactions reaching 4.6 billion. Therefore, the super sports IP European Cup, which combines aesthetic, news and socializing value, will surely bring irreplaceable brand influence. The game is the best carrier to help our brand upgrade,” Said Yu.

As a content-oriented company, iQIYI has been quite good at selecting and creating original content. However, different from TV series or films, sports is not a project you could actually incubate from scratch. In this sense, Gong Yu, founder and CEO of iQIYI gave an explanation, “For instance, for film and television series, they can be original. For sports, we could not just hold an Olympics, or World Cup, so it’s a completely different business pattern. Considering the current market, sports content in China would develop slower than film and television, because we need longer term investment and more partners. And iQIYI’s sole effort is not enough.” iQIYI Sports, the joint venture between iQIYI, Inc. and Super Sports Media was born amidst such strategy.

For live broadcast of top global sports events, days of a CCTV monopoly are long gone. According to Yu, “As a comprehensive sports content platform, we cover soccer, tennis, golf, boxing and even breakdancing. But we really don’t have basketball. Seriously, we don’t live broadcast basketball.” The remarks might be easily relatable with the return of NBA live broadcasts by another tech giant Tencent. Apart from basketball, Tencent Sports also has broadcasting rights to major games including the English Premier League,UEFA Champions League,F1, MLB, NFL, Wimbledon and French Championships, etc. The mass viewership and brand influence generated from sports broadcasting make the competition ever fiercer.

Following is Pandaily’s exchange with representatives of iQIYI:

Q: Regarding the revenue of sports content, do paid memberships contribute most of the profit? What are the major difficulties in generating revenue from sports content?

A: Our revenue from sports content is mainly derived from advertising and paid subscription, the latter has seen an increase. Most sports users are very loyal to the platform, and the commercial value of top sporting events is extremely high. Currently, iQIYI Sports owns the broadcasting rights of 20 items including 2020 Euros, La Liga, Asian Qualifiers of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Australian Open, Wimbledon, WTA, ATP, PGA Championship, British Open, US Open, PGA Tour, etc. In a word, the world’s most enjoyable and most popular international sporting events are presented here.

iQI Sports has been making constant attempts to price its content products. However, with a limited sports consumption in China, the paid membership model is far from mature. Chinese users are rather price sensitive when it comes to sports content. Apart from cultivating their habit of paying for content, we need to take into consideration their income, consumption power, and the gap between first- and second-tier cities.

Q: It is also noteworthy that in August this year, iQIYI Sports start live streaming exclusively the 2019/20 season of LaLiga Santander (LaLiga) for the China market. Compared to other leagues, why choose the La Liga? What are the main strategies the company takes for broadcasting?

A: We chose La Liga because La Liga is the “nearest” to Chinese fans among the five leagues. In terms of IP value, La Liga is the league with the highest competition level among the five major leagues. It has the world’s top clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and the world’s top players such as Messi, Hazard and Suarez. Every year, the El Clasico (Barcelona vs. Real Madrid) attracts hundreds of millions of global audiences.

From the perspective of the emotional bonding with the Chinese people, Chinese player Wu Lei joined the RCD Espanyol in La Liga last season and achieved a relatively good performance. His career development in Spain is also attracting the attention of domestic fans. The game brings top streams and heated discussions on social media, which facilitates the platform’s commercial operation.

SEE ALSO: Wu Lei — A Cardiotonic for Chinese Football Fans

Since the start of the 2019/20 season, La Liga has placed great emphasis on the Chinese market and even adjusted the time of some competitions, making it easier for Chinese audiences to watch. For instance, the “National Derby” battle on October 26, will start at 7 pm Beijing time, which is the perfect TV time for the Chinese audience.

iQIYI Sports also prepared a top domestic commentary team for La Liga. Fans could choose their own favorite commentary channel through the multi-channel live broadcast technology on the platform.

Q: What are the unique advantages of the platform’s 2020 Euros broadcast compared to other platforms? What about the Olympics?

A: While CCTV has the exclusive rights of the 2020 Olympic Games broadcast, iQIYI Sports will produce Olympic feature stories, real-time event coverage, as well as a large amount of Olympic-related video content.

For the 2020 Euros, iQIYI Sports will produce a number of self-made programs in addition to the live broadcast of 51 matches and real-time news reports. The programs include event reviews, culture stories and variety shows, etc. Based on the entertainment genes of the platform, we also invite celebrities and opinion leaders to join the promotional event of European Cup, garnering attention from outside the football fans group.

Q: Could you share some examples of applying AI technology into sports content?

A: With the help of AI technology, the editing speed of short videos and the efficiency of our content production will be largely improved. AI will be able to accurately identify scenarios such as goals and shots. For example, AI could quickly edit Messi’s scoring video within 10 to 20 seconds after Messi scores. Users are able to relive the exciting moments of the game. At the same time, AI matches users with personalized video content based on timeliness, priority and users’ interest.