Exclusive interview: DAZN EVP Joe Markowski talks Australian launch
Ahead of DAZN's first historic blockbuster boxing match in Australia, Joshua vs Pulev, we interview EVP Joe Markowski to discover how the sports streaming service will succeed.
It has been a meteoric rise for the over-the-top (OTT) sports streaming service DAZN. The London-based company first arrived in 2016, launching in just four countries – Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. In the three years that followed, Canada, USA, Italy, Brazil and Spain joined the party, too.
In each country, the company established itself with some choice streaming rights, notably boxing, before branching out once a foundation was set. In some regions, notably Canada, DAZN's growth has been very impressive. And leading the charge on all this global expansion has been Joe Markowski.
Joe Markowski is the executive vice-president of global brand at DAZN.
On 1 December 2020, DAZN took the plunge, launching simultaneously in a whopping 200 additional countries, including Australia. You'll find more details on that launch and how to access the content on our DAZN hub page. But the service is leaning on its impressive global boxing rights in the initial months at a nominal asking price.
In order to learn more about DAZN's intentions in the Australian market, we spoke to Joe Markowski. He gave us a rundown of the short-term and long-term plans for the service, and how he sees it growing against existing competitors like Kayo Sports and Optus Sport.
DAZN in Australia: Joe Markowski interview
When you look at the Australian sports streaming landscape, what opportunities do you see for DAZN?
Firstly, I'd like to say that we're really excited to be making our platform available globally. That includes Australia. Australia has been, for quite a while, high up the list in terms of a market we see as attractive and interesting. That said, we're not specifically launching in any given market with this launch. We're making the [existing] platform available globally, and what it does strategically for us is lay a foundation from which we can grow and launch very quickly individual markets that become interesting to us in the medium and long term.
We're very excited to introduce DAZN to Australian sports fans, specifically boxing fans. I think we're interested on a macro level to see which countries globally really pique our interest in the next four or five months and that will shape our future investment and decision making. For a number of reasons, I hope Australia is one of them.
I was going to say, it seems like a very modest launch with its primary focus on boxing, but from what you're saying this is just about getting a foot in the door?
Yeah, getting a foot in the door is a good way of looking at it. We want to technically, operationally, commercially, just lay a base, right? Lay a foundation that will allow us to build in individual countries and then, if there's interest, supersize in individual countries very, very quickly.
A major hurdle to the growth of a business like ours is the operation and technical build of launching in any given country. We have given ourselves the platform globally now to do that very, very quickly. Now that we have a framework and a foundation laid in Australia, we will have consumer insight and real-life data. Not just from Australia but countries all around the world. This will give us an understanding and a view on the appetite and demand for a service like ours.
Where that marries up with content opportunities and rights opportunities, that's what's going to make a market very, very interesting.
If, in six months' time, we've got a load of data from Australian sports fans using the service and they're loving it, and it's been taken up in high numbers, and it's exceeding our expectations, and then we have local content opportunities that make sense for us and our board economically, we're going to really get started. That's how we'll structure our investments going forward.
It puts us in this nice strategic sweet spot, where we'll be exposed to content opportunities of all shapes and sizes, in all corners of the world. Every sports rights holder globally is going to want to talk to us as they trade their content. As such, we can better see those opportunities for growth when we have the benefit of being in a market already and having consumer demand and consumer insights.
That, for me, provides a really exciting, strategic benefit to our launch plan in Australia.
Is that part of the reason why you have opted against a free trial? So that you can get an authentic view of the real demand and not have it muddied up by people just checking DAZN out for the freebie?
We're going through a bit of a review, as I think many services are, around free trials. What we're very keen to do is ensure the pricing is not a barrier to entry. Philosophically, our business is about making sport more accessible and making a relationship with the consumer more flexible. Effectively democratising sport is how we see it. We will make sure that the price point is extremely low to ensure that, in this first phase, we are welcoming in as much traffic as possible.
In our boxing led markets [like Australia], we haven't been operating the free trial. There are obvious reasons for that. There's a schedule of content that attracts casual fans and more hardcore fans. We need to structure our business appropriately to make it sustainable. But I think the price point of $2.99 a month is extremely low. I don't think anyone would have complaints about that price. It's an extremely open price point for the initial batch of boxing fans we're going after.
It's clear from our analytics at Finder that there is huge demand for boxing and UFC events in Australia; is that what DAZN sees?
Yeah, for sure. We had Australian data from our original parent company, Perform Group, and [sibling subsidiaries] Goal.com and Opta Sports, as well as various affiliated group companies, going back 10 to 20 years. And yes, we have seen similar trends in Australia. There are obviously specific nuances to the Australian sports media market. But we've seen a lot of similarities with markets like the UK and the US in terms of sports consumption, so we've been aware of that for a while. That's why Australia is relatively high up the list of markets we're watching with a keen eye as we turn this thing up.
It doesn't sound like you're looking into it in the short term, but will you look at some local fight promotion? We see a lot of interest in combat between sports stars, for example, particularly rugby league players.
Yeah, for sure. We've been discussing that and sort of planning it with our promotional partners for a while. The beauty of our promotional relationships is that they're flexible; they're globally available to us to pick shows as we see fit. We've got no plans right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if you see us doing that in the coming months and years.
We're a business that's proven itself as willing to try new things and new tactics. Obviously, the KSI vs Logan Paul fight in the backend of last year was the best example of that in combat sports. But we're definitely willing to test and learn. If that includes local market events in Australia, and if rugby league players want to settle their beef on a DAZN broadcast, we'd consider that, for sure. Let's see what opportunities spring up. I think those kinds of opportunities will shape the level of investment we make longer term in Australia.
Traditionally the Australian sports streaming landscape has been dominated by Foxtel. DAZN has been really bullish securing rights in other territories. If everything goes to plan, do you guys intend to challenge Foxtel or Optus Sports for licensing rights to major sports?
The beauty of this global launch is that we'll be able to consider how we use our investment capital through a global lens. Rather than through a specific lens of only in markets we've been operating in previously. Whether or not we compete domestically for rights with the established Australian broadcasters will be shaped by the level of consumer demand and the opportunities that are brought to us by rights holders and distribution partners.
Where an opportunity makes sense for us in Australia at the right price point, and if our forecasting and business planning starts making opportunities with domestic rights holders interesting, then we're going to look at them. We've got capital and backing to do that.
For me really, the interesting thing is going to be which rights holders in which parts of the world get in touch with the most interesting opportunities, and whether those marry up with visible consumer demand for our service. We're going to be aggressive in making bids and putting boots on the ground in specific countries. That is what really excites me. It gives us, as the only truly global sports broadcaster, a very nice strategic position to consider rights opportunities of all different shapes and sizes, from all different corners of the world.
Ok, so you've got existing relationships with leagues like the EPL and the MLB in territories such as Canada. Are you saying that's where you will start leveraging your negotiation position? As in, the conversation starts with a global mindset?
I think we've got very good relationships with the vast majority of the major sports rights holders in the world. We [including Perform Group, Goal.com and Opta Sports] have been supplying them with services for the last 20 years and we've been broadcasting their content as a premium OTT broadcaster for the last five. Yes, we will be engaging with those guys. They're very excited generally by our global launch. They see it as more competition and more innovation in the broadcast space, which is no bad thing for a rights holder who makes their business selling content.
I think they see a number of markets around the world that could do with a kick up the arse, to be honest, in terms of more competition and more innovation in the sports broadcast space. Relationship network is really strong and absolutely we'll be using that network to continue growing. Generally, we've got very, very good and lucrative relationships, on both sides, with all rights holders globally. That will continue going forward, for sure.
Well, you certainly had a successful launch in North America. What kind of lessons did you learn from your North American success that you can take into the Australian launch?
Boxing is the constant, right? Well, I suppose there's no consistency in boxing. You learn that boxing is a hard way to make your business, but a very entertaining one. We've learned a lot about how to be a boxing broadcaster. It's not like other sports. You don't get a nice, clean, tidy season schedule of content. You just go out and make individual fights happen, then try and stitch those together into a season of fights and sports content. Which is no small task.
You've also got the general challenges of fighter politics, promoter politics, the risk of a fighter getting injured, and now COVID, that can stop an event at any moment. We've learned a lot about how to be a better boxing broadcaster and I'm delighted to say that after three years of being in the fight sports game, we're getting very good at it. So that's one lesson.
I think also just our efficiency and our quality as a business is improving. The way we reach consumers is better. The quality of the output and the user experience DAZN offers to fans now is significantly better than it was three years ago. That's the beauty of being a digital OTT platform, right? You've got constant access to data about how to improve your service. You've got this fantastic customer service and data capture function that allows you to just know what the consumers want the service to do differently.
We've got teams that react very quickly to consumer feedback to improve. I think we've only just scratched the surface of that user experience. The second part of my role is about revenue innovation and customer innovation; working out how to dramatically improve the consumer experience around DAZN. To make it bigger, and a bigger part of sports fans' lives.
We feel very encouraged! Going to a global platform, the investment we make in the consumer experience and the actual experience of watching sport is going to get significantly better. That's what most excites me, because I think that's where we can make a significant, long-lasting change in how fans consume their sport. Change that's long overdue.
Innovation is very relevant in Australia. We had a big, successful launch story here last year with Kayo Sports and a big part of what made it popular was its innovative app experience. How familiar are you with Kayo Sports and how has it informed the evolution of the DAZN experience here in Australia?
I've got good friends in that business. I look at the rise of OTT sports streaming and obviously we've been at the forefront of it, and we're very proud to be at the forefront of it. As an industry that's still in its infancy, OTT sports broadcasting needs good stories and positive stories coming out of wherever they come from. I don't see the successes of a competing OTT sports broadcaster as a problem.
It's great when you see your counterparts in the space doing a good job engaging audiences, because it just makes the audience more comfortable with using OTT platforms to consume sport. Ultimately that's good for our business. Similarly, I don't applaud or celebrate the technical failures of OTT platforms anywhere. Because again, all that does is give consumers reason for pause.
We've invested heavily in our tech platform and we're really confident with it. It's extremely stable and it's very high quality. We're broadcasting in extremely high-quality HD, and the user experience is something we're going to invest very, very heavily in to further improve it, refine it, and genuinely make it a standout from the traditional linear broadcast experience.
We're spending a lot of time at the moment working out what that looks like. What does the DAZN consumer experience look like in 2025? The future of sports broadcasting. All these things. And looking at what our friends elsewhere in the world have done. At Kayo Sports, at Sky, at Comcast; all different types of media businesses. It helps shape our thinking and helps the industry move forward. We're encouraged by all of it. It's an interesting time to be working in the space, for sure.
Is it fair to say when you talk about innovating with the DAZN experience, you're thinking about innovation similar to what Kayo has done? In terms of changing the way we consume OTT sport?
Yeah. I think as a business, you want to innovate what we do in sports beyond broadcasting, deeper into the sports fan lives. We've done a great job introducing ourselves as a broadcaster. For us to grow and be a more interesting, deeper and better business, we're going to look at other ways to innovate.
But I also think what Kayo and others have done, and what we've done in starting to use OTT to fundamentally redefine what the sports broadcast experience is for the consumer, that's only just getting started. There's not been a whole load of change. You may be watching content on an app rather than a linear channel – and there's been lots of bells and whistles added to that – but I don't think you've even seen more than 2% or 3% of what can happen with OTT and sports broadcasting.
I think it's such a nimble, flexible technology, that in time it's going to fundamentally reshape the sports broadcasting experience for fans. That's what massively excites me about being a part of this business and this industry right now.
Do you guys intend to partner with any local ISPs to bundle DAZN into their plans, or potentially appear on Fetch TV?
We are widely distributed and on the vast majority of Internet connected devices globally. We're going to lean in the first instance on our global relationships. So, the major app stores, the major smart TV manufacturers, the major game console manufacturers. We're going to be on the vast majority of Australian consumers' screens of any description. I think we will look into partnerships and invest further into specific markets when we choose to supersize in those countries.
If we are to enter Australia and spend big on domestic content, again, that will be shaped by consumer demand and opportunity. At that point, we will have a deeper distribution strategy, specifically tailored to Australia. We're not there yet; I hope we get there. For the moment we're focused on the global opportunities. That and obviously the very high percentage of platforms we will be on in Australian consumers' homes.
So, just to confirm, the DAZN app is coming to Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5?
Yeah, we're on for those platforms. We've been on every generation of Xbox and PlayStation since we launched in 2016. We've seen big consumption from consumers around the world on the games console platforms. They're high usage, high engagement platforms for us.
You've made it clear that this launch is just a foray into the Australian market. A test to see if you can get the pick-up you're hoping for. So, what's your definition of success? Do you have an installation number in mind?
Yes, we do. We won't share it with people like you as we politely decline to share those numbers publicly. That's for us and our board to keep behind closed doors. But look, we're definitely encouraged by what we've seen in the first couple of weeks of operation and trading. And we're only just getting into our first big week of content with the Anthony Joshua vs Pulev fight. We only started spending marketing dollars a couple of days ago! So, we're encouraged by the organic take up, for sure.
I think in many countries around the world – especially those that have an interest in boxing like Australia, the UK and Mexico – the noise generated by our North American operations over the last years has already done a good job establishing the DAZN brand. We've seen early demand. Consumers saying; "When are you coming to my country?"
We're encouraged by that, and the initial sales data is encouraging in that context. I think as we get through the Anthony Joshua, Canelo and GGG fights we're going big. And then we have Garcia vs Campbell in the early part of 2021. We've got four big fights with big relevance to boxing audiences around the world. And we're very confident we're going to be encouraged further by the numbers we generate in these next three or four weeks.
One last question; a bit of a hypothetical. If we were to fast-forward five years into the future, what do you think DAZN looks like in Australia?
I'd love us to be a significant domestic broadcaster in Australia in five years. That's true of every major media market around the world. I think our ambitions are to do that, and to become the number one sports broadcaster globally. We've not been shy in stating those ambitions. If that happens, it's going to be shaped by the initial consumer demand and the opportunities they've brought to us.
We look forward to engaging further with Australian rights holders and distribution partners. To assess what opportunities in the market there may be. I'm sure they'll be preparing to talk to us at the right time for their businesses.
I also think the consumer experience of DAZN, what DAZN is in the context of sports fans' lives, will be very different in five years to what it is now. We'll be more than a broadcaster. I think we'll be a multi-product sports business that is a necessity within a sports fan's life. If we do both of those things, I think we'll have a pretty significant business in Australia.
But ultimately that's going to be shaped by how our business goes in the next couple of years in Australia. And what opportunities are brought to us to establish ourselves more deeply in the market. We look forward to speaking with Australian fans and rights holders alike in the next couple of years.