This article is part of CMO.com’s September series on the state of media and entertainment. Click here for more.
Dan Ramsay is consumer marketing director at BT across broadband, mobile, TV, and BT Sport. As such, he has been at the forefront of BT’s shift from fixed line business into a mobile, TV, and sports broadcaster.
With such a huge transformation in just four years, we began by asking Ramsay what lies behind BT’s reinvention of itself as a pay TV operator and sports broadcaster. What has been guiding the company?
Ramsay: BT has always been an ambitious company and seeking growth. Our brand strength made us really well placed to move into markets like TV and Sport, which, historically, we weren’t as well known for. We’re uniquely placed in the U.K. to succeed in mobile, TV, broadband, and sports because we are the only provider that has its own capability in each of those four markets—we already have a major broadband and TV business, we own four live sports channels and the U.K.’s biggest 4G network.
No other provider can match that—they either don’t own their own mobile network or have no sports of entertainment content rights.
CMO.com: What’s so important about being the only company to own the fixed and mobile networks, the TV platform, and the sports channels?
Ramsay: Clearly, there’s an economic advantage, in that we don’t have to pay to access someone else’s mobile network, but we also see a great opportunity to build and reward customer loyalty and cross-promote. BT Broadband subscribers get a reduced subscription fee for BT Sport, and only our broadband customers get access to BT TV. BT Mobile and EE mobile phone customers get free access, for a period, to BT Sport, through the app. It’s a great way to build a virtuous circle where loyalty is rewarded.
CMO.com: Tell us about the experience of being inside BT as it transforms into an entertainment business majoring in sports broadcasting.
Ramsay: It’s had a huge impact on our brand perception and created huge shareholder value, but it’s also driven a major cultural change internally. People can see that they’re part of a very exciting organisation that’s moving forward. It can be pretty amazing to walk into reception and see a sports star or a famous TV presenter walking in to work with you.
It’s also been an incredibly strong lure in recruitment. Talented people are far more determined to come and work for us now.
CMO.com: What can you tell brands about TV in the digital age? Are millennials streaming on mobiles or sitting on the sofa?
Ramsay: The main new trend we’re picking up on is second screening. We’re noticing a lot of people will be watching the game and then be on social, too, joining in the conversation about that sport.
Second screening is especially huge for us during European football games, where there is action in other games, and people want to watch their prime match on the television but then keep up with another game through our app.
You, obviously, find that people do watch on a mobile device, but it’s normally when they’re not at home and don’t have access to their main screen. There’s a lot said about millennials, but they’re, basically, like anyone else—they’d far rather watch the sport of their choice on the big screen.
CMO.com: Do different sports attract a different demographic? One would imagine some American sports are more popular with millennials?
Ramsay: We find people will, generally, love a particular sport, be it football, rugby, boxing, or cricket, and that will be their main interest. It cuts across demographics.
I know there is a belief out there that millennials may be more into the American sports we carry, such as baseball and basketball, but if I’ve learnt one thing about millennials and sport, it’s not to underestimate how similar they are to older demographics on many levels.
CMO.com: What guides your rights strategy then if each sport brings with it a cross-section of people rather than a particular demographic?
Ramsay: We’re guided always by shareholder return, pure and simple. There isn’t a single negotiation we go into where we haven’t come up with a sum of what we think those rights are worth and what we’re willing to pay that will give a good return to our shareholders. As part of that, we’re clearly looking at the scale and nature of the audience for that sport, and how it compliments our existing rights. We judge whether it will be of interest to our existing customers and whether it will bring in new ones.
CMO.com: How have you been communicating and marketing this transformation for BT, a company most people associate with telephones, not watching TV dramas and sports stars?
Ramsay: The key is to keep the message evolving. When we started, we positioned ourselves as a place to watch English Premier League games, then we were the only place to watch the Champions and Europa League games. Last season we presented ourselves as the only place you can follow the four football competitions that matter most to English fans, including the FA Cup.
This month, we’re moving the message to reflect our breadth of sports coverage including our boxing and UFC, and the fact we’re the only place to watch The Ashes this winter.
We’ve also been hugely innovative—we were the first broadcaster using UHD, or 4K, transmissions, and we broadcast the Champions League final in virtual reality. That had never been done before at that scale anywhere in the world
If you’re in middle of a transformation programme, you’ve got to keep going. The offer has to keep moving on, but so, too, does the messaging and marketing to your customers.