Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd, Malaysia’s largest pay-TV operator, has big plans for the eSports segment, and the launch of its 24/7 dedicated channel is only one component.
According to Astro’s head of sports Lee Choong Khay, the company will also be looking at setting up a web portal as well as organising major eSports events and tournaments.

“At the end of the day … we want to own the e-sports community,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) in an interview recently. Although the company only recently launched its e-sports channel – dubbed Every Good Game (eGG )– its interest can be traced back to about a year ago when it broadcast the Defense of the Ancient 2 (Dota 2) The International tournament (TI-5).

Not only did it manage to capture a strong viewership base with the broadcast, it also managed to do something it previously had challenges doing: Attracting a younger audience. “We received a lot of positive feedback from the community – that was one event that actually inspired us to launch the channel,” said Lee.

astro eggFor now, the eGG channel and its content are available in Malaysia via Astro, and in Indonesia via its over-the-top video content provider Tribe. By end of this year, the content will also be available in the Philippines via Tribe. Astro is also in talks with regional broadcasters. If the talks are successful, the eGG channel would be available in more parts of South-East Asia.

“We are in talks with broadcasters in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and even Australia. Fingers crossed. Hopefully, we can announce something very soon,” said Lee. Of course, some may question whether these regional broadcasters would be interested in acquiring content from Astro – after all, many likely have the financial power and expertise to produce their own e-sports channels and content.

While Lee did not rule out the possibility of these broadcasters doing this, he stressed that setting up a dedicated e-sports channel is not that easy. “It is quite tough to do on your own. We have the scale at least, and we have done channels before. We also have a big production team and we can churn out inhouse content,” he argued.

Astro is also looking at engaging the e-sports community via other avenues such as events and by establishing its own dedicated web portal. “We are a media company and a broadcaster, so the lowest hanging fruit is the [TV] channel. Our next move would most likely be organising major e-sports events, to be followed by a web portal,” said Lee.

“I think the events part will come first because there are so many happening right now. It is just a matter of finding the right partner to co-own and co-market the event,” he added.
The third leg of its e-sports strategy would be setting up an eGG portal, which may also involve the development of a dedicated mobile app. “In the near future, we will have [the portal] as a streaming platform so that users and fans can put up their own content for streaming … that’s the direction in which we are heading,” said Lee.

If executed well, these plans would boost Astro’s sustainability in the future – e-sports are attracting a younger audience who could very well be pay-TV subscribers further afield.  According to Lee, amongst the feedback the company has received is that “Astro is cool again.”

The TI-5 broadcast managed to capture 1.5 million viewers – a good number, given that the games took place after midnight local time. That was not all – Lee claimed that the League of Legends (LOL) championship it broadcast last year managed to attract three million viewers. With viewership numbers growing, the conversation between broadcasters and e-sports event organisers is also changing, according to Lee.

“In the past, organisers would come to us and ask us to broadcast their content. Today, they ask us how much we are willing to pay them for the content. “The conversation is changing, and it is changing very fast,” he said. Currently, the cost for broadcast rights of e-sports is still at a manageable rate, at about one-tenth the average cost of traditional sports.

However, Lee believes that it will only be a matter of time before the cost of e-sports broadcast rights is on par with other sports content. To mitigate that, he stressed the importance of producing inhouse content so that Astro would not be too reliant on foreign content. And despite the changing conversation, Lee is confident that Astro has what it takes to carve out a dominant position in the e-sports space. “It is still early days for e-sports – that’s why we need to go all-out to capture the leading position in this space,” he said. “We want to be the pioneer in this space,” he added.

Lee also said that the eGG channel is likely to be profitable and recoup its investments within three to five years. “Overall, it is a long-term play. But in e-sports, the long-term can be three to five years as there are a lot of things happening right now,” he said.

First seen and source: Digital News Asia