SVG Sit-Down: Kiswe’s Wim Sweldens on D2C Streaming and How Content Owners Can Connect More Directly With Fans

Kiswe has launched D2C platforms for the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Coyotes, and Utah Jazz

With the sports-media landscape undergoing seismic change, many teams, leagues, and broadcasters are seeking new ways to reach their fans more directly. With a direct-to-consumer (D2C) streaming platform, rightsholders can distribute directly to fans while building their brand and fully participating in the monetization of their content.

Kiswe’s Wim Sweldens: “Our goal [at launch] was not just about providing an alternative to linear but instead to provide a much richer, interactive experience that digital fans would love.”

After focusing largely on cloud-based production and the creation of “altcasts” leading up to and during the pandemic, Kiswe is now putting the bulk of its focus into D2C streaming. The fruits of these efforts have been seen over the past year in the regional-sports market through deals with the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, Arizona Coyotes, and Utah Jazz.

SVG sat down with Co-Founder/CMO Wim Sweldens to discuss how Kiswe allows sports-media organizations to fully participate in the `monetization of their content, connect fans directly to their brand, and obtain ownership of audience data through D2C streaming. He also offers a few predictions for the future of the industry and an inside look at the changing face of live sports streaming.

For someone who isn’t familiar with Kiswe, can you provide a brief overview of your company’s products and services?
Kiswe is a direct-to-consumer streaming company. We help content owners monetize their content under their own brand and without a third party, such as a TV network or a social-media company, in the middle. In addition to distribution, we also provide such services as digital marketing, customer service, analytics, and cloud production.

What are some examples of your work in sports over the past couple of years?
The best examples of our D2C streaming offering are our regional deals with NBA and NHL teams: Jazz, Suns, Coyotes. In these deals, we become business partners and jointly maximize the D2C business rather than merely providing technology components that a partner needs to integrate and operate.

Another example is the preseason game we did with the NFL’s Detroit Lions, where we showed that adding fan-engagement features can grow viewership by a factor of four.

The Detroit Lions tapped former players and NFL analysts for a preseason alternative broadcast powered by Kiswe in August.

We also worked with the NBA’s L.A. Clippers to create alternate broadcasts, aka “BallerVision.” BallerVision offers unique game broadcasts featuring live commentary from Clippers legends and celebrities. This innovative feature enhances fan experience with alternate streams and insights from notable personalities, including Baron Davis and Paul Pierce, providing an engaging and interactive way to watch Clippers games.

Additionally, the work we do with InDemand and their highly successful site for airing and monetizing professional sports fights is another example of how we can stand up end-to-end branded streaming and monetization platforms.

Jazz+ signed up 10,000 subscribers in its first month.

We’ve seen Kiswe make a significant splash in the U.S. regional-sports market over the past year. How are you seeing this market evolve, and how can Kiswe serve franchises looking to launch their own D2C streaming services?
Because of the accelerating trend of cord cutting, teams need to reach their fans through traditional linear as well as new direct-to-consumer models. The audience is now being served by RSNs or OTA [over-the-air] providers and by digital solutions, such as streaming platforms or team-branded D2C platforms. As we all know, the RSN economics have been challenging in the last year.

A new popular model has arrived around “beam and stream,” where an OTA provider teams up with a D2C streaming provider to make sure the franchise reaches a maximal number of fans. SBJ reported that the Phoenix Suns’ viewership is up 94% this season.

We see this as just the beginning. What is happening is, the regional markets will continue to grow and other leagues and franchises will jump on board in their need to engage the digital fans. We believe that a lot of key sports content, from local to international, will need state-of-the-art solutions to serve their digital fans. We see many sports teams and leagues wanting to grow their direct-to-consumer business, and we are eager to help them.

With Suns Live, fans can access all Suns and Mercury games through a DTC streaming option alongside the over-the-air broadcast product.

Why is Kiswe focused so heavily on its D2C distribution business — as opposed to the cloud production you were first known for — moving forward? And why do you see so much potential in the D2C streaming market?
The premise around the founding of Kiswe was that we foresaw the breakdown of the traditional linear-TV cable model. Our vision from day one was always to provide fans with direct [digital] access to the live sporting events that they most care about. Our goal was not just about providing an alternative to linear but instead to provide a much richer, interactive experience that digital fans would love.

Admittedly, this market took longer to develop than we thought, and, for the first years, we focused heavily on fan engagement through cloud production and altcasts. We strongly remain committed to cloud production technology because we see it as an important component of creating an engaging live-event experience for fans who want to experience the game in their own unique way.

The L.A. Clippers’ BallerVision offers unique game broadcasts featuring live commentary from Clippers legends and celebrities.

How does your D2C offering differ from other vendors in this space in terms of the services you offer?
Kiswe distinguishes itself as a leader in the D2C-streaming landscape by pioneering innovative solutions that directly address the desires of content owners. Our solutions allow content owners to create direct relationships with their fans without relying on third parties. Our partnerships with top-tier names in sports and entertainment not only validate our position as frontrunner but also exemplify our commitment to excellence. Our technology, underpinned by 13 patents, stands at the forefront of consumer streaming and fan engagement, demonstrating our capability to manage the technical complexities of live streaming for large-scale, high-demand events — a challenge that even well-established platforms often grapple with.

Beyond our technological prowess, Kiswe understands that technology alone doesn’t suffice. Our end-to-end approach encompasses a suite of services designed to augment our partners’ capabilities, ranging from data analytics and AI-driven insights to digital marketing, customer support, and cloud-based event production and operations. This comprehensive support system ensures our partners not only deliver exceptional viewer experiences but also achieve significant advancements in audience engagement and monetization.

Through Coyotes Central, fans in the Arizona Coyotes’ broadcast markets have access to the team’s non-nationally exclusive live game coverage, on-demand replays, pre/postgame shows, and other exclusive Coyotes content.

How is Kiswe distinctive from a monetization perspective?
Kiswe leverages our technology and services to open up new business models, which emphasize partnership through shared responsibilities and economics. We are able to build, operate, and manage as much as or as little of our partners’ live-streaming–based D2C platform as needed to help them maximize the value. This collaborative stance not only fosters stronger alliances but also propels us and our partners toward market leadership. By aligning closely with our partners’ objectives and treating their goals as our own, we not only champion their success but also pave the way for enhanced revenue generation and market dominance. This symbiotic relationship ultimately leads to innovative monetization strategies that benefit all involved, firmly establishing Kiswe as a trailblazer in the D2C streaming space.

How can Kiswe enable sports-media organizations to connect more directly with their fans and utilize user data to grow their fan base?
One of the main incentives of the D2C streaming route for a sports organization is to collect user data about how fans engage with and consume the organization’s premier content and live events, and then create plans to maximize lifetime value. These fans were always there, but they were not readily identifiable through Nielsen ratings or through streaming-platform aggregations. The advantage of D2C streaming over linear TV is that you can learn a lot more about each fan beyond when and where they watch. Our interactive features — such as chatting, cheering, polling, shopping, and uploading selfies — allow the fan to share their enthusiasm while allowing us to understand what they want in their experience.

The data analyzed through our AI-driven insights engine can help the team deeply understand what drives and excites fans. This leads to increased retention, viewing times, engagement, and growth. Time and time again, our data shows that an engaged user stays longer, buys more, and brings their friends. In addition, combining the digital with traditional offline usage can lead to new monetization opportunities.

Major digital influencers increasingly aim to be platform-agnostic. How can Kiswe help to serve this growing market?
Yes, that is correct. The influencer and creator market is developing quite differently from the sports market because many of them started on social-media platforms like YouTube. The big trend here these days is the growing need for platform independence. This means that creators are looking for additional monetization methods using their own brand and platform in addition to the big social-media platforms to achieve a more comfortable level of platform independence.

Who are some influencers you’ve worked with on the D2C streaming side?
Kiswe is active in this growing market and has now done multiple shows with some of the biggest creators, such as Try Guys, Smosh, and Mythical. They have each created a significant alternative monetization model and have made big strides in achieving platform independence — all with Kiswe’s help. We expect to see more growth in this market.

Online personality and comedian Daniel Howell streamed his new comedy special WE’RE ALL DOOMED! on Feb. 25 in partnership with Kiswe to fans around the world.

Break out your crystal ball and tell us how you see the sports D2C distribution space evolving over the next five years? What should organizations be ready for, and how can they stay agile?
We firmly believe D2C streaming will continue to grow as the cable-cutting trend accelerates. More sports-content owners will follow a hybrid model where they can still sign linear TV deals but keep the digital rights for a D2C offering. The data behind all this will continue to fuel the trend and drive markets, marketing, and monetization. AI driven insights will only accelerate the trend.

We believe that every organization should have a plan on how to maximize digital-viewer monetization and the role that their brand, their data, and AI plays in this.

Importantly, providing digital experiences allows us to consider multiple sources of revenue beyond simply subscriptions and ads. Value-exchange and dynamic sponsorships, e-commerce bundles for digital and physical experiences, VIP events, interactive elements, and loyalty allow us to broaden the revenue levers from traditional approaches.

What is one piece of advice you have for a sports-media organization looking to launch its own D2C streaming service from scratch?
One of the ancient pieces of wisdom we try to live by is “know thyself.” We believe that each content owner needs to ask themselves the right questions on whether and when it makes sense to go D2C.

This would involve such questions as: How do I best serve the growing digital audience? How do I use data to grow and engage my fans? Which skills do I have, and which ones do I need help with? What are the risks financially, operationally, and technically, and who can help me de-risk them?

And of course, if they need any help, they know who to call!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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