First the EPL, then the World (Cup): Verticast’s regional dreams and how football fans can keep up

“[…] We have successfully, over the last two months, negotiated carry agreements with cable companies for the channels that will be carrying all of our content, including the Premier League… but we haven’t been able to sign with some of them, notably Flow and Digicel.

“[…] Keeping in mind that the Premier League is very important and people are still not sure if their cable companies are carrying it, we are going to be offering it for the first month of the season without a subscription rate. So you will be able to get it at no cost…”

Verticast president and CEO Oliver McIntosh speaks to Wired868 about his acquisition of television rights for the England Premier League, how football fans can catch the games, and his vision for the Caribbean media industry:

Photo: Verticast president and CEO Oliver McIntosh.

(Editor’s note: McIntosh is the former president of Digicel SportsMax while Verticast  chief commercial officer Carlo Redwood is a former Flow marketing exec.)

Wired868: Where is the the rights for the 2022/23 England Premier League season now and how did it get there?

Oliver McIntosh: We (Verticast) were awarded the rights earlier this year and it was for a three season period, starting with this season coming up… It was a tender process.

Wired868: Do you know how many other companies bid?

McIntosh: That was not disclosed, but we could make assumptions.

Wired868: Tell us about Verticast?

McIntosh: Verticast is a media company set up to operate across the region and across various platforms. What does that mean? It means that we are set up to operate in multiple countries and broadcast across traditional media through partnerships—like free to air channels and radio and so forth—whereas our own cable stations and also digital media, ie streaming and social media.

Photo: Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez (right) celebrates the winner against Manchester City in the 2022 England Premier League Charity Shield.

Wired868: Was this the first broadcast rights that Verticast won?

McIntosh: We had just started the company, so this would have been the first.

Wired868: And did you win everything you bid for since?

McIntosh: (Laughs.) I won’t say what we won or lost but we have been awarded the rights for the Fifa World Cup for 2022. Additionally the European national tournaments featuring European national teams, such as England, France, and so on—that includes Euro 24, Euro 28, Nations League, Euro qualifiers for the Nations League, and Euro qualifiers for the World Cup; and also for the NFL.

Wired868: I searched the meaning of “verti” and there are a few options including “overthrow” and “destroy”, which did you go for when you named the company?

McIntosh: (Laughs.) I actually didn’t know that definition, Lasana. So thanks for teaching me that one. No, Verticast for us speaks to the way we want to operate. We want to operate across different markets and across different delivery platforms.

Photo: France attacker Kylian Mbappe (right) skips past Argentina defender Nicolas Otamendi (third from left) during a 2018 World Cup contest at the Kazan Arena in Russia on 30 June 2018.
(Copyright Benjamin Cremel/ AFP/ Getty Images)

One of the things that we have seen in our experience in the media industry in the region is that there are a number of media companies that have not developed properly. I think that our media industry—and you would agree with this—generally has not developed at a rate that it should have. And that is for a number of reasons: lack of investment; our individual markets are small, so you don’t get the economies of scale.

What we are trying to do is work with our partners—whether in Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana—in order to provide them with additional content, additional technology that allows them to properly develop, which hasn’t happened for one reason or another.

Wired868: Your name is synonymous with SportsMax, although that may change soon. Tell us about the end of your story with SportsMax?

McIntosh: Well at this stage, as you can imagine, I prefer to talk less about that. (Laughs.) I am more about the future. But let’s just say that my learnings in my 20 years in the media industry in the region has been tremendous and it helps position Verticast and CSports (our sports channel) for strong growth over the next couple of years.

Photo: Brentford FC midfielder Yoane Wissa is at peace with himself after his late equaliser in his team’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool on 25 September 2021.
(via Premier League)

My learnings from my prior experience is that there is a significant way for us to go in the region as relates to the media. We haven’t really scratched the surface as local companies. If we don’t do that then there will never really be a strong media industry and that is really my focus.

Wired868: There is a high possibility that in bidding for the EPL rights you came up against and won over SportsMax and Flow—or rather Digicel and Flow. What has Verticast’s negotiations been like with those two companies so far?

McIntosh: What I would say is that we have successfully, over the last two months, negotiated carry agreements with cable companies for the channels that will be carrying all of our content, including the Premier League, in multiple countries and with close to 40 cable operators. We haven’t been able to sign with some of them, notably Flow and Digicel, but we are continuing discussions and hoping that we can find with them ways [to work together].

We have done our agreements with basically the same terms so that no operator is disadvantaged, and we made that same offer available to everybody. 

Photo: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during an English Premier League match against Everton at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester on 1 January 2020.
(Copyright Oli Scarff/ AFP)

We have done it at reasonable terms based on industry standards. We don’t want people to think that we’re trying to, as we say in Jamaica, mek a money quick! Having knowledge of the industry, we’ve gone out and done it at a rate that we think is acceptable to everybody—and it is proven by the fact that other cable operators are signing up. That rate has been accepted.

We are just hoping that in the interest of the subscribers in the region and persons who love the Premier League—like myself, and you—that all the cable operators will be on board by the time kick-off happens on Friday 2 o’clock, or 3 o’clock in Trinidad.

Now what happens on Friday at 3 o’clock if not all the cable operators are on board? We are launching our streaming service this week. It is likely to be at some point [on Wednesday 3 August]. So persons will be able to watch the games, whether it is through our website or through our app—if their cable company does not have it. 

Photo: Chelsea right back Reece James (left) prepares to have a crack during England Premier League action against Newcastle on match week 10.
(via England Premier League)

Wired868: What sort of contracts are available to watch games through your streaming service?

McIntosh: Keeping in mind that the Premier League is very important and people are still not sure if their cable companies are carrying it, we are going to be offering it for the first month of the season without a subscription rate. So you will be able to get it at no cost.

Wired868: At what cost, sorry?

McIntosh: At no cost, for the first month—so through to 31 August. After 31 August, there will be various types of offers that we will communicate to the market in the next week or two. It could be on an annual basis, you can do a per month basis, we can break it down to a per match basis, or per weekend.

All we are trying to do is ensure that everybody has access to it. Our commitment to the persons we buy rights from is to make it accessible—and that’s what we are going to do.

Photo: Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes takes home the match ball after his hattrick on the opening day of the season in a 5-1 win over Leeds United on 14 August 2021.
(via Instagram)

Wired868: Now, I’ve heard it said, although I can’t say by whom, that you were a member of the team, meaning Flow and SportsMax, and you took that knowledge of how they operate and switched sides to get one over them—that you came back to bite them. How do you respond to that?

McIntosh: Well, I am on the team of the Caribbean. (Laughs.) Through the experience that I have been able to garner in the media industry, I have a vision as a media practitioner and as a Caribbean national. I think I can do my part to help the media industry develop, and that involves media across all platforms: general entertainment, kids entertainment, local production, and sports. That’s the vision I have.

It is not about trying to bite anybody in the back or anything like that. I think I have something to contribute to help the development of the industry. The way I saw it, the industry was not developing the way it should. So I am going to play my part in trying to do that.

Photo: Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini (left) grabs hold of England winger Bukayo Saka during the Euro 2021 final.

So you are going to see a lot more from Verticast on the local production side. You are going to see a lot more from Verticast in terms of training persons interested in being in media across different types of [portfolios]. Some persons who want to be in front of the camera, some persons who want to be behind the camera. You are going to see a lot from Verticast in the coming months and years.

So it is just the role I want to play and how I want to help the local media develop.

Wired868: You are talking about streaming directly to consumers’ phones and laptops and so on, what is the ambition of Verticast there?

McIntosh: Unfortunately our region, from a streaming perspective and the ability to stream and the types of content to stream, is somewhat behind where our counterparts are to the north in us and Canada and in Europe for that matter.

Photo: Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk (number 4) wins the ball from Manchester City forward Erling Haalaand during the 2022 Charity Shield in England.

We will be offering, as part of our stream, more content from the Premier League, more content from the Fifa World Cup, more content from European national football than has ever been offered in the region before—i.e. the types of highlights, the number of channels that will have content on it, the ability to access the content. Those are the things we are developing and working on. And we are going to start with that this week. 

We are definitely going to invest a lot in our streaming capacity and our streaming capability, unlike what anybody else has done here before. The question you asked before is essentially ‘why are we doing this’. It is because as a media company that is independent and Caribbean national-based, we will invest in areas that probably have not been invested in before. And we will be willing to go and do things that probably have not been done before.

Just because our focus is developing content, and developing content from the Caribbean and into the Caribbean—not [the usual] myopic view of how content should be developed.

Photo: Parents use the bmobile Tego app to watch a Russia 2018 World Cup match during RBNYL quarterfinal action at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on 23 July 2018.
(Copyright Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Wired868: When you say our media from a streaming perspective is a bit behind, were you referring to internet penetration or content?

McIntosh: Both for sure. As you know, penetration is lower in the region, for many reasons—let’s not point any fingers. It just is what it is. The economy is not really there, our topography is the way it is, our infrastructure is the way it is. From our standpoint, we are going to invest in technologies that we think will increase the penetration and work alongside the existing providers.

Our view is that we all have to work together on this. If we try to do it in isolation or as individual countries, it is not going to work. We all have to work together on this. 

Photo: West Ham United forward Michail Antonio celebrates an EPL goal with, ahmm, himself!

Wired868: Is this sport’s answer to Netflix that we’re speaking about here?

McIntosh: (Laughs.) Sportflix! I don’t know if it is the answer to Netflix but it certainly is going to go a long way to provide content in the way that Netflix has [done to] be able to penetrate the market. So I will say yes it will help us to increase content penetration, like Netflix has.

What we want to ensure that the market knows is we have set up in a very quick turnaround from the time of acquiring the rights to the time of setting up our infrastructure. We have been able to have our signal in homes via cable operators… What we want is to make sure that everybody has access to it, and we have done it in a way that has been fair and not advantageous to any operator at all.

Wired868: Are your rights holders happy that you are offering games for free this month?

Photo: Liverpool forward Mo Salah (left) prepares to finish a superb solo effort against Manchester City on Sunday 3 October 2021.
(via Indian Express)

McIntosh: What a lot of our cable partners have said is we are offering more live games than they have had in the past. So that is a good thing. Live content is always best. So they are very happy that they will now be able to show all 10 matches each weekend live to their subscribers—and that is what we are striving for, as much as live content as possible. 

Wired868: And is the fact that some persons will watch the games for free on their personal devices an issue to those rights holders?

McIntosh: It shouldn’t be, because people still like to watch sports on their big screen. We are doing this because of our roll-out and we have to ensure that [although] some people may not have access to it because their cable company didn’t sign up, they can still have access to it—at least at the outset.

Wired868: Thank you for your time, Mr McIntosh.

McIntosh: My pleasure.

Editor’s Note: Wired868 was unable to get an official response from Flow or Digicel up until the time of publication. However, click HERE to read an analysis of the impasse by television veteran Bernard Pantin.

Wired868 has provided readers with solid, independent journalism since 2012.  If you appreciate our work, please contribute to our efforts. 

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