Q&A: Discovery Golf President Alex Kaplan
Discovery, Inc. has made a major splash in the golf media world in a relatively short time.
Discovery teamed with the PGA TOUR to launch a new live and on-demand global video streaming service called GolfTV, which is only available outside the U.S. and debuted January 1. Discovery is expected to invest $2 billion over its 12-year deal with the PGA TOUR, which includes licensing of the tour’s international media rights – both multi-platform and traditional TV.
Better known for its entertainment networks like Discovery Channel, HGTV and the Food Network, Discovery also partnered with Tiger Woods on an exclusive multiyear content deal and, most recently, acquired Golf Digest from Condé Nast. It’s all part of Discovery’s ambitious goal to become the leading golf media platform in the world.
Discovery Golf President and General Manager Alex Kaplan talked with The Q about the company’s big-picture view on golf, long-range vision and aspirations to deliver content – particularly digital – to avid golf fans around the world. Kaplan joined Discovery in January 2017 after holding senior leadership positions at the NBA and DIRECTV/AT&T.
Discovery has made some serious moves in the golf space recently, with launch of GolfTV, teaming with the PGA TOUR and Tiger, and now the big Golf Digest purchase. What does this say about the company’s belief in the game?
We’re all-in with golf, and we’re all-in because we think there’s a big opportunity with the game. It also really fits strategically with our business and more specifically how we’re transitioning our business from what’s been so successful over the past 20 to 30 years from a cable perspective – kind of dual-stream revenue: ad sales and affiliate – into more of a direct-to-consumer digital company. Golf is one of our key verticals. We like to call them ‘superfan’ verticals — groups of really engaged superfans who live, breathe and die around a particular form of content. There isn’t a better example of that superfan than golf; it’s a global game with interest in every country in the world. People love to watch it and some of the biggest stars in the world, but people don’t just like to watch the pros, they like to engage themselves. They play it, they buy equipment, they bet on it, they travel around it, they learn about it with classes and instruction, so that whole ecosystem is really interesting for us. We love golf and we love how golf fits into the business model that we are evolving into.
Talk about the overall vision of Discovery Golf and what to expect in the coming years?
Taking a step back, Discovery really has not been involved in U.S. sports, historically. That’s not the case outside the U.S. We bought Eurosport several years ago, which is the leading multi-sport channel across Europe with massive distribution, including the Olympic Games everywhere in Europe, and a smaller sports business in Asia. As we’ve tried to scale Eurosport in particular on the direct-to-consumer digital side, one of the things we recognize is that in the digital space trying to be all things to all people is very difficult. It’s a multi-sport platform, but what we found is that someone will come in and buy our products for a month when we have the Australian Open tennis, but frequently we won’t have tennis for another six months. Sure enough, those people who came in for tennis, that’s what they wanted and they just leave and they turn to another platform. That’s not a very effective business model. So that’s where we got the idea of: How can we go really deep with one sports vertical? Golf is where we found that engaged superfan and, quite frankly, a really compelling opportunity to go long and deep with the PGA TOUR. So that was really the start of it.
The vision for GolfTV is to start with the live (coverage), sort of that viewing experience, and then expand into that broader ecosystem. So, that’s sort of watch it, play it, do it, read about it. The Golf Digest acquisition does many things, but one really compelling component is that it gives us instant access to this amazing content engine and it gives us incredible expertise and credibility in the read-about-it category. So, what you’ll see with GolfTV outside the U.S. is now we’ve got the watch-it and we’ve got the read-about-it in all sorts of different categories. In the U.S., we have no intention to acquire live rights, but we think all of those other components of the ecosystem, the read-about-it, the learn about it, the buy it, the do it, can all be part of our Golf Digest offering. Today, we don’t have a lot of that.
The intention is to build out that ecosystem. So, what golf fans in the U.S. can expect is a big investment in Golf Digest to become the go-to source for information about all facets of golf. Outside the U.S., it’s the same thing, but you’ll be able to watch your favorite players and tours all over the world.
In terms of building that visibility in the U.S., you now have an iconic media property in Golf Digest. Is there anything that’s significantly different moving forward in that regard?
Golf Digest.com and their digital properties have been growing like crazy. Obviously, the magazine continues to have an avid audience. Initially it’s going to be business as usual, but what we’re going to be doing is investing – in people, new features and functionality, digital platforms on the technology side. Certainly, in years to come, I think it’s going to be bigger, better and more interesting. But we’re starting from a position of strength with Golf Digest, so initially we just wanted to keep it going, and then as we get our feet wet, we can add to it and grow it.
In regard to subscription models, is this something that will only continue to proliferate and what does it mean for the game of golf in the future?
I don’t think it’s specific to golf. That’s how content is being consumed today. Now it’s up to content owners and creators to make sure that they build great products that consumers love and can’t do without. The second piece of that is to create business models so that everyone can continue to make money. This is part of our strategy to engage with consumers on a direct-to-consumer basis, and it’s not just about subscriptions. It’s about creating a deeper experience. Some may be merchandise driven, instruction and some that doesn’t get shared today.
Discovery, Inc.’s acquisition of Golf Digest gives fifteen-time major champion and Discovery, Inc. exclusive content partner Tiger Woods yet another platform through which to tell his story.
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) May 13, 2019
Tiger Woods in the past was known for being so closed off and private, and now he’s the face of what Discovery Golf is doing from a player-partnership standpoint. What does that partnership mean for Discovery Golf?
We’re thrilled with Tiger. Obviously, we built our relationship with Tiger before he won the Masters and that victory was just incredible, for us and for golf. He moves the needle for golf like nothing else in the game. We’re thrilled he’s back on top and it’s an awesome story. Beyond that story, Tiger wanted to do this with us because he wanted to tell his story, in his own voice, in a really authentic way. He’s never done that before. That hasn’t been his style. He’s at a different point in his career and life, and that was part of the draw. Obviously, the guy doesn’t need the money. He loves what we’re doing and the idea of the golf ecosystem. He’s behind the idea of a platform he can help us build to tell his story direct to fans in a really compelling way. The proof is in the pudding. He’s been incredible. Henni Zuel is our GolfTV correspondent, and she and Tiger have a great working relationship. They’re comfortable together and he’s sharing information in a way that he hasn’t before. We’re beyond happy with what he’s giving us and there’s more great things to come. You’ll see some thoughts on instruction content from Tiger really shortly that’s going to be just incredible and something he’s never done before. We’re beyond thrilled.
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