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C15 Studio emerges from stealth, develops FAST channels for premium sports brands

Formula 1, Triton Poker, One Championship and Squash TV are among the first streaming channels developed by the London-based, sports-focused firm.

Formula 1, Triton Poker, One Championship and Squash TV are among the first streaming channels developed by the London-based, sports-focused firm.

The logo of C15 Studios set against the backdrop of a Formula 1 race.
(Courtesy image)

The developer of free, ad-supported streaming television (FAST) channels dedicated to programming from Formula 1, Triton Poker and professional squash has revealed itself after securing distribution agreements with a number of streaming platforms in the United States.

On Wednesday, C15 Studio revealed itself as the company working with Tier 1 and Tier 2 professional sports brands to bring their content libraries of events and ancillary programming to the FAST industry in the United States and beyond.

The studio has offices in London and Dublin, but is concentrating its efforts on delivering premium, sports-focused channels in the United States first because the FAST marketplace is considered more mature, the company’s CEO said in a comprehensive interview with The Desk last week.

Formula 1, One Championship, Triton Poker Series and the Professional Squash Association are the first four sports organizations who have partnered with C15 Studio to develop, launch and program FAST channels that are or will be available on platforms in the United States.

The first three channels — Formula 1 Channel, Triton Poker and Squash TV — launched on a handful of FAST platforms last month. Formula 1 is the most-distributed, with the channel available on Amazon’s Freevee, Paramount’s Pluto TV and Samsung TV Plus. Triton Poker is available now on Pluto TV, while Squash TV is offered on Freevee.

Formula 1 TV is available on Paramount’s Pluto TV in the U.S. (Still frame by The Desk

Joe Nilsson, the co-founder and CEO of C15 Studio, said the channels are programmed with the same due considerations that traditional sports networks give to their broadcast and cable channels.

“No one came to our business having made FAST channels before,” Nilsson said in an interview. “Everyone who came to our business has made sports TV channels before,” having joined from companies like Sky in the United Kingdom, Sky New Zealand, Viaplay and others. (Amory Schwartz, C15 Studio’s other co-founder, was also the founder of NASN, which sold to ESPN in 2006.)

That means the people in charge of developing, launching and programming FAST sports channels bring a deep institutional knowledge of how linear sports channels operate, and are able to franchise those best practices to ensure the channels being developed on behalf of major Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports brands are of the same high quality as a competing sports network on cable and satellite.

“There has to be a value proposition for our audience,” Nilsson said. “Gone are the days of the archive channel. That’s not to say you won’t see replays of iconic races on Formula 1 Channel, but there will be a purpose and intent in the way we schedule them.”

To that end, Nilsson said C15 Studio makes a concerted effort to program Formula 1 Channel so programming on the FAST channel doesn’t compete directly with live races airing elsewhere on television. In the United States, the Walt Disney Company has the rights to live races through next year, with events airing on ESPN and ABC.

C15 Studio has the rights to program replays of those races after they air on ESPN and ABC, and does so throughout the week, with the channel offering repeats of the Canadian Grand Prix last week. Formula 1 Channel is also able to offer re-runs of practice and qualifying laps, and strategically programs them to draw fans in during peak hours of the day.

C15 Studio programs three FAST channels, including Triton Poker. (Still frame by The Desk)

The programming strategy is slightly different for C15 Studio’s two other channels, Squash TV and Triton Poker, where it does have the rights to offer some live events. When asked why the studio focused on those competitive events, Nilsson said there was a large and dedicated fan base for each in the United States, which justified launching the channels.

“There is a huge population in the U.S. that loves squash, even if the market doesn’t necessarily champion it,” Nilsson affirmed. The same is true for mixed martial arts, with C15 Studio set to launch its fourth channel dedicated to One Championship in the near future.

“If you super-serve the audience, they will over-indulge in watching it on TV,” Nilsson said.

Less clear is how C15 Studio is inking agreements with FAST platforms to bring its channels on board. While some FAST channel developers are focused on getting their content as widely distributed as possible, C15 Studio appears to be taking a more-measured approach in where it offers its portfolio of three, and soon to be four, streaming channels.

When asked if C15 Studio sought cable-like retransmission consent fees from platforms like Pluto TV and Freevee for carriage of Formula 1 and other channels, Nilsson said he couldn’t divulge that information. But he said the type of intellectual property that C15 Studio works with, coupled with sponsorship obligations on behalf of the sports franchises themselves and certain accessibility requirements like closed captioning, makes for a complicated arrangement where C15 Studio has to ensure a platform is able to tick all the boxes required to bring top-tier programming to viewers.

“There’s a decent chunk of paperwork to get through,” Nilsson said.

C15 Studio is financially backed by a consortium of venture capital firms, including KB Partners, Sharp Alpha Advisors and Raptor Group. In a statement, a spokesperson for Sharp Alpha Advisors praised the company and its executives for developing and deploying a “durable, scalable business that sits at the epicenter of several important trends and tailwinds.”

“Look out for them to continue to announce new sports channels and streaming partnerships,” the spokesperson said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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