Instead, it was the sports broadcast rights for J-League, the Japanese national soccer league, sold to Britain's Perform Group. The deal is worth ¥200 billion to the league over the next 10 years - massively more than what it gets in fees from local TV stations.
" [Analytics are] a better way to expand than guesses based on hunches of the CEO."
Terrie Lloyd,Technology & media entrepreneur
Perform gets the right to live stream all matches for J1, J2, and J3 on both its pay-per-view web platform as well as certain satellite stations. The deal doesn't include terrestrial TV which doesn't bother Perform since they think most of the user demand will be from Asia anyway.
This is a lot of money for a still somewhat (internationally) obscure sports league, so why is Perform so confident of their chances?
Buried within the two companies' announcement is the comment, "Perform Group distributes sports content in around 100 countries. It operates ePlayer, one of the world's biggest digital platforms for sports video, and has strength in program production and sports data analytics”.
Analytics. There's a word we're hearing evermore frequently these days and it's probably key to Perform's confidence. By having millions of users on their platform Perform can do unlimited pre-testing and analyse preferences, spends and trends.
Unlike a primitive one-way TV broadcasting system owned by Japanese firms, Perform is able to fine tune and personalise right down to the individual user - and thus is able to predict what users will buy.
We're assuming in making this rather huge offer, Perform analysed in some detail Asian customer interest in Japanese soccer and the numbers tell them it will be huge. This seems to be a much better way to expand your business than to make guesses based on personal hunches of the CEO. Now it's done, it won't be long before Japanese broadcasters start to realise this as well.
For Perform, analytics is not just limited to audience evaluations. Although we're not familiar with its ePlayer, if it's anything like those of its competitors it is likely to be able to put out tremendous amounts of statistical data on the teams, players, history, games rules, stadiums and even weather.
This data is really addictive and gets fans forking out for more as they try to guess who will win each game. Sure, putting the stats together for the first time requires a huge financial outlay and is a herculean effort but once done it can be used over and over - so long as the presentation system has the smarts to automate and personalise the process.
Unfortunately analytics involves learning some rather difficult statistical skills often in short supply in elderly boards and senior management in Japan. The solution would be to go hire in some boffins from your friendly Systems Integrator (SI) and let them get things done but there is a major shortage of Japanese-speaking data scientists among the SI firms as well.
For this reason, Japanese major tech firms are starting to use M&A as one way to acquire the necessary expertise.
In June last year, Hitachi Data Systems bought a leading data integration, visualisation and analytics company called Pentaho . HDS bought the company because it is committing to a digital vision and realises the huge amounts of data devices will generate need some very sophisticated and scalable processing.
In 2014, research into the internet of things accounted for about 24 per cent of Hitachi's entire basic R&D spend and it is preparing to ramp this up to 64 per cent over the next couple of years. By 2018, Hitachi reckons it will have about 2,900 researchers around the globe, mostly in China and the USA. Only a few of these people will be in Japan.
Hitachi sees its sensors-to-smart-sense strategy giving it an edge in connected transportation (automobiles, trucks, and trains), connected energy (drilling to production), connected factories and farms, and many other applications. It wants to be sure it can compete against foreign majors such as IBM, SAP, Oracle, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others which are all pouring tons of cash into this sector.
A couple of months after the Hitachi acquisition, Mitsui made a strategic investment in a US-based oil drilling analytics company called WellAware, which targets the shale oil industry. WellAware has a soup-to-nuts solution involving IoT (internet of things) devices at individual production sites that monitor fluids, chemicals, and production levels so as to predict the condition of a given site. Mitsui is apparently planning to rejig the solution to expand into mining and agriculture as well.
We see this M&A/Investment trend picking up pace over the next one to two years as the slowpokes among the SI firms start to realise what is going on. This is good news for the many foreign analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence companies out there, mostly in the USA and India which are in a cutthroat race to create automated solutions and customers wanting to use them.
Other Japanese end-user companies have been slower on the uptake, although EVERYONE is aware of the importance of IoT for the future. A December 2014 survey by the Nikkei found 53 per cent of 92 major companies were planning to utilise big data (thus inferring analytics to interpret it) in some way to improve business efficiency.
However, those actually using the big data are mostly focusing on simple logistics and product-quality control, which isn't particularly different to what they having been doing in the past with proprietary systems.
Most receptive to intelligent feedback and same-day improvement is probably Japan's convenience-store sector which, with 100,000 outlets and fierce competition, is hyper sensitive about things like today's weather and the sales of chicken sandwiches.
If you want to see the direction Japan's majors will take on analytics especially in real-time, watch 7-Eleven, Lawson, and their cohort. Soon after them will be the large retailers and B2C companies doing business overseas.
Terrie Lloyd is a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. This is an edited version of his weekly blog from Japan, Terrie's Take.
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