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News Corp. gives glimpse of strategy with soccer app for Asia

August 16, 2013|By Meg James
  • News Corp.'s launch of a soccer app shows the company sees smartphones as key to its future. Above, News Corp. headquarters in New York.
News Corp.'s launch of a soccer app shows the company sees smartphones… (Scott Eells / Bloomberg )

News Corp. has unveiled a new mobile application, dubbed BallBall, designed to bring European soccer news and video clips to sports fans in Asia.

The BallBall roll-out marks the company's first product launch since the June 28 division of Rupert Murdoch's sprawling empire into two publicly traded companies. News Corp. made the product announcement Friday, timed to coincide with the start of England's Premier League soccer season.

The app -- currently available to soccer fans in Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan -- is noteworthy because it demonstrates how News Corp. intends to mold itself into a next-generation news and information company, and not be hemmed in by geography or other old-school constructs.

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Launching a product in markets where News Corp. lacks a strong presence illustrates the importance of Asian markets. It also demonstrates how the company views the "second screen," or mobile phones, as key to its future. News Corp. is betting that people increasingly will consume news, sports and entertainment on their smartphones.

"BallBall's launch is a significant moment in the e-evolution of the new News,”  Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp., said in a statement.

The move leverages News Corp.'s existing assets -- in this case, a team of sports reporters on the ground in Britain and Europe. With BallBall, the company is introducing its work to new audiences, creating a new stream of revenue.

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Users in Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia will be able to download the mobile app to Android smartphones. It will enable them to watch video highlights of European matches and related coverage such as analysis by writers at the company's newspapers in London: the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun. 

"We have a significant heritage in sports reporting," Anoushka Healy, head of strategy for News Corp., said in an interview.  "We have the opportunity to build on that strength that we have within the company and bring it to these new markets."

News Corp. also owns the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, dozens of Australian newspapers and the U.S. book publishing house HarperCollins.

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The company also has a toehold in television. It claimed the Fox Sports Australia network even though the rest of Murdoch's profitable TV businesses, including the U.S. regional sports networks, are housed in the spun-off entertainment company, named 21st Century Fox.

News Corp. has been busy securing mobile and Internet rights for European soccer. In addition to England's Barclays Premier League, it has rights to Bundesliga in Germany, Ligue 1 in France, Serie A in Italy and FA Cup in England.

This week, the publishing company landed exclusive rights to show clips of the Premier League on websites and mobile devices in Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia, which combined are home to more than 450 million people.

"The popularity of European football is growing exponentially," Healy said.

Jeep signed up as a initial sponsor for BallBall in the three countries. Other news organizations have been adding video content to their websites and mobile applications because advertisers increasingly are placing their products in videos that play on news sites.


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