Interview: EHF’s Uli Gutweniger on ehfTV

Ulrich "Uli" Gutweniger, is EHF Marketing’s Head of Media. In this email interview he provides some insight in regards to their web streaming platform, ehfTV.

John Ryan: The EHF has been a trailblazer when it comes to providing web streaming of handball matches. Why has the EHF been so aggressive in promoting web streaming?

Uli Gutweniger: The platform has offered us the chance to show matches from both the VELUX Men’s EHF Champions League and the EHF Women’s Champions League worldwide. This means extensive coverage of the competitions – and for handball fans the chance to see teams play that they perhaps wouldn’t normally see on TV at home. This service is a boon too for our clubs because they get the chance to analyse the performance of every team in the competition.

JR: The matches via ehfTV are provided free of charge, but I’m sure it’s not free for the EHF to provide this service. What exactly is the business model here?

U?: We launched the platform with the aim of getting the competitions watched by more people in more markets. I think we’ve achieved this, and now we’re looking at how we can further improve the product to make it more and more attractive to handball fans. The “behind the scenes” video reports from the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne were one example and now we’re introducing our “Match of the Week” with full commentary in English.

JR: The matches, except for the occasional restrictions in countries where it’s being shown on live TV, are available all over the world. Does the EHF keep an eye on what countries are tuning in? Which countries have the most viewers? Are there a few countries that have been a surprise in terms of interest or lack thereof?

UG: In general interest in matches comes from those countries where we also get good television ratings and where handball is already hugely popular, countries such as Hungary, Poland, Germany and Romania count amongst the nations using our service most.

JR: What matches have had the most viewership? How many viewers total?

UG: We find that the top matches each season are hugely popular and of course the finals are watched by many, many people. Our on-demand service in particular has proven to be very popular.

JR: While I enjoy watching matches live I often find it impossible to do so with the time zone difference and family commitments. As such, I really enjoy the on-demand availability to watch when I want to. How do the numbers compare between live and on-demand viewership?

UG: This is exactly the reason we decided to include the VOD Service, we find that we have very good viewing figures for matches on-demand. We also have a large database of matches and clips available on-line, fans can still watch full matches from as far back as the 2007/2008 season.

JR: Alright, while I love ehfTV and I can’t complain about the price, I do have one big complaint as an on-demand viewer. For the most part when I select a match for on-demand viewing there is a non-descript picture from the match. I simply click on the picture and watch the match oblivious to the final outcome. But for the EHF Champions League final the last two years there’s been a picture of the celebrating team. This has been a crushing disappointment for me as I really don’t like to know who’s won the match before I watch it. Can I get a commitment that this won’t happen again for the 3rd year in a row?

UG: Well, this is quite difficult for us as the official website of the EHF, this is our biggest moment of the year and we want to celebrate this with our fans. We try to offer as many pictures and articles so that fans at home get a feeling for the event. Of course this is true for too, but we will see what we can do!

JR: OK. I’ve got one more quibble here. And again I feel a little sheepish about asking, because it’s not costing me a penny, but are there any plans to provide higher quality video?

UG: This would only be possible if we began charging for our service and we have always tried to keep the service free of charge for handball fans. We have to bear in mind too that not all of our viewers worldwide have the technology and high-speed internet to watch our service if we increase the stream rate.

JR: What about the possibility of a premium service? I know that I would immediately pull out my credit card to watch matches with a better picture. I think others would as well.

UG: Right now this isn’t planned but we’re open to ideas and may look at this again in the future if the demand is there.

JR: What about TV broadcasting deals with more countries around the world? Is the EHF actively working to get Champions League broadcast in non-traditional handball countries like the U.S., China, India, etc.?

UG: This is something we are working actively on. It is our aim to see the VELUX EHF Champions League seen in as many markets as possible but of course the time difference and the lack of knowledge of the game in certain markets makes this difficult for us. We would love to see players from China, USA or India playing in the EHF Champions League, this would make life much easier for us!

JR: I know that many Europeans often don’t fully comprehend just how minor a sport Handball is in some countries. These broadcasts have not only been a godsend to diehard fans, but they have also become a great education tool for promoting the sport. Anytime, I’ve needed to explain the sport to someone I’ve gone to the website. A picture says a thousand words, moving pictures say 10,000 words. I don’t know if it’s intended or not, but does the EHF realize what an invaluable service they are providing?

UG: Our aim through was to offer as many opportunities to watch top-class handball as possible. So far we have concentrated mainly on the EHF Champions League but we hope to be able to offer other competitions and content in the future.

JR: I’ve seen the weekly magazine show evolve over the past few years. I particularly like the feature interviews that are mixed in with the highlights. This would seem to be a marketable product for TV viewing. Any chance it might get air time on regular TV?

UG: We are delivering the magazine to all interested parties and a lot of our TV partners are showing this programme and those highlights. Eurosport aired the show in 43 European countries for example. In a lot of territories the interviews we provided have proved very popular and I am sure will continue to do so in the future. It is in our interest to strengthen the product and it is clear that we need to focus more on the stars of our game – the players.

JR: Is the “Match of the Week”, with English language commentary, intended to further broaden the appeal of the EHF Champions League?

UG: Of course. We are looking to promote one top match in each round of the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League, both through reports on our website and with the English commentary of each match. We want to increase our exposure in the English speaking world and in Tom O’Brannigain we have found a handball-mad professional for the job. People are still talking about his enthusiastic commentary from the EHF FINAL4 last season and I think he will bring a new excitement and level of interest to We’re all very much looking forward to the launch of this new feature.

EHF (20 Sep 10): "Match of the Week" launches this weekend: