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Interview: Mycujoo's Raphael Morgulis on Growing the Game in Asia

As the 2017 K League season drew to a close with the Promotion/Relegation Playoff between Sangju Sangmu and Busan I'Park, international fans were treated with an opportunity rarely afforded to them: a chance to watch the game. Mycujoo, a relatively new streaming service, filled in the much maligned gap in coverage and offered both legs of the playoff in HD for free to fans anywhere in the world. To follow up on those playoffs, and to see how Mycujoo may factor into future K League and Asian football coverage I spoke with their Head of Communications, Raphael Morgulis.

In a relatively short amount of time, you've managed to spread extremely far. Mycujoo currently has 461 partners from 67 countries spanning five continents.  What was the original concept behind the site and how did all this get started?

First, if we’re going to start with the name, there’s a small explanation with this particular name. If you go back to ancient China, like 1,000 years ago, they were playing a game called Cuju, which is the first recognised ancestor to football, so hence the mycujoo name.

The idea of the company started in 2009 because the founder, Pedro Presa, is a fan of Boavista and in 2009 they were relegated to the third division in Portugal when he was living abroad in Switzerland. And so he could not watch Boavista on TV anymore. At some point the question was “alright, we’re living in a more and more technological world, how is it still possible that we can’t see what we would prefer to follow?” Because there are certain people in the football world that aren’t necessarily convinced that the five or six elite competitions that you can see everywhere are the only thing to watch. And so the idea came from this. And then in 2014, the company was founded and the original idea was to go to the long tail of football to provide visibility to anyone.

The core of the model has been to develop a technology for streaming that is very powerful from a features perspective, but do it at a very accessible entry cost. For example, if you are an amateur club and you don’t need anything else other than access to the streaming capacity that we provide, then you don’t pay anything. The first layer of service, which is access to your own TV Channel, it’s entirely free. You only have to buy the equipment, with the service having been built for very simple equipment. We’re not talking about broadcasting with 32 cameras. We’re talking about broadcasting from a phone linked to a laptop or streaming device and an internet connection. And that’s really all you need to do to get onto mycujoo and start broadcasting your games.

And so the business started by contacting certain clubs in Switzerland, because the company was based in Switzerland, and the first one that came on board was the Zurich FC women’s football section. From there, the company has expanded and started contacting a lot of people in the world of football. And the idea picked up, obviously. We stream around 120 games per week on average, and it’s really growing and we’re seeing there’s a lot of interest. The first intention was maybe to go for the lower tiers, amateur, niche type football. But we’re seeing that niche can mean very different things in the world of football and even at the higher levels, there are some niche aspects that can be explored. For example, with K League, it’s not exactly niche, long tail type content, but there can be an interest for K League to be on mycujoo to reach new, untapped audiences.

What brought the decision to cover K League playoffs about?

It came from an interest in how mycujoo can help a league reach new audiences. For any football content property, you might sell the rights on TV in a particular territory, and you might sell some abroad. Let’s say you’re in Indonesia and you have sold in England. Here you might still go to mycujoo on the digital side and show your content wherever you haven’t sold, and explore new territories. So we can geoblock anything in Indonesia and England where it’s been sold, and the rest of the world can still access it. And that is the point. It’s to make sure the access and the visibility of the content and the games is at the maximum possible.

What’s the appetite like for K League overseas?

It’s difficult for us to say with just two games. Whenever we have new content, we work to know as much as we can in terms of the audiences to which it should be promoted. We know from doing other types of leagues where we see very clearly where there’s a community in a particular country and that might work. But this means a lot of research to see what effort can be done to grow the awareness about the content being available.

I noticed you have a partnership with the AFC, so is K League part of a concentrated effort to expand in Asia?

It’s all part of it. Of course the partnership with AFC has given us a great boost to work in the Asian region. Also, what we’re seeing is that there is a potential for success for local football. In our opinion, at the end of the day the people that will follow football are keen on having something close to them. I will always support my hometown team. I haven’t lived in France for 10 years now, but I will never follow any other more than my team.

We feel that's very true almost everywhere. Of course people will watch the absolute elite because that’s where the higher level is, but in terms of being committed and engaged to a certain club and following it very very closely, there is a possibility for the local game to take a space here. And that’s what we’re helping to develop here in Asia. The potential is massive.

As you mentioned, I noticed the K League stream was geoblocked locally due to their Korean TV deals. But working with lower divisions, like the 4th division US clubs you have deals with, can folks that are going to those games locally watch on Mycujoo as well?

Yes, if the rights haven’t been sold, then we have no limitation in showing it anywhere. In football there’s an old fear that if you’re going to be broadcasted somewhere, before it was the TV and now it’s becoming the internet, that no one’s going to be in the stadium anymore. But that has been proven wrong.

For me, I think it might actually be the opposite. Would you agree that having more visibility would help bring more people to the stadium?

Yes, possibly. If there’s more awareness about the quality, but also what’s interesting about those leagues. I think if you’re growing the awareness and the specificities of each competition, you’re only growing the interest.

When it comes to increasing that interest outside of the games themselves, does Mycujoo have plans to offer a space for analysis channels or anything along those lines?

What’s important for us is to make sure the content we get is visible. The visibility can be achieved in multiple ways. We are developing our capacity to reach out to different audiences ourselves. And our platform is constantly evolving in this direction. It might involve something beyond just the live and on-demand content. We’re going to work on our editorial content to promote the matches and provide more context about the competitions. And at some point, possibly, we could rely on an external willingness to share and to be part of the community.

We have already seen there are fans that are keen to work with images, or do some analysis. And we would welcome that. In the end, we’re looking at it in terms of what the person who’s going to follow this type of football expects. If it’s me, I expect the content to be treated with the most care and attention as possible. I would want to see analysis, I would want to see some amazing statistics, insights, etc. I would want to see behind the scenes. So, yes, this is content we want to offer. If someone is willing to contribute, and has the talent and capacity to provide us with this kind of coverage, we would welcome it.

Is English commentary something you would consider in the future?

For now, most of our content has no commentary. We are focusing on delivering the best live and on-demand streaming experience possible. Commentary and other features are going to grow organically with the needs. It’s not out of the question that we would allow fans or people that are covering [the league] to do it if they have the talent and capacity. Commentary brings a lot to a football game, especially for those that are willing to watch the full 90 minutes.

Can we expect to see more K League in 2018?

We don’t know yet, we cannot say anything for now. We are hoping to have them, because it’s great for us. K League would be great content. We are relatively young. Our first couple of years of existence has been really dedicated to develop the live streaming technology  and the portfolio. And now that we’ve reached a good size, it’s time for us to develop our own visibility and for people to know what we’re about and what we can actually provide.

How do you see this visibility helping out in Asia?

Some platforms are selling advertisement around the content and as a club you’re not getting anything from it. They get the numbers, you get exposure, and that’s it. We actually provide a revenue sharing model. So if you’re coming onto our platform, you have the possibility to have sponsorship spots on the video player, etc. There is a sales fee for the party that got the deal done - it can be the club, or us or even a third party, and then a 50% split between us and the club. So the club will get a share of any revenue that’s generated from this exposure and benefit from it.

It’s in our own interest that everyone benefits from us. Because we need the bigger numbers. We can’t just function by having four or five big deals. Our model works by collectivizing everything. Acting as a central platform and salesforce for all these clubs that have slightly lower value, we will function and be profitable if we can gather all these smaller values. And of course, for a smaller club, if you have a $5,000 deal, it can be relatively sizable. By collectivizing we make it worthwhile financially for all involved.

Looking at it from the aspect of working with smaller clubs, is there a ceiling that you would want to hit? Or would you eventually like to get to even bigger leagues and clubs?

We will see how the market will evolve. It’s difficult to predict at the moment with the transformation going on with digital rights becoming more and more prevalent. For us, our DNA is not necessarily to be in really big content, but what can we predict? It’s impossible to say. What we can say for now is our model and our focus is more on the niche and underexposed content.

One of the really basic intentions behind mycujoo is to say that it’s not only the 0.02% that deserve to be highlighted. Which is what happens now. You have those five or six leagues which are shown absolutely everywhere. Of course, the level? No question. It’sthe elite, it deserves to be on the pedestal. But that doesn’t mean that the rest is not valuable as well. Of course a lot of people think it’s a bit crazy to think lower divisions are going to be followed. We think fans are going to be interested. I know that if my club was relegated to the third division, I would continue to follow them there, regardless of the level.

Mycujoo will be streaming the Philippines Football League Final Series between Ceres Negros FC and Global Cebu FC this weekend. The winner will advance to play Myanmar's Shan United for a chance to advance in the AFC Champions League Preliminary Round Playoffs.

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