A whole new ballgame 

12 October 2009 tbs.pm/1106

Digital Spy: Online England game attracts 500,000

Last Saturday, something truly momentous happened in the world of television that was arguably on a par with the launch of Sky Digital, yet this particular event was actually something that was missing from all of the digital satellite, cable or terrestrial channels.

Indeed it was the conspicuous absence of an important football match – namely England’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine – that was the groundbreaking aspect of this particular event, and the very fact that a live football match was only available to watch online as a pay-per-view streaming broadcast is a major first in itself.

Ironically it was the prior demise of a traditional broadcaster (Setanta Sports) that made this possible, since Kentaro ended up with the rights to the live broadcast and they bravely decided to spurn several lucrative offers from other broadcasters in favour of making this particular match the first ever major online live pay-per-view sporting event.

And it seems that this bravery has paid off for Kentaro at least on this occasion, with a claimed 500,000 subscribers for the match; not as many compared to what the audience would have been if it was shown on Sky Sports 1 (for example), but still pretty impressive given the pioneering nature of this experiment.

Apparently 9 out of 10 viewers rated the picture quality “satisfactory or better” according to those surveyed, which in turn increases the likelihood of online-only, live pay-per-view matches being more commonplace in the future, rights issues notwithstanding. (Indeed, online viewing is technically speaking easier for rights management.)

Plus the BBC also paid Kentaro money so that they could show highlights of the match afterwards, which of course means even more money in the bank for Kentaro – it’s not hard to imagine what the long-term implications are for football and other sports as a consequence.

Of course BSkyB still has a few advantages for its pay-TV package, even disregarding recently-signed contracts that gives Sky exclusive broadcast rights for most football games until 2013, namely guaranteed bandwidth via satellite for high definition (and potentially 3D) broadcasting as well as bundling subscription deals for hardcore sports fans.

But since BSkyB built its empire primarily on sporting events – and Premiership football being the single most important driver for subscriptions by a big margin – it’s not hard to see that any potential threat to this income stream (however small) is very likely to have massive future financial implications for the broadcaster.

By way of example, Setanta had approximately 1.5m subscribers paying up to £12.99 a month for a selection of games, but it’s not hard to see that clubs both large and small stand to make much more money by persuading fans to pay similar sums of money direct to them for viewing games online as opposed to paying for a traditional pay-TV subscription.

Of course BSkyB had seen this possibility coming for a long time, hence all the recent attempts at diversification such as yesterday’s announcement of a subscription music service; the timing of that announcement perhaps being less than coincidental, especially in order to assuage any concerns of shareholders.

However Sky perhaps didn’t bank on such a major UK sporting event being shown exclusively online quite so soon, which in turn has proved the viability of (at least major) future sporting events being shown in this manner, although of course you have the demise of Setanta to thank for that.

Which in turn should make the next round of broadcast rights negotiations between BSkyB and the Premier League much more interesting than usual.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Friday 19 April 2024