Ricky Charlesworth: Streaming services put boot into traditional sports broadcasters

Sky Sports, pictured filming a game at Elland Road, Leeds, are seeing rights diminsih due to new online streaming services. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Sky Sports, pictured filming a game at Elland Road, Leeds, are seeing rights diminsih due to new online streaming services. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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If you were to switch on Channel 5 on Saturday evening expecting to see EFL highlights, you would have been left disappointed.

The programme has moved home and now resides on Quest, a relatively obscure free-to-air channel that has become the latest player in the ever-changing sports broadcasting market in the UK.

People want more choice nowadays and don’t necessarily want to commit to costly, fixed-term monthly subscriptions with cable and digital providers.

Ricky Charlesworth

Quest has committed to giving more coverage to the league in the form of greater exposure, before and after the games, on its social media channels and also an increased interaction with supporters of the 72 EFL clubs that it covers.

It is just one example of how broadcasters are diversifying to viewers’ needs when it comes to showing sport.

Subscriptions to pay-TV services such as Sky and Virgin Media have been slowly decreasing over the past few years.

People want more choice nowadays and do not necessarily want to commit to costly, fixed-term monthly subscriptions with cable and digital providers.

Services such as Netlfix and Amazon, which can be viewed on mobile screens, computers and tablets, offer flexible subscriptions that can be cancelled with as little as a month’s notice offering flexibility.

This perhaps is a reflection of how society’s viewing habits have changed.

The proliferation of smartphones and tablets that are able to take advantage of quicker broadband speeds is evident, up and down the country.

This enables people to watch content on devices other than the traditional television set and to this end it was perhaps no surprise when one of the biggest online players, Amazon, were successful in bidding for the rights to show Premier League football earlier this summer.

From the 2019/20 season, Amazon will begin streaming 20 live matches across two match days over the festive period.

It will mean subscribers to Amazon can choose which of the 10 games they want to watch live on that particular match day – a first in sports broadcasting.

It is a move which is designed to entice people in Britain to subscribe to their burgeoning on-demand service, as well as trying win a slice of the lucrative American viewing market.

Some may be surprised at the company’s move into football but they previously showed their hand when they snapped up rights to broadcast the US Open tennis.

Their move to obtain Premier League football is still a comparatively small portion of games compared to those of rivals Sky and BT.

Amazon’s 20-game bundle is dwarfed by Sky’s 128-game package, while BT will show 52 matches.

But Amazon’s arrival on the scene could be the thin end of the wedge.

Dr Rob Wilson, a sport finance specialist at Sheffield Hallam University, believes that Amazon’s foray into the Premier League market is likely to be a sign of things to come and could pave the way for other tech giants to bid for live rights in the future.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “The reason why Amazon has got involved in the Premier League is to test the market capability to see whether subscriber numbers are potentially going to be there or not.

“Also they need to see whether they can stream HD quality matches to a good standard.

“If they can, I think we will see the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter going for the TV rights when they go up for sale in a few years.

“I also expect to see the packages getting broken up in the future.

“If you want to watch one particular team, for example Leeds United, you could buy a subscription to watch all their games or individually.

“The younger demographic could pay £5 or £6 to watch that certain Leeds game and I think that’s where it will ultimately 
go.”

Another online broadcaster has also stepped up its pursuit of live rights this summer.

Eleven Sports are arguably the biggest arrival in the sports broadcasting shake-up of recent times.

The company, founded by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani, has made a bold introduction to the UK market after nabbing the live rights to La Liga – previously a long-standing jewel in the crown for Sky Sports – and Serie A for the forthcoming season.

Their service is available for a monthly fee of £5.99 allowing access to their website and apps, whilst a season-long pass will set you back £50 – which is small change compared to the average monthly cost of subscribing to Sky Sports.

Their launch in the UK coincided with them streaming the US PGA golf championship for free as an enticement for people to sign up to their 
service.

Dr Wilson says that if the forays by Amazon and Eleven Sports are a success, streaming of live matches will soon become the norm.

He says that they face the challenge of putting on a production as good as, if not better than, Sky or BT.

But if they do, he believes that clubs will be presented with a quandary on how to entice supporters through the turnstiles.

He added: “In the future it could be a case of 20 games being shown live and you can then have the choice of paying four or five pounds to watch one from your own home.

“When we watch live sport we are used to lots of angles, replays and commentary and that costs a lot of money to put on.

“Whether the likes of Amazon will be able to do that for every single match that they show live remains to be seen.

“The question for the clubs is how do they protect their live audiences and match-day receipts?

“What are they going to be able to offer to compete with that?”