“Optus severs cash ties with footy” was the headline in the Australian last week. The report confirmed that Optus had elected not to renew its multi-million dollar sponsorship and digital rights deal with Football Federation Australia (FFA) and its sponsorship of the Carlton Football Club.
The news comes after a number of sports failed to renew sponsorships with a telco, including:
Aside from the AFL, NRL and the ANZ Championship who count Telstra as a sponsor and digital rights partner, are we now seeing a change in strategy where the telcos are reluctant to pursue digital rights and sponsorship opportunities with Australian sports as there is no longer the value proposition there once was? Is investment in network reliability now more important than offering access to live and unmetered sport content on-the-go for consumers? It seems the telco grip on digital rights has been loosened by free-to-air and subscription TV.
Last week’s $590 million deal between Cricket Australia, the Nine Network and Ten Network appears to confirm this view. Aside from the free-to-air broadcast deal with Nine, Cricket Australia announced it is forming a joint partnership with Nine to develop its digital assets. Cricket Australia said this will be a integrated telecast and digital offering providing compelling, high-quality cricket content on CA’s website, cricket.com.au, and on PCs, smartphones and tablet devices. International games televised by Nine will be streamed live to smartphones, tablets and on PCs.
Nine Network CEO David Gyngell said at Cricket Australia’s announcement for its new broadcast deal that (watch the full press conference here: video):
“Digital rights is going to be television everywhere and that’s where the world is going…not being hived off to a telco or any other third parties…so we see a lot of value for Channel Nine in that.”
This new trend of “television everywhere” has seen both commercial networks and FOXTEL buy streaming rights (for mobile, tablet and desktop) to enable their broadcasts to be accessed by viewers across multiple platforms. A good example is Seven’s recent deal with Football Federation Australia where it bought broadcast television, streaming online and mobile device rights to the Foxtel A-League All Stars v Manchester United and Melbourne Victory v Liverpool matches in July.
Commenting on this deal, Tim Worner, the CEO of the Seven Network,said:
“Manchester United and Liverpool are two of the biggest brands in world sport and we are really pleased to be delivering their matches live to Australians everywhere and on every device. These are going to be huge events. They sold out straight away and we expect a big audience to be engaged before, during and after the games.
“Big, live sport – now available across not just our broadcast television platform but online and other tablet apps as well – underpins a lot of Seven’s strategy and these games certainly fit that bill. And, on a personal note, I am very happy to be working with Dave Gallop whose work I have previously admired from too far away.”
Even Telstra has allowed Fox Footy to stream all AFL matches through FOXTEL GO. Previously the only way to watch AFL live on mobile and tablet devices was through Telstra’s official AFL app with payment of an access fee. Almost all content that Fox Sports broadcast through its subscription channels are now available on mobile and tablet via the FOXTEL GO app. Initially the app was only offering the Fox Sports “sports play” channel as Fox Sports Australia did not hold mobile/tablet rights to the events it broadcast on its subscription channels.
The Ten Network and SBS for a number of years now have been taking a multi-platform strategy with the broadcast of sport. Ten streams its Formula 1 coverage online and on mobile. SBS streams most of its cycling coverage on its Cycling Central website (which is available online and on mobile).
On the other hand, the V8 Supercars have kept their digital rights in-house and have established the V8 SuperView brand, after they did not sell its digital rights (Telstra was the former rights holder). The new in-house service gives fans live and replay access to V8 Supercar events for as little as $39.95 a season. The pass gives access across desktop, mobile and tablet. Meanwhile, the National Basketball League sold its digital rights to digital broadcast specialist Perform Group. It offers subscription packages to access NBL.TV content, with an annual pass costing $79.
The convergence era is upon us and as LTE 4G networks grow around Australia, the appetite for watching LIVE sport on-the-go will increase. The question is whether the commercial free-to-air networks, FOXTEL and other content distributors will increase their spend to purchase digital rights at the expense of telcos such as Telstra and Optus.
If TV networks own streaming rights this is still advantageous for a telco, as customers will be accessing those streams on mobile devices via a telco’s data network. The positive for sporting bodies is the sport is likely to be viewed by a larger number of people as the stream provider is likely to be telco-neutral. As opposed to coverage only being available to subscribers of a telco, for example mobile streaming coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was exclusive to Optus subscribers.
The TV networks are likely to continue to buy digital rights to create that “television everywhere” offering. This will be increasingly important as digital convergence continues and terrestrial/subscription TV’s grip on mass audiences is weakened by the growth of multiple access points for the same content. It is important that these traditional broadcasters establish a presence with their content on all digital media platforms to ensure their brands survive and prosper in the new digital age.