Is it time for a standalone Premier League Internet offering?


September 3, 2012

Please note: When I refer to watching live Premier League matches over the Internet in this article, this relates to watching legitimate feeds through authorised Premier League broadcasters and not pirate websites that use legitimate feeds and charge Internet users for the privilege. 

Context

I was away in France wanting to watch live Premier League (PL) football. Instead of venturing down to the local Irish pub, I tried to access the legitimate Canal+ channel, which I believe is a pay-TV channel, to watch the game. It appeared very difficult/impossible to view the match without buying a residential subscription. My next thought was whether I could pay a one-off price to view the game over the Internet on my iPad.

In the UK, as a Sky satellite subscriber, I can access SkyGo (an Internet platform), to view Sky Sports. SkyGo is an added benefit for Sky subscribers. Sky Sports has (along with ESPN for the 2012-13 season) the rights show live PL matches in the UK.  It appears it is possible to purchase SkyGo, to watch live PL football, as a standalone Internet product (see http://www.sky.com/helpcentre/tv/sky-go/account-and-billing/monthly-ticket-and-payments/what-is-sky-go-monthly-ticket/).

Whilst I was in France, I started thinking why I needed to buy a residential monthly subscription when all I wished to view was this one-off game?

The PL Tender

The PL tender to EU broadcasters outlines how broadcasters can distribute live and delayed PL matches across a variety of platforms including mobile devices and the Internet. The question many may start asking is whether the PL is reducing consumer choice by not making available a standalone live Internet offering that each authorised broadcaster can market to its own customers. My belief is that if such a possibility existed, consumers would be attracted to the Internet offering because:

  1. there would be little need for a decoder and decoder card which is often linked to other profitable premium channels that the broadcaster may bundle together (i.e. lower entry costs for consumers); and
  2. it opens up tricky questions about the ability of those broadcasters to compete with other authorised EU broadcasters across the EU to sell live Internet PL matches outside of their allocated jurisdiction (i.e. driving down prices of matches through competition).

Such a conclusion suggests that the PL have (logically) marketed their available rights in such a way to maximise appeal to broadcasters to extract maximum revenues. What is less clear is whether the PL will change such an approach in the coming years to provide consumers with greater options and choice. The play-off is that the value of platform rights may suffer if demand for standalone live Internet rights starts taking-off.

Conclusion

My choice would have been to pay to watch the game on my iPad. Many other consumers may have searched the Internet to find a (probably illegal pirate) site offering the game and paid them a fee to watch it.

Some will argue that:

  1. as long as the PL does not to offer a standalone live Internet product either through some of its authorised PL broadcasters (i.e. subscribe to SkyGo only) or reserving the rights themselves to sell direct to customers, they will continue to have a problem with illegal streams; and
  2. by competing on the merits with a quality product, the fight against illegal streams may become more winnable.

Whilst it is unlikely when I go to France next that I will be able to legitimately watch an authorised PL broadcaster’s match streamed on my iPad, it may not be that those days are too far away.