Foxing? Or the way of the future.

The media landscape in Australia is about to change. Sports broadcasting rights and the way we consume this sort of media are all undergoing a transition period. Optus is one of the first to shake up the marketplace, with Telstra and possibly streaming services Netflix and the like possibly not far behind. By the time the Premier League deal is up in three years, expect the media landscape in Australia to look very different. But for the moment, sports fans are in for some testing times.

Announced at the end of last year, Optus now have exclusive rights to all Premier League games shown in Australia for the next three years.

Optus have very generously offered up one game a week to SBS to ensure those who are not with Optus can see something. You’ll get to see your team on SBS at least once during the season.

Subscription service Foxtel meanwhile did not see this coming. They were clearly blind sided by Optus. Not in a million years would they have considered giving up the Premier League rights without a fight given that is the reason so many people have the subscription service in the first place.

Media analysts are positive in their thoughts that telecommunications companies will play a big role in sport media negotiations in the coming years. It is expected that all the major codes could have deals with the major telcos as well being able to provide and control their own content . We are already seeing this with the NBA and to a lesser extent with the AFL app powered by Telstra.

The current Premier League situation doesn’t yet feel like the the future though. This is where these companies are failing to understand what Australian consumers want. At the moment this feels like 1999. Those were the days were live sport was at a minimum and it was a regular thing to watch games on delay. Fast forward to 2016 and fans are in for more of the same.

If you support Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea or Manchester City, you’ll be able to see your team play on Foxtel a few hours after kickoff. Hours?! In today’s world, there is no way you can avoid finding out the scores or match highlights for ten minutes let alone multiple hours.

If you are a supporter of any other team, you’ll get to see your team at least once a year on SBS and twice a year on Foxtel when they play the aforementioned big six clubs, albeit it on delay.

As a former owner – yes former – of a Optus TV Fetch box, which is one of only a few ways you can watch the Premier League, I can give you first hand accounts of the multiple boxes that have been sent back to Optus. They simply didn’t work, overheated or malfunctioned in some way. If you are thinking of buying one of these, you’d still be better off with the delay on Foxtel. Not to mention the situation (and yes it will arise) where one Saturday night, Optus will not be able to cope with demand and will go offline.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Maybe not.

The sporting media landscape and TV rights are a business. No one is denying that. But Foxtel seemed to make it a business, while at the same time put the needs of the fans first. Every game. Live. Ad break free. Every week. But no more.

If this indeed is the future of sporting rights negotiations and with the Federal Government considering reducing the sports on the anti-siphoning list, there has to be some ground rules. As fans, we deserve better, particularly if we have to pay for it.

  1. No lock in contracts. If I am with Optus, but then Telstra get AFL rights, I want to be able to move or have both subscriptions at once without paying huge termination fees.
  2. Multiple device watching without extra costs. If I’m out, I want mobile access. If I am studying, I want it on the laptop or if I’m relaxing I want it on the television. All at the same price.
  3. Make it affordable. Foxtel offers me for not much more than $50 a year an array of sports. $15 a month with Optus gets me one sport and the price rises depending on how many devices I want to watch it on or what extra content I want.
  4. The best analysis in the game with extra programs and content. Fox Footy does this well with the AFL.
  5. No ads during play. Accustomed to that now. No going back

Attract the viewers, for there are a lot of us, then watch as advertisers and such follow suit knowing that they have this audience to target. That is how this must be paid for. Not solely from viewer’s wallets.

Sports fans, this is the new era. The next AFL and NRL rights deal will include a telecommunications company in the deal, most probably with the ability to be able to show exclusive games. Telstra has this sewn up with the new national netball competition from 2017 where two games will be available on a Telstra device and no where else.

Given this is the early stages, the telcos will try to make the most of high pricing while they can. It isn’t sustainable and people won’t purchase it if it turns out to be rubbish. This is where was as fans must take a stand.

Optus already has revoked aspects for 2016 offering all existing Optus customers free access to the Premier League for the first year. They are threatening a $15 a fee for every customer next season, but if enough backlash occurs this year, don’t expect that to be a thing. Or so I think. The pricing is that damn confusing, some people will just give it a wide birth entirely, which will have the same negative effect for Optus in the long run.

These decisions must be made by people who know Australian sport and know what Aussies want and how we like consume it. Australia isn’t a country against change, but we are a country that is against not having easy, understandable access to sport. Get these decisions wrong and these companies will suffer. Optus quite possibly the first of the victims given how they’ve initially treated fans.

Get it right and you could be sitting on a gold mine. After all, watching sport is a right, not a privilege and in Australia it needs to be accessible. The sport, the fans and the players will all suffer if this transition isn’t done correctly and nobody wants that.


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