“Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as
effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing
bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm
on some idle Tuesday.”
– Baz Luhrmann (the sunscreen song)
Approximately 4pm one idle Tuesday:
Well, well, well, Sky Television have “lost” the rights to broadcast the English Premier League in New Zealand. But what do they mean by lost? Did the rights accidentally slip between the sofa cushions where all the other unimportant things like loose change, car keys and chocolate wrappers end up? Sort of, yes.
Sky’s press release was as delicious as it was patronising:
“We are extremely disappointed to have missed out and seek to assure our football loving subscribers that this does not signal a change in our wishes to secure the best football matches that we can for you.”
Translation: They are extremely disappointed about the short term effect this may have on their share price and they will continue to show a bit of A-League as long as it doesn’t clash with the Nascar racing or the darts.
It appears the rights were snatched from the pay television monopoly’s unsuspecting grasp by an internet start-up for a price that on the surface at least looks to be something in the ball park of two fifths of f*** all. If the Herald’s figures are to be believed, and 4,000 subscribers really is the breakeven point for Coliseum, and you generously assume an average subscription is $200, this suggests, including overheads, Coliseum’s total cost of operating for a season is $800,000 including the cost of the rights. We know Sky was the third highest bidder, so that gives you some indication of the veracity of their “wishes to secure the best football matches that we can for you”. For the purposes of comparison, Super Rugby broadcasting rights, admittedly worldwide but let’s face it New Zealand and South Africa are the only countries where anyone really watches the sport, were worth NZD$46 million per year to Rupert Murdoch in 2009.
Am I enjoying this? You bet. Football hasn’t been talked about in New Zealand this much since the 2010 World Cup and fans now get to enjoy the sweet taste of revenge on a television network that has been blatantly taking us for granted for decades.
I have blogged before about the time I was phoned by a Sky employee doing a telephone survey on the viewing habits of their Kiwi audience. Asked to rate on a scale of one to five how much I enjoy watching rugby, I answered frankly, “one”, only for the lady to then immediately inform me that I was not in Sky’s target demographic. She hung up on me before I could splutter my astonishment. That sums up the real value Sky places on their football loving subscribers. The only reason I didn’t cancel my subscription after that fateful call, despite feeling quite insulted, is because I wasn’t about to cut my nose off to spite my face. There was no other place to turn for a football fix and Sky have always understood that. They had us over a barrel. They know football fans and knew they could rest easy, safe in the knowledge we would watch our teams at any cost. We were a guaranteed revenue stream and they used this knowledge incredibly arrogantly. Their complacency has backfired on them now though, because now the gravy train has come to a very abrupt halt.
Technology has been evolving fast and this shift to the internet has been coming for quite some time. I thought it was still a ways off, so too it seems did Sky, but now we are witnessing the start of a revolution. Like any revolution, there will be a few casualties along the way and some people will get worked up over the unknown. But what will inevitably happen after a revolution is things calm down and when we look back, we wonder what all the fuss was about.
The last time this occurred in sports broadcasting was when Sky came along in the first place. How quickly we forget how before that we were used to making do with a one hour highlights package on a Sunday if we were lucky (and there was no cricket on). Sky was this evil unknown who was going to make us pay for sports that were previously free and we saw free to air sport almost like a human right. To give Sky their due, once we got used to the idea of user pays, we have enjoyed the sports we love to an extent we never dreamed possible before. So much so that now that the apple cart has been upset once again, Sky’s status quo that once seemed so scary is now seen as a miserly minimum we feel a need to cling onto like a security blanket with shades of Stockholm Syndrome. But we can have so much more.
Pay TV packages up channels to suit the corporations, not us. They prefer the certainty of a steady revenue stream, over people paying to view channels only when we want them. As more competition comes along in the form of new providers like Coliseum, they will hopefully try to undercut each other, not only on price, but also by offering more flexibility. Capitalism has to be good for something. It’s only taken 200 odd years to find out what…
It’s obvious that technology has moved on beyond linear programming where everything is on a schedule and you have to watch it at the timeslot provided. The logical next step is to be able to pay for all the television you want and not the rubbish you don’t want. For example, instead of paying Sky $1200 a year like I do now, which includes the Kardashians, Fox News and Maggie’s Garden Show, why can’t I just get all the football they’ve got and a few other shows I watch like Top Gear and various trashy crap on the Living Channel all for less than half what I pay now? Then if another outfit has another football league I want like La Liga and another still has Copa Libertadores, I can afford to subscribe to both and I’m still winning.
As Sky’s own advertisements say, “there has been a shift in power”, and traditional broadcasters need to be continually adapting or face certain doom. For my part, I’ve worked my way through this whole article in a very restrained manner, taking great care to avoid its almost inevitable devolution into yet another one of my Serie A rants that nobody cares about. But now I must finish with this one message to our new digital overlords:
GIMME MY SERIE A, COLISEUM! DON’T YOU HOLD OUT ON ME OR I WILL BE SERIOUSLY UNAMUSED!!! And welcome to the world of ungrateful football lovers. Good luck. You’ll need it.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.