Insight News Richard CraillRichard Craill November 9, 2020 (Comments off) (14)

COMMENT: READY FOR THE STREAMING SWITCH?

WELL, if you aren’t you had better get your internet-connected Smart TV fired up and increase your NBN package – because the streaming world is coming and it’s coming quicker than you might think.

WORDS: Richard Craill

CHANNEL NINE’S announcement today that it had secured the media rights to Rugby Union in Australia for the next twelve months was not a surprise.  

However, bundled within the broader announcement was news that the network would add a sports element to their video-on-demand subscription service, Stan – and that a majority of their Rugby Content would appear there, behind a paywall and accessible only via an internet connected device.

It’s another move by another network to secure the media rights of a premium sport and use free-to-air coverage on their main network to add subscribers to their paid subscription service.

Its smart; in a nutshell, you’ll be able to watch the Wallabies lose to New Zealand again on Channel 9, but to watch the bulk of the Super Rugby competition (and I’d bet the next World Cup, should they retain the rights) you’ll have to pay for Stan.

Initially, streaming sport was a value-add for subscribers (i.e. Foxtel) or a way to view on-the-go (7plus or 10Play, for example) and nothing more, but very quickly its becoming much more.

The trickle of content continues to have more and more volume fed into it and it is going to become a flood that ultimately sweeps away the traditional ways of watching your favourite sport.

Motorsport is at the forefront of this torrent: witness the recent TV announcements made by both Supercars and ARG / Shannons Nationals when it comes to their new TV deals.

Supercars’ new deal with Channel 7 wasn’t backwards in coming forwards that streaming would be a big part of the way the sport is consumed on free-to-air moving forward. No details have been pinned down yet, but it’s entirely likely that you’ll be able to access more Supercars, sooner on 7plus than you will on the broadcast network.

Likewise, while the ARG / Shannons deal highlighted the several hours of live TV on 7mate for each round, in reality it’s the wall-to-wall live coverage of every race that will be available on 7plus that is really the key component.

The 7 deal differs slightly from the Nine / Rugby tie-up because unlike Stan, 7plus is a free service that relies on the traditional advertising methods, rather than a paywall, to fund itself.

But who’s to say in the future that they won’t offer a premium service, perhaps offering ad-free coverage or other bonus features at a cost?

Which brings us to Kayo, which thanks to the power of Foxtel’s buying power and strength in the media rights market has quickly become the go-to platform for the digital consumption of sport in Australia.

With more than 600,000 subscribers now, Kayo is setting in-house records every month. In October, more than 75,000 streamed the Bathurst 1000 via the application and that is a number that will only grow as Australia cuts the cable and embraces a streaming future.

So all of this begs the question: Are you ready? Have you already made the digital switch, or are you biding your time to see how it will play out?

Certainly it seems inevitable.

Right now you don’t even need a TV antenna to watch free-to-air; the various apps on offer from the ABC, 7, 9, 10 and SBS allow you to watch or stream TV live, either from a Smart TV or from your phone, laptop or tablet.

Even Foxtel, the bastion of Australian Subscription TV, has begun to evolve and not just with Kayo. Their new offering, Binge, offers much of the traditional Foxtel channels via an application, rather than a much more expensive satellite connection or cable hardline.

It’s hard to predict the future but that a sport like Rugby – which has been a bastion of Foxtel for more than two decades – has now embraced (or, more likely, been forced to embrace due to a lack of alternatives) the switch to streaming points the way of the future.

I predict that by 2027, when the next lot of Supercars broadcast rights come into effect, the landscape will be very different and the current arrangement of Foxtel/Channel 7, with alternative or bonus viewing options via Kayo / 7plus, may indeed be marketed the other way around with the emphasis on the digital product.

Or, a major digital player outside the traditional broadcast sphere will make a play for the rights: YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter or even Twitch. They’re already in the game and as critical mass slowly builds in the favour of streaming audiences, so too will their willingness to spend more money to obtain the valuable media rights that bring subscribers flocking.

I think the current balance of broadcast-versus-digital we enjoy in Australian sports broadcasting is pretty good.

But there’s no doubt that – with motorsport firmly at the front of the field – the landscape is changing to the latter and doing so quickly. Are you ready?  

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