UK: My Top Five Premier League Broadcasting Developments

Last Updated: 4 September 2013
Article by Daniel Geey

As the new PL 13-14 season kicks off, never before has there been so many fascinating Premier League (PL) broadcasting issues. Many of the most eye catching commercial developments have resulted from the latest PL global tender for live PL rights.

Football Broadcasting website

What is especially noteworthy is the increased popularity in the UK internet and mobile packages that will be behind a pay wall for the very first time. This is all occurring at a time of continuing internet piracy and ongoing pub decoder card fall out. Here are my top five PL broadcasting developments to look out for in the coming year.

1. The Big Bucks: Sky and BT

Sky and BT won the latest domestic live PL broadcasting tender, providing the PL with a record £3bn+ in revenue. It has been reported that such a figure is a 71% increase on the previous deal with Sky and ESPN.

The average overall price per match paid by the broadcasters has risen from £4.7m to £6.6m. Sky secured five of the seven packages on offer (116 matches per season from the 2013-14 season for three seasons) after paying £2.3bn. BT won two packages worth 38 games per season for three years from the 2013-14 season, after bidding £738m.

The fall out has resulted in a BT complaint ( which was ultimately rejected by Ofcom) about Sky's refusal to advertise BT Sport on Sky's sports channels. Sky likened it to allowing Tesco to advertise in Sainsbury's. The war of words didn't stop there. BT bosses accused Sky of being like a "Rottweiler running away from a newborn puppy". Sky obviously felt obliged to keep up with the animal metaphors accusing its competitor of being a "£22bn gorilla in puppy's clothing". Ofcom will however investigate Sky over its refusal to supply BT with Sky Sports on the YouView platform.

The most interesting side effect has been the spill over into the broadband market with BT offering free BT Sport if consumers subscribe for a year to their broadband offering. Sky has hit back with discounted offerings to new and existing customers. BT's latest results show that they have 500,000 BT Sport subscribers with the vast majority existing broadband customers. This is in contrast to Sky's total subscription customer base reaching 10.4m and pre-tax profits of £1.26bn. With Sky's 4.9m and BT's 6.8m broadband customers, the goalposts have been moved to the complementary broadband market.

2. Mobile Rights: No such thing as a free lunch

For the previous PL rights cycle, ESPN held the PL mobile highlights rights and Yahoo the internet highlights rights. This time around News International through their two UK papers including The Times publication will provide premium content to their UK subscribers through their pay wall after successfully bidding £20m+. The deal will allow the online papers to show up to up to eight 30 second clips of key moments during live matches via mobile devices – except for games played on Saturday at 3pm, which will be allowed to be shown from 5.15pm that day. It remains to be seen whether fans will subscribe to this value added service for £4 per week1.

3. ISP PL case: Piracy (minus the boats)

A fascinating decision2 was published on the 16 July in relation to the PL requiring the six major retail internet service providers ("ISPs") in the United Kingdom (Sky, BT, EE, TalkTalk, Telefonica and Virgin) to take measures to block or at least impede access by their customers to a website called FirstRow Sports ("FirstRow") who provided access to illegally streamed live PL matches on their website. The outcome was that the ISP's (who did not oppose the application) blocked access to the website. Interestingly, FirstRow made no representations and the PL are presumably still not sure who are the ultimate owners of the site. What is certain is that the PL is taking active steps to crack down on free riding websites.

4. Murphy's Law

By way of quick reminder. Karen Murphy effectively lost her battle to show PL matches using foreign decoder cards because she required the consent of the PL to broadcast the matches otherwise she would be in breach of copyright. Cases are currently going on in the UK Patents Courts as a means, among other things, to establish the level of damages for the relevant rights holders.

This is also the first season for non-UK EU broadcasters who, as a result of the seminal Murphy and QC Leisure cases, will only be able to broadcast one Saturday 3pm game per weekend. Previously, the vast majority of Saturday 3pm games were available for viewing across Europe. The PL has subsequently added new tender stipulations to restrict the popularity of EU decoder cards being imported into the UK. Some commentators believed that the fewer games on offer coupled with the broadcast and commentary only being available in the local language would depress the value for the EU live rights. Although individual rights amounts appear not to be comprehensively publicly available, it believed such restrictions have done little to quell the demand and subsequent rights fee increases.

5. For one evening only: Live PL match broadcast free

Lastly and most intriguingly came the recent news that Sky Sports 1 will replace the regular programming on Sky 2 and on Freeview and YouView services it will take over Pick TV on 17 August. This is the first top flight game since 1992 that has been available to access without a subscription on Sky. The viewing rates for the game (Manchester United and Swansea) will be of real interest.

Footnotes

1. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/article3794949.ece

2. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2058.html

www.danielgeey.com
www.twitter.com/FootballLaw

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