Ohh, they have football on computers now
Who knew broadcasting rights to a bunch of football* games being played on the other side of the world could be such a contentious issue?! News broke this week that Sky TV had lost the rights to broadcast football games from the EPL - the English Premier League - to an anonymous bidder, which resulted in a share price drop for the company and a round of cheers from all those "they're a dirty monopoly" people.
It has since emerged that the rights have been bought by an outfit named Coliseum Sports Media, which will offer every game live through an on-demand service at PremierLeaguePass.com. Thanks to the power of The Internet, you can pay $150 per season to watch as much EPL football as you like: all 380-something games will be streamed live, and around 250 games will be available to watch at your leisure.
TVNZ have also got in on the act: they'll run a highlights show on Monday nights, and air a game on the weekend, probably around lunchtime. Can we dig out the old Match of the Day theme song, too?
Many commentators have been talking about what a big deal this is for Sky TV. Headlines like "TV sports market in NZ set to change forever" and "Online content the future" have been making big proclamations about the demise of Sky TV, and many have been calling this the beginning of the end for Sky TV's stranglehold on pay content.
Similarly, the move has been applauded by EPL fans, who have been drip-fed games by Sky TV for years; as I understand it, Sky only showed a handful of games each week. PremierLeaguePass.com will be a big improvement over that.
But what of the casual fan who enjoys the occasional game during the week? Or the hardcore football fan who wants to watch more than just the EPL? Is this really a good solution for them? I would argue that it is not.
I'm not a big football fan, but I do enjoy the odd EPL game. I also enjoy the odd Champions League game on ESPN. I also like watching the Phoenix/A-League games, the occasional international matches that pop up on Sky Sport, and I'll watch the FIFA World Cup next year.
I haven't even pointed out how many other sports I'm interested in watching. By the time you factor in my casual relationship with rugby, basketball, Formula 1 ... it all starts to add up.
This is also why I think the money argument is completely flawed. Reporter Simon Plumb points out that the cost of PremierLeaguePass.com is $149.90, a saving of over $800 a year if the only reason you were subscribed to Sky TV was a handful of EPL games every week. But only a small number of people would say that was the only reason.
The fact is that only a very small percentage of subscribers would view PremierLeaguePass.com as an alternative to Sky TV. Most people will still need (or at least want) both, meaning that $150.00 per season is an additional charge. And we haven't even considered that potential users may need to upgrade internet connections or buy a smart-TV.
Don't get me wrong, I'm excited by any developments that mean more content. And the relative ease with which this new company has set itself up and started offering such a package makes me wonder why Sky TV didn't try to do something like this before; air a handful of games on Sky Sport, and make the rest available live through iSky, for example. I also don't understand why we couldn't have had both - have PremierLeaguePass.com and have a handful of games on Sky TV as well (kind of like NBA.com's League Pass existing alongside occasional live games on ESPN).
However, I do think the coverage of this development, and the ensuing discussion, outweighs the actual benefits of this development. Plus, the added cost means that the number of potential subscribers is probably going to be low; as Sky TV chief John Fellet pointed out in an interview, "a Wellington Phoenix game, for example, in Wellington on a Sunday afternoon will out-rate any Premier League weekend, in fact, it will probably equal the top-four-rating English Premier League games." Sky TV still has those Phoenix games. And everything else.
If you're an EPL fan and that's all you care about, then this is great news. But for the rest of us, the worst case scenario is that we'll miss some Stoke City match in the middle of our summer. It's fun to get mad at this stuff, and shake our fists at Sky TV - the big monopoly that doesn't care about people - but really, we're probably not going to care.
Does the news that Sky TV lost the rights to EPL matches bother you? Will you be cancelling your Sky TV subscription and picking up PremierLeaguePass.com? Or will you - like me - just do without?
(*) I call soccer "football" ... like everyone should.
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One last note before I go: like everyone, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of James Gandolfini yesterday, only 51 years young. Known primarily for playing the lead role of Tony on The Sopranos, the man had as much to do with the success of that show as anything - and given the influence The Sopranos has had on television drama in the years since, you could make the case that he had a hand in the direction of television to this day. My deepest sympathies go out to Gandolfini's family and friends at this sad time. May he rest in peace.