MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: PREMIER LEAGUE TV RIGHTS - BSkyB faces losing its grip on football broadcasting rights/The latest auction is likely to change the shape of TV football

The forthcoming auction of Premier League TV rights could provide a defining moment for BSkyB, a subscription broadcasting platform that owes its past success to live football and depends on it to drive its next phase - the evolution to digital.

The forthcoming auction of Premier League TV rights could provide a

defining moment for BSkyB, a subscription broadcasting platform that

owes its past success to live football and depends on it to drive its

next phase - the evolution to digital.



The Premier League has played a tactical blinder, carving up the assets

in a way that makes it difficult for any one media owner to achieve

(potentially unhealthy) dominance of the English game. We’re looking at

the prospect of Sky being played off the park for the first time in

almost a decade.



The previous negotiations involved two main packages - live games and

highlights rights. Last time around Sky got the former, leaving the BBC

to pay public service lip service (think Match of the Day on the fag-end

of Saturday night and again early Sunday morning) to the beautiful game

as a widely accessible national sport.



This time around, a third major element has been introduced -

pay-per-view matches. And the possible permutations are extended by the

fact that there are not only more rights packages, but there are also

more conditional-access television companies in the frame, including

cable and ITV-owned ONdigital.



The permutations are fascinating. To work in the long run, the

pay-per-view package will have to contain a fairly high proportion of

crunch games involving the big five clubs. Which could leave the

standard package of 66 live matches looking very unappetising. From a

quality point of view, Sky probably wants the pay-per-view games; from

the angle of having ’home of TV football’ assets likely to drive

digital, it probably wants the 66 standard games.



Can Sky get both live packages? Should it be allowed to? Probably

not.



The Competition Commission would probably want a chat about that

one.



And if ONdigital steals something here, ITV starts to have a very strong

presence when you look at the fact that it already has live rights to

the Champions League. For the first time in more than 15 years, England

has several clubs that are big in Europe - and clubs involved in big

midweek games tend not to play on Sunday and Monday, Sky’s live match

days. So the fact that the big clubs are in action on Saturday has

another implication - it starts to make the highlights package look a

lot more valuable.



The Champions League is the big imponderable here. Actually it’s not so

imponderable when you consider Sky’s recent love affair with Leicester

City. Week after week, Sky’s live Sunday match has featured Leicester -

an ugly and charmless outfit that has succeeded in making Wimbledon look

as if they play attractive and sophisticated football. Leicester

actually makes Rugby League look attractive.



The stars of the world game - your Batistutas and your Rivaldos and your

Rauls - are on ITV. Sky has Robbie ’the weasel’ Savage kicking lumps out

of people. If ITV takes the right chunk of the English game, it could

make Sky look very silly indeed.



So what, you might well say. Who cares these days? Isn’t this another

sign that there’s too much football? Isn’t the game’s elegantly

stitched, logo-patterned, plastic-coated bubble about to burst? Not

according to TV planners and buyers. From an advertising point of view,

football is as important as it ever was. This is still the biggest TV

game in town.



Paul Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD, does not believe that

football will go the way of snooker - a big audience TV spectacle that

has been killed through over-exposure. He says: ’I can’t see it ever

going like snooker. Football remains hugely valuable as an audience

puller both in terms of pure numbers and in delivering the sorts of

audiences that are hard to find elsewhere. Audiences in the 16 to 34 age

group have been very disappointing this year but football is almost

guaranteed to perform against this group. It is like top drama - it

delivers high recall and attention.’



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