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
The Competition Commission would probably want a chat about that
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.’