If the sports streaming revolution has to date just been a trickle, then deals struck between rights holders and online platforms in recent days suggest signs of a flood to come.
Most notable was Amazon’s capture of a package of domestic Premier League rights last week, meaning that from the 2019-20 season English football’s top competition will be shown live on a non-traditional, non-linear streaming platform. Days earlier, the PGA Tour announced an eye-popping $2bn (£1.49bn) deal with Discovery which could see traditional TV broadcasters bypassed in favour of a global streaming platform for golf fans.
The emergence of names such as Amazon, Twitter or DAZN are suddenly appearing with increasing regularity in contracts with rights holders, some of whom have established their own direct-to-consumer offerings, such as the English Football League’s (EFL) iFollow platform.
Yet while the novel nature of such new players abets the perception of an unstoppable new technological wave ready to lay waste to the old guard, many industry insiders sound a note of caution. The official value of Amazon Prime’s deal for one round of midweek games in early December and another over the festive bank holiday — 20 games in total — has not been disclosed, but it was certainly at the cheaper end. BT’s deal for a similar package values each game at £1.5m compared to the £9m-per-game rate of the £4.5bn paid by BT and Sky for the majority of matches.
Breaking into live Premier League football is one thing, becoming its home is a much more expensive proposition.
“The economics of Prime just don’t stack up if they’re going to try and compete at the high end,”
Richard Broughton, research director at media analysts Ampere Analysis told City A.M.
“It only really works at the low end, otherwise they have to change their whole pricing structure and introduce new package tiers — basically have a Sky Sports equivalent.”
While Amazon Prime and platforms like it may currently lack the financial clout of a BT or Sky, they do offer the Premier League access to a younger audience that increasingly doesn’t include traditional TV in its viewing habits.
“It works very well for both Amazon and the Premier League,” says Broughton.
“Premier League fans in the UK skew older — they’re over-represented in the 35-54 age bracket. In the 18-34 age bracket there are fewer.
“From the league’s perspective, they’re thinking ‘this is a great way to engage with younger audiences who have switched off from football’. From Amazon’s perspective, their audience does skew younger. So they’re thinking ‘where’s our growth going to come from next? We’re saturating amongst younger consumers’.
"From that perspective it looks like a win-win deal for both groups in terms of engaging audiences that they’ve been unable to fulfil the potential of.”
Some sporting bodies have decided to pursue the direct-to-consumer route to reach those younger audiences, who are increasingly used to consuming ultra-personalised media on-demand.
In announcing a deal with Discovery which will see the media giant build a PGA Tour-branded over-the-top (OTT) streaming service for its events — which don’t include the four Majors — PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said it presented a “tremendous opportunity to engage new and diverse audiences”.
Yet in many cases sporting bodies are being forced to be creative, with traditional broadcasters spending more and more on a handful of prestige sporting occasions and putting the squeeze on everything else.
“Sky made it very clear on their last investors’ call that they’re not all about the sport as they used to be,” research analyst at Enders Analysis Julian Aquilani told City A.M.
“They’re unwilling to push up the price of live sport beyond their means and seem very happy to cut back on what they consider to be second-tier sports rights.
“A lot of sporting bodies are going to have to address the question of whether or not an OTT service is a feasible alternative.”
If Amazon Prime and similar platforms do hold hopes of swallowing up more and more prestige rights, they have to first demonstrate that they have the production chops to help build a competition’s brand.
When announcing his resignation as Premier League chairman last week, Richard Scudamore stressed the role Sky had played in turning its matches into must-see TV.
“Only time will tell if its [Amazon's] business model can support a full sports broadcasting offering,” Stuart Ferreira-Cole, commercial director at video-on-demand specialists Ostmodern, said of Amazon.
“There are marked differences between streaming films and TV shows to consumers, which the likes of Amazon and Netflix have been doing for years, to offering a fully polished live sports service to discerning fans.
“The most successful sports broadcasters build an audience base by engaging with them pre- and post-match, as well as offering interactive and sophisticated viewing experiences as the match itself unfolds.”
If traditional broadcasters can continue to hold the edge on that front, they may just be able to keep the streaming revolution at bay.