Premier League's Fear Of The Internet A Case Study In What Not To Do

from the this-is-not-a-good-idea dept

While we have many problems with the way conducts itself concerning its attempts to claim ownership of factual information, you can't deny that (separate from that), it's built up a nice business by really focusing on giving fans what they want in terms of online video. While the product has had technical problems, on the whole continues to improve it, adding many unique and useful features, such that it's actually well worth purchasing. If you order the package to watch baseball games, it gives you all sorts of neat tools that can't be found elsewhere, and are great for tracking pretty much any game you want. There are still some problems -- including silly blackout zones (so it's tough to watch local teams) and blackout times when games are being shown on national TV, but on the whole has done a pretty good job making the service worth buying.

Compare that to the Premier League in the UK. It's been nearly five years since the league first started freaking out about people watching unauthorized streams online. But rather than trying to serve those underserved customers, the Premier League has repeatedly lashed out at anyone who might possibly enable these games to be seen online. For example, it's sued YouTube apparently unaware that the company is protected by the safe harbors of the DMCA, and (if anyone) it should be going after those who actually upload the games. It's also suing in the same misguided fashion.

Amazingly, the league seems proud of the fact that it's going after these companies, rather than the appropriate targets. Jeff T alerts us to an article in the Guardian which is basically a case study in what not to do about these things. It hypes up how the Premier League purposely goes after the platform providers, as if that's a good thing. It also (bizarrely) claims that these anti-fan maneuvers are somehow a different and better response than the way the music industry responded to unauthorized file sharing. But that's not true. While it's not suing fans directly, it's still suing to stop fans from doing what they want to do. It's the same exact mistake.

Rather than recognizing the simple fact that the reason fans watch these streams online is because the Premier League has failed to offer it up themselves, the Premier League seems to relish the fact that it makes it more difficult for fans to see its product. The article talks about the "Saturday blackouts" on video designed to get more fans to go to matches, without recognizing that such blackouts have been shown to be pointless. There used to be rules for baseball in the US that games that weren't sold out wouldn't be shown on TV, but eventually people realized that people weren't watching on TV as a substitute for going to the game, but because they love their favorite team and want to watch them however possible. The more they can watch them on TV, the more interested they are in seeing live games.

Jeff, who sent this story in, makes the point quite clearly, by noting that he watches poor quality streams of Premier League matches in Canada because the League refuses to make most of their matches available to watch online. Rather than going after the companies that run platforms that enable such things, there's a really simple solution: offer high quality online webcasts yourself, and actually serve the fans. But that seems far beyond the Premier League's strategic thinking.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 5:23am

    "there's a really simple solution: offer high quality online webcasts yourself, and actually serve the fans."

    Here is a simple solution: Spend untold millions to put your games online, undercutting your own markets and doing little to improve the lot of your member teams. It's easy to say "put it online", but you haven't put a business model out there that supports it.

    Why would the Englsh Premier League want to attend to the needs of a fan in the Canada? If there is enough pent up demand, surely a broadcaster (canada has a number of sports channels) would want to pick up the games and run them to satisfy the demand. That would go from a "cost" business to an "income" business. Heck, offering them up for free to broadcasters would still be a better business model than paying bandwidth and all the required equipment to provide a live stream to millions of fans all over the world (if they have them).

    What is the business model?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Martin, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 5:30am


    The comparison to indicates some sort of subscription agreemement:

    "on the whole continues to improve it, adding many unique and useful features, such that it's actually well worth purchasing"

    That sounds a bit like a business model to me. Next non-reason for not doing it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    John (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 5:53am

    I'd buy

    I love watching Fox Soccer on Sundays, but it's limited to which games they want to show. I'd love the option of being able to watch any game (no local blackout issues) that's being played that day.

    There's a market and yet again their solution is to sue that market out of existence instead of monetize it.

    Stupid Brits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    fourstar, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 5:55am


    @Anonymous Coward: But it is not just abroad we are talking about here. There is a massive market in the UK to be able to watch Premier League matches online. I would pay a reasonable amount per match for a reliable, high bandwidth stream with English commentary.

    Also, not every game is shown in the UK, whereas many more are shown abroad. So as it stands I have to find streams from those people who are good enough to put their coverage of the match online.

    For example, say I cannot get a ticket to see Arsenal play at 3pm on a Saturday. The match is not being televised in the UK. Would one of the brilliant minds at The FA and Premier League like to tell me why I shouldn’t be able watch the match if it is being televised in another country? Who am I hurting?

    a) Arsenal? No, the match was sold out months ago so I couldn’t pay them to get in.

    b) Sky/Setanta/ESPN? No, they are not showing the live game so any subscription would not cover it.

    c) The broadcasters in the other countries? No, I wouldn’t be able to subscribe to their output anyway as I am in a different region.

    d) The fans who paid to go to the game? If they would like to swap their ticket for my live stream, I would gladly do so.

    So please tell me just exactly what I am doing wrong.

    Or, as suggested, set up a not-overpriced subscription service whereby we get good quality streams with (English) commentary, reliable contention ratios and a wide choice of live matches?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Dave (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 6:01am

    Pitch Invasion

    Hey, Mike, Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion totally beat you to this commentary. ;^)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Dave (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 6:04am

    Aussie Rules is better...

    ...when it comes to creating a business model that serves overseas viewers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Christopher (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 6:07am

    Are you a semi-evolved form of troll?

    Putting games online makes it much easier to grab untold millions of potential viewers that cannot be served by local television. Think of the myriad of agreements that would need to be negotiated for each market.

    Now think of the single agreement, managed by the Premier League, negotiated directly with subscribers. It's really simple: they can cut out the middleman.

    Furthermore, here's the kicker: traditional broadcasters can work in concert with the Premier League to add their own value, i.e. commentary, insight, etc to get a slice of the pie. Choose a broadcast version, commentary or no, basic video or no, etc. The MLB has a provable model of business, and it does work.

    The only downside is MLB locks up all local radio simulcasts on the Internet, so you can't watch a graphical game play out with your favorite broadcaster calling the action. The "added value" presumably kicks back to the radio team in some way. Fair enough, AM radios are cheap.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 6:44am


    "It's easy to say "put it online", but you haven't put a business model out there that supports it."

    Here is your business model....

    MODEL 1) pay per hour of video, I believe it costs 0.05-0.25 USD (based on resolution). Do a higher resolution than option 2 and charge 0.15-0.50 USD for each game hour.

    and if people dont want to pay give them the following option....

    MODEL 2) Free version ... Hulu it ... reduce the resolution, delay the streaming for 5-20 minutes, and add 2 commercials every hour.

    MODEL Continued) Also archive both of the above models for future downloading / viewing of video's.

    Problem solved ....

    260 note/entry) modified Hulu like service based on the above business model

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 6:53am

    Re: Re:

    Nice try, but streaming video in a large scale isn't 50 cents an hour - that is just the cost of bandwidth. Staff, equipment, network center, yadda, yadda. It's not free.

    "hulu it" is a great US solution. Too bad that hulu doesn't work outside the us.

    261) Just because you can toss numbers doesn't mean there is a business model. NEXT!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Danny, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 6:53am

    The whole blackout thing

    This whole blackout thing has always puzzled me. So because not enough tickets were sold the game does not get televised. Wouldn't this do more damage since now instead of getting ticket sales + home watchers the league is only getting ticket sales? I would think it'd be better to televise the game so that way they still have fans watching even if its at home. (And in the States do Neilson ratings count ballgames?)

    I thought the goal was to get as many people watching as possible. I don't watch that many sports so what am I missing here?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    JackSombra (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 7:03am

    Reason premier league "don't do internet" is simple, it would greatly devalue their existing business model, which mainly consists of selling game transmission rights to the main TV/Sat stations.

    If they start transmitting online they undercut that market and set themselves as competitors to their existing clients.

    Cannot really blame them for not wanting to take the risk of changing their business model when their current one is so successful and any alternative would have a huge impact on the existing one

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 7:11am

    Here we go again ....

    "The Premier League has been determined not to repeat the mistakes of the music industry, which was slow to react."

    "rights owners who called on the government to bring forward legislation encouraging internet service providers to take more responsibility."

    Yes and yet again another industry wants the ISP's to police copyright.

    Wonder how thats going to go for them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Jeff T (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 7:34am

    The Premier League may be succesful in marketing their product, but I can't help but feel they are leaving so many potential customers out in the cold.

    In Canada, we have three major sports stations. The Score, Sportsnet and TSN. Between them, we get two live matches a week: one on Saturday on Sportsnet, one on Sunday on the Score. Rogers Sportsnet has third pick of matches (I believe) so usually ends up with a mid table match (this weekend's is Aston Villa v Wigan. An interesting match I will watch, but not a barn burner). The Score gets the 'marquee' 3 PM kickoff game on Sunday's, which is where you often see the Liverpool/United, etc games (this Sunday is Liverpool/Spurs, two potential Top 6 teams).

    To get those channels on a variety of cable networks, your looking at $58/month for cable (on Shaw in my area). So that is 2 out of a possible 10 matches per weekend (not counting weeks where there is a Monday/Wednesday match)

    Additionally, for an extra $15/month you can add on the pay-TV package of Setanta. This weekend they have four matches (three on Saturday, one on Sunday). So even if I pay $75/month I am still missing out on viewing another four matches.

    Even if they wanted to charge a pay-per-view fee for hosting the matches, thats something that would be worth considering. All 10 Premier League matches have camera's on site and are likely broadcast somewhere in the world. I see no reason to lock those up entirely.

    Unfortunately, I'm someone who can't afford $75/month for all that television. That doesn't mean I am adverse to paying. For the entirety of last season I subscribed to Setanta's online service (renamed Setanta-I) which has a very good user interface, the ability to pull old matches from the archive, and access to matches from the Championship and French League. With the instability surrounding Setanta UK, I cancelled my membership, but may restart as there are no other options.

    If there was a $20-30 option where I could subscribe directly to the Premier League for access to every match during the season then I would do that in a heartbeat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 7:43am

    Live coverage=more fans

    I've lived in Spain and Ireland where nearly all the EPL's weekends matches can be watched live on TV. I used to buy into the idea that if this were done in the UK then attendances would drop until I realised that so many people in Spain and (particulary) Ireland spend vast amounts of money to travel to the UK on match days to go to the games even though they can watch them live at home!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 7:52am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Hulu is US only because of copyright and trade law limitations. Same with Netflix, Pandora, and a lot of XBL peaces.

    Video streaming sites are common and a lot of the ones I see are free to use. If other sites can do it for free, why can't Premier League do it for pay?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Richard, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 8:29am

    Its all Rupert Murdoch and his agenda

    The reason is simple - Rupert Murdoch has paid a lot of money to the Premier league to stop anyone else from showing any of the matches live in the UK. This is all about trying to force as many people as he can to subscribe to Sky.

    It is driven by his fanatical hatred of the BBC. His aim is to get a critical mass of SKY subscribers that is big enough to make the BBC licence fee look unfair. Then he will try to get the BBC dismantled.

    Be clear - he is not paying the Premier league for the rigt to televise the games - he is paying to stop anyone else from televising them. He is concerned about "leakage" of live video streams back to anyone in the UK who hasn't paid for Sky sports.

    He doesn't feel the need to do a good job of covering the matches - it is all about having the monopoly.

    Unfortunately this attitude meshes rather well with the traditional attitude of the British football establishment - which has always tried to limit live coverage of all but the highest profile football events - on the pretext of encouraging attendance at matches.

    (Back in the 60's the only live football on British TV was international matches and the FA cup final.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Alan Gerow (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 9:48am


    Dude, if anyone here knew 100% THE business model that's going to work the 100% best, they wouldn't be commenting on threads on TechDirt, because they'd be out there making a butt-ton of money with their business model. We have ideas, and there are several perfectly reasonable ideas that have been floated around.

    The answer is not to ignore the market entirely and hope this whole Internet thing blows over and everyone goes back to how things were in 1989. They need to at least be TRYING out ideas, but they aren't.

    And that's the problem.

    And to focus in on one point you made: "Why would the Englsh Premier League want to attend to the needs of a fan in the Canada? If there is enough pent up demand, surely a broadcaster (canada has a number of sports channels) would want to pick up the games and run them to satisfy the demand."

    Here's an idea ... there probably AREN'T enough people in Canada to justify to a local or regional broadcaster to pick-up many or any games. BUT, GLOBALLY, in Canada, the US, the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, etc ... combined there is probably a large enough market that can be served by a modest web-site run efficiently that can be monetized in any number of ways. Thinking of a global market, instead of broadcast markets, and a huge untapped potential emerges. Thinking locally in this case may not be as viable as scaling to a single, international solution.

    So, do you propose the solution is no solution at all?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Steven (profile), Aug 13th, 2009 @ 10:34am


    How about they stop spending a crap ton of money suing people. Let their fans record/stream/comment/PROMOTE the games. The EPL can sell tickets (and probably more tickets now that some many people are involved in promoting the games).

    So the EPL saves money by not throwing it down the lawsuit black hole. They get happier more dedicated fans. They get more promotion of the games. All this with much less effort than they are currently putting forth.

    I don't see the down side here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Rupert Murdoch = Officer Dibble, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 8:37am

    The most effectual Sopcast!
    Who's intellectual close friends get to call him S.P.
    Providing it's with dignity.

    The indisputable leader of the gang.
    He's the boss, he's a pip, he's the championship.
    He's the most tip top,

    Yes he's a chief, he's a king,
    But above everything,
    He's the most tip top,

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    The Idiot, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re:

    Not quite; as per the most recent TV contract signed by the chairmen, it's the responsibility of each individual club to set up these services; for example, the Burnley Football Club website runs highlights within hours of each match finioshing, as well as live radio streams, which consumers pay a small premium for to get ad-free. Now, if only other clubs would follow suit...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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