The Premier League and Internet Streams

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Here in the U.S., followers of the mighty MLS have a marvelous option that negates the need to go fishing for illegal internet streams to watch games — the league offers an affordable (only $20 for the season), high-quality (up to 800k) stream on their website.

Now, if we scoff and say MLS is small-time, consider that Major League Baseball has an even better internet broadcasting set-up — which has proven to be enormously profitable for the league, with over 500,000 fans forking out $110 for the season, and even offering streaming to the iPhone.

The Premier League?  All it offers are lawsuits.

Yet somehow, the Premier League has managed to convince Guardian journalist Owen Gibson that its entire business model is under threat from all those nasty internet sharks out there feeding the curious desire of fans to watch live games and highlights.

When Chelsea kick off the Premier League season against Hull City on Saturday, they will be watched not just by thousands in the stadium and millions more who have paid to watch live on TV, but by up to 1.5m viewers around the world tuning in for nothing via their PCs.

Collectively they could one day threaten the entire business model of the Premier League, one that has driven its growth over the past 17 years, and they are the reason why it is fighting furiously behind the scenes at home and abroad to seize back the initiative.

In a piece (at least the first two thirds of it) that could have been written by the Premier League’s PR department, Gibson laments the threat to the league’s business model from illegal internet streams.

Gibson reports that “They have taken a twin track response: hunting down and trying to close the sites responsible, while lobbying government for tighter copyright controls.”

From this, he concludes that “The Premier League has been determined not to repeat the mistakes of the music industry, which was slow to react.” Gibson writes. Really?  By cracking down on YouTube video highlights and not providing an alternative itself, the Premier League appears to be following exactly the same draconian approach that made the music industry look like a dinosaur. Where is the innovation from them to feed fans games and highlights?

Gibson fails to separate between the three different issues of live streams domestically, live streams overseas, and video highlights. The latter two ought to be comparatively easy to handle, something other major leagues have managed to do.

At the end of the piece, Gibson finally gets to this point, though is careful to put the criticism in the mouths of others.

While US rights owners, including MLB, NFL and NHL, have been able to build lucrative online businesses around their rights, the need for the Premier League to maintain the model that has kept Sky’s billions rolling in has made it more conservative. This, according to some critics, could leave them trying to hold back the tide – desperately trying to protect a business based on selling exclusive live rights while failing to come up with a new one for the digital age.

Bingo! “Some critics” are right!  While it’s true the balance of power between league and clubs is not the same in the Premier League and Major League Baseball (and certainly not in Major League Soccer), it’s severely backwards of the Premier League not to have developed any kind of a central video center for any of their content either for live action or post-game highlights.

Suing Youtube or Justin.tv does not solve the problem.

12 thoughts on “The Premier League and Internet Streams

  1. redduffman

    Great post. To quote Princess Leia “The more you tighten your grip… the more star systems will slip through your fingers”.

    This pursuit of people who are only providing a service that the Premier League are unable to supply themselves is a waste of time. Furthermore, pestering the Government into legislating in favour of their flawed business model is a waste of public money.

  2. Dave

    If only the Prem League would do something like What MLS does, with consolidated live and on-demand video feeds of games and highlights… They could make billions. As someone who already pays for this type of service (NBA League Pass and MLS Match Center) I can say I would definitely put up the cash to have a full menu of EPL (or even FA Cup, Champs League) matches with high quality video feed online.

  3. Joe W

    Same as every copyright merry-go-round.

    Music, TV shows, films, music videos, iPhone apps.

    1. Someone charges a disproportionate amount for content
    2. Motivated fanatics cobble together a near-working solution for free, illegally
    3. Illegal solution gains mass traction
    4. Copyright holder tries to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted
    5. Brave startup tries to legitimise illegal solution with commercial gain
    5. Copyright holder accepts the new business model – too little, too late.

    Too many examples to mention.

  4. Barry

    Its an interesting issue – as wouldn’t a potential live-match offering on the EPL website devalue their lucrative contracts with the likes of Sky, ESPN and (formerly) Setanta, as well as those in Asia?

  5. Adrian Ludbrook

    Thanks to the extortionate license fees for bars and clubs, which are shutting at a rate of 7 per week across the UK thanks to the recession, to show Sky on their premises more and more are using web feeds to broadcast football. Add to that the fact that the 3pm Saturday matches are never screened (as if TV hasn’t already ruined matchdays they leave this slot empty so people actually go to games) but are available from Europe / Russia / Middle East and you can see why it’s tempting.

    I think you’d find it hard to find someone who doesn’t know of a bar that shows satellite feeds. One of my locals screened all Glasgow Rangers games, usually from a Middle Eastern feed. On one occasion the feed interrupted mid-game, to be replaced with 5 minutes of porn. People actually booed when the game came back on! The pub paid for a Sky licence, but as SPL games were on Setanta they simply could not afford both.

    Thing is in this country we fight back, charge too much and the population find a way of getting it for free. Whether it’s web feeds for the football, cracked satellite TV boxes (Virgin TV’s set top boxes were cracked en masse recently although Sky’s security is pretty tight) or the downloading of media after the price of a CD went well over £10 the British public will find a way of getting it for free. The music and film industry are slowly realising, and the price of a CD is now around the £7 mark. Possibly too little too late as in a recent survey over 50% of English teenagers admitted to using file sharing sites for music. It seems Sky and the EPL are not learning from these mistakes.

  6. roswitha

    “Collectively they could one day threaten the entire business model of the Premier League”

    Dying of laughter. Dear EPL, meet the recording industry. You two ought to get along just fine.

  7. fourstar

    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 live 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. Simples.

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  10. ricky

    although nfl, nhl, mlb and mls have online streaming services there are still illegal online streams and there always will be people who would rather watch it for free than pay a penny this can be seen now with the online illegal streams that ask for donations to keep their stream going the majority of people will never click that donate buttom only the very few will even pay for the illegal streams so putting EPL online will not make much of a difference to the illegal online streams.

  11. fourstar

    By that assertion, ricky, the illegal streams cannot keep going and will fall away once they realise that nobody is prepared to pay. That is in part because by their very nature they are low quality, unreliable and likely to move about from site to site to remain secret from the authorities. Nobody in their right mind would pay a penny for that service.

    However, what I am proposing is an official stream, reliable bandwidth and contention, with a choice of match and commentary language, all for a reasonable fee. I and millions of others would happily pay for that.