The Premier League and Internet Streams


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 does not solve the problem.

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