Rumours have amassed recently of Amazon Prime and other streaming services of their ilk (namely Netflix) preparing to bid for the right to broadcast Premier League matches through their services. This is a rumour that, if true, would result in the most significant shake-up in broadcasting football in Britain since the rise of Sky Sports in the early 90s, a move that coincided with the foundation of the new top-tier league system.
The move indicates a shift towards a traditional wide-ranging broadcasting oeuvre for the streaming giants with both Amazon and Netflix moving from their focus on creating original programmes that are exclusive to their service back towards the acquisition of already established events that will bring with them a loyal band of followers.
Sports rights have seen very little change in the last twenty years with Sky remaining more-or-less the same in their broadcasting of England’s top-flight since the Premier League’s inception. Therein lies the promise of Amazon and Netflix for the average sports fan. They have both drastically changed the way we consume drama and films. Thus, they could break the stagnation in development and the borderline complacency that Sky’s monopoly (and BT’s seemingly endless need to recreate Sky’s platform at any cost) fosters. The illiterate ex-player pundits, the anaemic graphics and faux gravitas created with matches that don’t deserve it (Watford versus Chelsea is not a match that needs a minute and a half long intro) have been there since the dawn of time and the advent of advanced statistics and social media have not been properly utilised.
With their innovative streak, the streaming giants could bring a touch of something new to a live event which had its last large-scale change when Meat Loaf ’s ‘I’d Do Anything for Love’ was topping charts. Let’s face it, it’s ancient and anyone who has the gall to suggest that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is blind to the fact that football coverage in this country has a hilarious complacency when it comes to ratings. They take the viewers and fans for granted, just as the clubs themselves do when they ramp up ticket prices for both home and away fans.
Football fans are being forced out of the terraces and have had to fall back upon broadcasters in their pursuit to support their team, and the likes of Sky and BT have been more than to rest on their laurels and rake in their money while doing next to nothing to improve the experience they offer. Netflix and Amazon’s acquisition of broadcasting rights could signal a new advent in this vein and spur competition in the monopolised industry.
But how would this look? The current system, which requires a box and prerequisite purchases, drives prices through the roof to the point where only 8 million people have a Sky subscription currently. A shift to a purely online platform would bring down prices. Instead of paying on average more than £30 per month, the purchaser will welcome the flat £6 a month for Netflix or the £70 per annum price for a subscription to Amazon Prime. A good barometer of how this service may look is the way that the NFL offer the Game Pass, giving people access to both live broadcasts of games and replays of said games for a flat rate which can be accessed through a device.
This shift in focus from television broadcasts to mobile devices is one that Sky and BT have used through their own streaming services but the crux of their business lies in the subscriptions to a TV service. A move to a mobile-only platform will fundamentally change the collective viewing culture of football and other live sporting events.
Currently, the convention of gathering around a TV to watch the football in a house or a pub results in a truly communal viewing experience and creates a surrogate for the cameraderie that fans experience in the terraces at the stadium. The move to a smaller screen will make sporting events much less of a joint cultural event and shift it to the realm of individual viewing. This, of course, is what the streaming services have already done to drama with the emergence of ‘binge culture’.
Maybe this potential move away from traditional media will result in the loss of the crucial social aspect of sporting events. Is the monotonous format and viewer fatigue the price e have to pay to keep the beautiful game as socially engaging as it has always been? Or will modern streaming usher in a shining new era for the timeless cultural event?