The online industry is divided over the long-term impact of Saturday’s online-only broadcast of England’s World Cup qualifier in Ukraine.
Online publishers including The Sun, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and Orange have agreed revenue-sharing deals with rights holder Perform to broadcast the match online. Odeon will also be showing it in selected cinemas.
However, despite the huge significance attached to the event by the national media, publishers don’t yet view the model as a potential long-term revenue generator but as a one-off in the industry’s battle against falling ad revenues.
The broadcast rights had previously been sold to Setanta by international football agency Kentaro. However, they were repitched and subsequently won by digital agency group Perform following the sports broadcaster’s collapse last summer.
The match costs £4.99 to watch for viewers who sign up by the end of today (Thursday 8 October), rising to £11.99 for sign-ups before Saturday. However, only the first 1m sign-ups will be able to watch the match.
Pete Picton, The Sun’s online editor, said, “This is an interesting element in the debate around paid-for content. It would have been better if England hadn’t already qualified, meaning this match is less crucial for people to watch, but we’ve got a chance to find out if it works.”
James Brown, head of commercial strategy at Telegraph Media Group, said, “It’s an important opportunity to see how our audience responds to viewing this type of content online, in conjunction with testing new revenue-generation models.”
However, others downplayed any significance in the move.
Jimmy Leach, editorial director for digital at The Independent, said it was “not deeply significant… It’s a chance for users to see the match if they can’t see it elsewhere.”
Janine Gibson, Guardian.co.uk editor, said the price was too high for its readers for a one-off match. “You had to sign up to an enormous amount of editorial endorsement and promotion for something that we weren’t convinced was of particular value to our users and would feel like a fake endorsement of a one-off match. This isn’t heralding the beginning of a new dawn; it’ll never happen again and it feels slightly opportunistic,” she said.
The move was criticised by football fan groups claiming it alienates those without high-speed internet connections as well as pub viewers, as the match will only be broadcast online and in some Odeon cinemas.
But Premier League clubs Arsenal and Everton said the move reflects a growing interest in providing legal streaming of matches online. Both have previously streamed pre-season and European qualification matches online this season and increased subscriptions as a result.
Michael Leavey, manager of Arsenal Broadband, said, “I think this move is really interesting. Viewing varies game by game but some [Arsenal] pre-season games have attracted 15,000 viewers.”
Mark Rowan, Everton FC’s head of communications, expects online streaming to become a mainstream proposition in the near future. “Rights holders will rely on the internet more and more. Our match streams have proved the online broadcasting model works,” he said.