Premier League mulls launching own OTT service after abandoning Singapore test
Soccer - 11 Feb 2019
By Callum Murray
English soccer’s Premier League is mulling launching a so-called ‘Netflix of football’, an over-the-top streaming service that could eventually by-pass the pay-TV broadcasters that have been its traditional partners in delivering the league to viewers worldwide.
A trial of such a service was planned for Singapore, but was eventually shelved in favour of a new, three-year pay-TV deal with Singtel, the telecoms group. It is understood that an OTT service was considered to be a realistic proposition, but that the clubs eventually opted for the Singtel offer.
The value of the league’s domestic live rights has increased from £670 million (now $858 million) in the four years from 1997-98 to 2000-01 to £5.14 billion in the current three-year cycle that concludes at the end of this season.
However, there has been a slight fall in the value of the domestic live rights, awarded to pay-TV’s Sky and BT Sport, plus internet giant Amazon, in the next cycle, from 2019-20 to 2020-21, to below £5 billion, albeit the difference is expected to be more than compensated for by an increase in international rights revenues, which are presently worth £3.3 billion over three years.
With one major international rights deal still to be agreed in India, the league has predicted that it is on course for an uplift of between 20 and 30 per cent in the value of its international rights in the next period.
Any move by the Premier League to become the broadcaster of its own matches would spell a serious challenge to the likes of Sky and BT Sport, which have built their businesses on top exclusive live sport (especially soccer).
However, giving consideration to launching an OTT service arguably represents a natural next step for the league, in view of the fact that, through Premier League Productions, the production service it operates together with IMG, the international sports and entertainment company, it is already distributing match feeds to broadcasters worldwide, along with magazine and preview programmes, plus its own studio content.
The Premier League’s deliberations form part of an apparent sea change in the delivery of live sport, after Uefa last week said that it will be launching a new over-the-top service later this year to provide a new outlet for European soccer, and plans to work with “the world’s leading companies” on the project.
However, Uefa’s plans, at least initially, would be complementary to, and not in competition with, its agreements with broadcasters.
Having been re-elected unopposed as president of European soccer’s governing body, for a further four years, at the Uefa Congress in Rome, Aleksander Čeferin said that the service would go live in the next six months.
It is thought that the platform will initially focus on minor Uefa tournaments, potentially the new third-tier clubs competition to come in 2021-22, non-live content and territories outside Europe. This is because media rights to top competitions such as the 2020 European Championships and the club game’s Uefa Champions League are largely tied up in the main markets for the current commercial cycle.
Čeferin told delegates that it was important to make soccer more accessible worldwide, including via new digital services.
Uefa and its broadcast partners have taken note of the moves into sport by digital platforms such as Amazon and Netflix, and, while still emphasising the importance of live content, are looking at ways of diversifying their offering.
Uefa’s Guy-Laurent Epstein said last October: “The media landscape has evolved a lot, and generates many opportunities to always be ‘on’ and have relevant content to offer.”
Last week, Simon Jordan, the former chairman of Premier League club Crystal Palace, argued that the league should follow in the footsteps of the NFL, which offers the NFL Game Pass, a digital subscription OTT service featuring all live NFL American football games.
Under such a model, the Premier League’s domestic rights could be worth up to £10 billion a season, according to Jordan, who said: “You’ve got a situation where the domestic rights are going backwards. I spoke at a BT and Sunday Telegraph conference about the business of football and it stunned me, sat with the Liverpools and Tottenhams of the world, and the question was, ‘What is the next frontier for football and its evolution financially?’.
“And the message back from the Tottenhams and Liverpools were ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.”
Speaking in the context of the league's continuing search for a new chief executive to replace the departed Richard Scudamore, Jordan continued: “The challenges in football are so engaging and so interesting. In my view, the Premier League has the opportunity to become a broadcaster in its own right and dwarf the revenues it currently gets.
“If you look at the NFL, which is perceived as a super sports league, an average NFL team gets $255 million – around £200 million. The average English Premier League club gets around £120 million.
“The opportunity for the Premier League is exhilarating and exciting for whoever wants to come and do this job.
“But they’ve got people like Bruce Buck [chairman of leading Premier League club Chelsea] heading it up who are part of the so-called ‘Big Six’ who have got their own agenda…
“I’ve spoken about the Premier League becoming the ‘Netflix of football’, ie, the video-on-demand platform that controls its own product.
“If you had 100 million subscribers on ‘Premier League TV’ like with Netflix at £8 a month, you’d be bringing in £10 billion a year, not £8.7 billion every three years like the current deal does…
“Football’s got to own its own outcome and build its own platform and by becoming the Netflix of football you control your own destiny.”
• The league is reported to be seriously considering US candidates to succeed Scudamore as its chief executive after its first two choices, Susanna Dinnage of the Discovery media group and Tim Davie of BBC Studios, both turned the job down.
US executives previously had discussions over the role, a person “close to the [selection] panel’s deliberations” told the Financial Times. However, many clubs are reported to have taken the view that an overseas executive would not fit with the significant UK public profile that comes with the job.
Thus, only Britons were placed on the original shortlist.