Steve McCaskill | Could big tech finally make 'Premflix' a reality? – SportsPro Media

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The sports industry knows the old adage that there are only two certainties in life is inadequate in its scope. If death and taxes are inevitable, then so is the semi-regular suggestion that the Premier League should bypass traditional broadcasters and go direct-to-consumer (DTC) with its own global streaming service.
This time, it’s Apple’s deal with Major League Soccer (MLS) that has prompted renewed calls from certain commentators to create a ‘Netflix of Soccer’.
The argument is that the league’s international appeal and fanbase mean it could conceivably go it alone. By cutting out the middleman and targeting a global audience, a competitive price point of UK£9.99 would be good news for consumers, attract tens of millions of subscribers, and ultimately generate more revenues for the Premier League’s 20 clubs.
But much like ESPN is waiting as long as possible for the economics to make sense for it to abandon legacy distribution and go ‘all-in’ on streaming, the Premier League has shown little appetite of changing what is a successful, proven business model.
And, once again, in the fantasy economics of ‘Premflix’ supporters ignore the associated production, marketing, and customer retention costs. It’s a lot of effort and risk to take on – especially now big tech looks like it is finally interested in premium sports rights after so many false dawns.
The need to tie consumers into digital ecosystems could be a huge boost for many sports properties, not just the Premier League, which already counts Amazon among its domestic broadcasters. If we can indulge ourselves in another adage – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
However, it does appear that we are closer than ever before to a Premflix – albeit on a far more limited scale than the concept’s cheerleaders have described.
Premier League chief Richard Masters confirmed some of the league’s international deals would allow it to go DTC if it so wanted – potentially providing it with a route to experiment with alternative distribution models.
And what about going full MLS and selling its rights on a global basis to a streamer? Masters refused to rule anything out but said it would have to wait until 2028 at least given the more recent rights agreements.
Like LaLiga in Spain and the Bundesliga in Germany, the Premier League has long been content with using DTC as a bargaining chip to extract more revenue from its broadcast partners. It came close to launching a streaming service in Singapore back in 2019 before opting for a conventional approach to market.
With this in mind, Masters’ comments should be taken with a pinch of salt. But while Apple, Amazon and others have always had the capital and the scale to make such a service possible, recent moves suggest they might now have the motivation to make it happen.
This newsletter rarely ventures into audio territory, but I’m a sucker for radio nostalgia. As a teenager, Sportsworld on the BBC World Service was a fixture of my afternoons and in the winter, I would sometimes try and see if the cloak of night would allow BBC Radio Four’s long wave frequencies to reach Switzerland so I could listen to Test Match Special’s coverage of the Ashes cricket on my clock radio.
Many people have similar fond memories of Sports Report, an ever-present on British radio since 1948, and its iconic theme tune. Broadcast each Saturday at 5pm, the programme has long been the home of the classified results – a very formal reading of the final scores from the major soccer leagues in England and Scotland.
But times change and technology moves forward. Just as most people don’t learn about the soccer results via the evening newspaper or by watching Ceefax in shop windows whilst out shopping, the advent of the smartphone means most people use the internet to keep up to date with scores on Saturday afternoons.
The BBC, having won the rights to live radio coverage of the Saturday evening Premier League match at 5:30pm, has decided it can no longer give the classified results the five minutes that the classified results require, instead focusing on post-match interviews and pre-match coverage. Sports Report still has the scores from around the leagues, only they are read out much more informally by presenter Mark Chapman throughout the course of the programme.
The move was made quietly and without fuss, until it inadvertently became part of soccer’s latest culture war. The start of the week was marked by newspaper reports prompting a flood of criticism from those who lamented the passing of a treasured soccer tradition – despite possibly being unaware that it happened.
The BBC attracts criticism regardless of what it does and it’s safe to assume at least some of the outrage came from people who either don’t listen to Sports Report or rely on the classified results as a genuine news service – egged on by hostile newspapers. But there was some legitimate concern from many listeners, such as the visually impaired, those that listen to the programme while driving, and those who haven’t yet adapted to the smartphone age.
The corporation, having clearly balanced the values of tradition, universality, and modernity, clearly felt it needed to prioritise post-match audio interviews and live sport. It has made similar calls before, dropping the Grandstand brand back in 2007 because the previous format of switching between partial coverage of different sports was no longer sufficient for a modern audience.
But that decision was made in a more forgiving, pre-social media era in which not everything had to be turned into a divisive issue.
Broadcasting will never move forward if it’s a slave to nostalgia and the BBC’s decision is understandable. But so long as mobile coverage and smartphone adoption isn’t universal, perhaps the value of the classified results has been overlooked as a genuine public service and a crumb of comfort to those who believe the world of modern soccer is leaving them behind.
Their reinstatement would also be an easy PR win – one that commercial rival Talksport has been eager to take advantage of on social media and in newspaper advertisements in The Times (which is also owned by News UK). But then again, it doesn’t have to worry about having five minutes to spare when it doesn’t have rights to a live match.
Personally, I am indifferent. I am unlikely to sacrifice the convenience and sound quality of BBC Sounds or DAB radio but I do miss the muffled, inconsistent audio of AM radio.
Fans of life imitating art will be well aware of ESPN 8: The Ocho. The parody television channel was first introduced in the 2004 comedy film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, the self-proclaimed home of “seldom-seen sports”, and was an affectionate dig at some of the more obscure disciplines that were increasingly finding their way onto sports television at the time.
In 2017, ESPN embraced the meme and each year now broadcasts a 24-hour sports marathon featuring some of the strangest sporting contests in the world.
The sixth annual event took place on 5th August, featuring “seldom seen sports” like the World Axe Throwing League, the Pogopolooza cup and, of course, some dodgeball.
But in the era of OTT, it can sometimes be hard to tell what’s on The Ocho and what isn’t. Streaming platforms might not have to fill linear schedules with sporting action, but they are keen to make sure there’s plenty of choice for viewers. ESPN itself shows Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest (a beloved Independence Day tradition) and this weekend provided coverage of the World Excel Championships – an esport based on Microsoft’s spreadsheet software.
While the participants in all events are clearly talented and take the competition very seriously, the fictional slogan of The Ocho, “if it’s almost a sport, we’ve got it here,” has never proved more accurate.
Bold strategy, indeed, Cotton.

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