Free-to-air cricket debate is short-sighted in the internet age

There’s been a few headlines about the possibility of some free-to-air cricket off the back of the ECB’s proposed new T20 league. People get excited about this sort of thing, but the whole point of free-to-air is that it opens up a larger market, yet this is a form of media which is of rapidly diminishing importance.

How many people will be watching conventional forms of TV by 2020, which is when the tournament is due to take place? Whatever free-to-air channel wins these rights may also broadcast via some sort of internet player, but it seems to odd to us that this is secondary and not the focus itself.

We saw one report on the tournament last night – which has since been edited – which floated the possibility of an online stream to which cricket fans could directly subscribe. We were briefly excited about the prospect, but then the end of the sentence revealed that this would only be available to overseas viewers.

Why?

Last month we wrote about how more and more people are streaming live cricket via Kodi or other online applications. It’s a mistake to think this is happening purely for reasons of cost. In many cases it’s because it’s more convenient, or because it’s literally the only way of accessing the matches you want to see.

The software is arguably not yet sufficiently mainstream to warrant serious consideration, but what will the situation be three years hence? The concept of a sport-specific subscription at reduced cost to the consumer – because they wouldn’t also be paying for darts, biathlon, motor racing or the broadcaster’s hardware – makes sense to us.

A broader cricket app could even serve as a hub from which individual matches could be ordered. That might typically be for a fee, but it could also be free of charge if the broadcaster in question could find a way of funding the broadcast through advertising or reduced outlay on rights.

The ECB seems keen to make at least some of their domestic T20 matches easily and freely accessible. Perhaps in 2020 the place where people will go looking for such a thing is in the ‘free sport’ category within their online TV application.

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13 Appeals

  1. I can see an ‘MLB.tv-style’ app working for domestic cricket (as only one organisation controls the rights), but not for ‘broader cricket app’ where you could watch (eg) all Tests or ODIs – individual boards seem unlikely to be able to agree on collective bargaining for international rights.

    On a related note – how much of the benefit of this new T20 tournament in terms of growing cricket’s fanbase would be achieved by simply putting 2-3 Test matches/ODIs/T20Is a year on ‘free-to-air’ TV (eg the BBC website having video coverage as well as the radio and scorecard options )?

    • King Cricket

      March 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Surely the respective boards wouldn’t need to agree. They would be selling directly to their audience, setting their own prices. You would subscribe to either individual matches or families of matches (South Africa tour of England or Champions Trophy, say).

      • The ICC could start off by opening up international events. Individual boards could follow suit once they see how well it works (or not, if it doesn’t work well).

        And if we are talking about subscribing to individual matches or series or tournaments, you could actually break it down to how you want to consume a particular series.

        I can’t, for instance, follow most matches, because I am at work all day. But I would love a well produced highlights package that runs for an hour or so – that I get to watch on demand. Most broadcasters produce such packages anyway – this is just a way of monetizing it and at a lower price range than a full series would be.

      • King Cricket

        March 29, 2017 at 2:49 pm

        Another good idea.

      • What I’m getting at is that the US sports are able to offer a single app with all the content. If the BCCI, ECB, CA, etc all have their own content/rights, they might all want to operate their own apps, so you might need to subscribe separately to all of them, increasing the cost. Much like current rights being split between Sky and BT/ESPN for UK viewers.

        I agree with Aditya that the ICC could do something for (say) the World Cup. Full live coverage, with the option to watch packaged highlights (and/or to replay any given ball or over after the match has finished, or even during the match), would arguably be a better ‘product’ than Sky or any other TV company can offer.

      • King Cricket

        March 29, 2017 at 4:46 pm

        The future is surely to have all content available in one place and accessible by all sorts of different TV-on-demand type services. If the model is fundamentally pay-per-view (even considering that some matches will be provided free-of-charge), then iPlayer, Netflix, Kodi, Amazon would simply get a cut if they happened to be the provider in any given case.

  2. Many of us want simplicity of access too.

    Much as it irks me that I pay a Sky Sports subscription mostly for sports in which I have no interest, it irks me even more that I’ll need to dick around adding BT Sports to my package if I want to see the Ashes next winter.

    Then I’ll need to think about possibly cancelling one or the other subscription, as the thought of paying a sub for something I really don’t watch at all also irks me.

    So the thought of needing to fiddle around on a regular basis, going to this site or that, downloading this app or that, subscribing to this service or that…

    …I might retreat to the easier, perennial free-to-air of the BBC radio service. Not because I can’t afford to view but simply because I can’t be bothered to get my head around the latest wheeze.

    A single portal that deals with all the nonsense for me and distributes my subscription money on a usage basis to the broadcasters I use?…I personally would happily pay a modest premium for the convenience. That is basically the music streaming model and I don’t see why similar cannot be done for sport.

  3. All sports are going to find themselves in a mess. The current TV-based model is that Sky pays several billion pounds for the rights to show football, which provides them with 90% of their subscriber base. Then they look at the other smaller sports to fill in the gaps. There are plenty of people who dislike football (or at least don’t like it enough to pay a subscription) who will pay to watch one of cricket, rugby league, rugby union or F1.

    This system provides a huge amount of money to football, and a smaller-but-still-substantial amount to those other sports. On the basis of this these sports have structured their costs. They have built new stadia, centrally contracted their players on high salaries, and arranged focus discussion group meetings in Bermuda or some other nice place.

    Crucially, there is no direct competition between sports. Cricket and RL and RU can all rub along together, because they are all effectively eating the scraps from football’s table.

    A cricket-specific subscription will interest a decent number of people, but very possibly not many others. My subscription currently buys me cricket in many formats, SuperLeague, F1, RU if I’m bored and football if we have friends round. Would I buy a T20-only subscription? Obviously this depends on the price, so cricket automatically finds itself in price competition with all the other sports. Price becomes fundamental.

    Cricket is not football. It cannot just put itself out there and assume that people will sign up. The cost structure of cricket will come under enormous pressure as a result. Expect to see a number of counties, and possibly the county championship, go to the wall, as the revenue-generating aspects of cricket become all there is.

  4. Bring back Tony Lewis on the BBC. And Cornhill Insurance. And cable-knit sweaters. And Richie Benaud.

    What do you mean he’s no longer available?

  5. My confusion arises because all the money derived from Sky seems to end up in the ECB bank account, to be hoarded forevermore, or at least still they start subsidising a new T20 competition for which there seem to be no available players and little interest apart from Mickey Vaughan, “Simple” Simon Hughes and Mike (?) Selvey. I wonder why the ECB doesn’t run a YouTube channel with commentary by bloggers on all the interesting matches. I’m sure Netflix or Amazon would run it for a minimal fee. Here’s the thing, I have spent many hours in airports and bars in the USA waiting for a flight, a cab, a date, a friend and there has always been a baseball channel on view, with loads of stats and graphics. I cannot recall ever seeing a Test match, even involving the steely-spined Alastair, on show in Gatwick North Terminal. If you don’t get the product out there, a mass participation sport will die in the end

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