Optus Wins EPL Rights, But What Does This Mean For Foxtel?

I have written on oft occasions of my desire to purchase Foxtel. Yet due to a rather strict body corporate policy in my 1960s-era apartment building, I must remain a humble free-to-air viewer, for now.

However, this week the sports broadcast landscape changed in this country: Optus came out of nowhere to pinch the EPL rights off Foxtel, causing a major panic among those in the rights industry. EPL fans with Foxtel were outraged, some taking to social media to vent to the company directly. Personally, it made me somewhat thankful that I don’t have Foxtel, because right now, I’d be pretty concerned about their ability to retain their sporting properties.

Optus is yet to announce where and how viewers will be able to view the EPL, which they will have exclusively on their platform(s) as of August 2016. However, it’s expected that it will be on its IPTV service, Fetch TV, as well as on some form of mobile app.

This is the future of sports – and we must adjust accordingly. No longer will we be able to have a ‘one stop’ shop when it comes to a sports platform. We must pick and choose what we want to watch. It’s no longer a buffet of sport – this is a la carte dining. Tapas, if you will.

The NRL rights deal is coming up very soon (four games have already been sold to Channel Nine, but the rest is still up for grabs) and you can bet Foxtel will go hard for this, lest it lose face as the premier sports broadcaster. Rupert Murdoch’s Foxtel already overpaid for the AFL rights just to make a point to the NRL, but now, he’s going to pay overs on rugby league – a sport he clearly doesn’t like or respect.

But where will this cash come from, if they weren’t prepared to spend enough to renew the EPL rights – a measly $50 million?

The damage has been done to Foxtel. This is a huge hit to its brand. With Optus on the charge – not to mention the Middle Eastern-owned BeIN Sport, which recently bought out Setanta and is now making waves all across Asia and Europe as it buys its way to world domination – the heady days of Fox Sports are certainly over.

"Don't be fooled by his calm exterior; this bloke is sweating."
“Don’t be fooled by the calm exterior; this bloke is sweating.”

Anyway, a simple look at FetchTV – the most likely platform for Optus’ EPL broadcast – reveals that they already have most of the non-sports channels that are available on Foxtel, such as National Geographic, MTV, and other random channels that play Seinfeld/Cheers re-runs ad nauseum, etc. As for sport, they do have ESPN 1 and ESPN 2, so they gain access to some American sports coverage, including the NBA.

Regarding BeIN, it’s complicated, considering the channel is also available on Foxtel and FetchTV as an additional paid service. But these blokes have money – and I’m sure they’ve got a strategy for the Australian market.

As for Foxtel? Well, they’ve still got the AFL (which they’re sharing with 7’s free-to-air channels) and the NRL (until the end of 2017). They do have some cricket rights, too – plenty of ’em – but let’s not forget that Optus has a rival streaming service of its own that allows viewers to access the ‘Cricket Australia’ pass, thereby gaining access to matches that way.

All we know is that the sporting landscape is changing. In the future, you will pay only for what you use, rather than getting the whole cake. It’s getting complicated – and you’ll be buying league passes, streaming stuff and buying ‘add-on’ channels more than ever before. If you’re particularly invested in football, perhaps you’ll buy the BeIN Connect online service. If all you care about is NRL or AFL, then you’ll have to buy Foxtel’s basic package that includes sports. But that basic package will end up being pretty bloody basic soon enough.

I’m guessing that a decent percentage of Australians subscribe to Foxtel simply for its sport portfolio. Premium sport, delivered in HD. The company can’t afford to keep shedding valuable live rights and expect to retain its customer base. And as for the non-sports content, well, Australians can get their premium entertainment content from Netflix now, at a far cheaper price. Or Stan. Or Presto. Or just illegally, I guess.

With all these new players coming in, Foxtel’s going to have to do better than a few NRL games and a Christmas Day Seinfeld marathon to keep angry subscribers from jumping ship. That might have been enough to keep people happy in 1999, but not today.

By staff writers

* Foxtel paid $15 million for the EPL so you can forgive them for being reluctant to pay more than three times to renew the rights. But still, you’ve just gotta hit that shit.

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