If further proof were needed that we are moving towards a media centralised on the Internet, today’s announcement that England’s World Cup qualifier football match with Ukraine will be televised exclusively online should certainly help.
For around £5, a million England supporters – numbers are limited so as not to overload the system – can enjoy the now inconsequential game on their PC (or Mac). Whilst this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, it is the first time that an Internet company has been granted exclusive rights to host a live England match; quite a milestone.
This all came about, to cut a long story short, because of the now defunct Setanta having secured the rights to host away international games; rights that came back on to the market because of their grim demise. None of the terrestrial or digital channels were sufficiently interested to make a bid worthy of the name, primarily because interest is likely to be minimal, so it landed on the Internet.
Streaming matches isn’t in itself a new thing. You can find almost any English premier league match and a host of foreign offerings too using services like Justin.tv; but the main change is the move from free feeds from a questionable Middle East source to a fully ratified company, offering its own programming online.
The Internet is about free economics. Making money through avenues that don’t include charging users is quickly becoming the norm. Google’s issues with publishing books online and the tussle between YouTube and the music industry in the UK have all brought further attention to the idea of costly content being distributed for nothing.
To charge money today for services, you have to be offering something unique, something worthy of paying a premium. For many, today’s football-related announcement may be the first time many members of the public have encountered an exclusive online premium service; particularly one that was previously free offline.
Newspapers have toyed with the idea of charging for their journalistic content online (see ‘Is Rupert Murdoch Right to Charge for Online News), but that, as with football matches, may be doomed to failure. If the content is available elsewhere for free, i.e. you can watch a match through an alternative stream or visit another website, the ‘premium’ element of whatever it is you’re promoting is lost.
Internet businesses often need to be very canny in how they choose to monetise their site. Advertising is always the leading solution, it’s what sustains search engines, social media – with the exception of Twitter – as well as most blogs and news sites. It’s a solution that is largely unobtrusive, doesn’t deter visitors and ensures that you can financially benefit from your website’s success.
People will pay of course, particularly if they see it as a preferred choice or aren’t aware of any competitors. But the mass boycott mooted by sections of the England faithful may well be muted when Saturday comes around; and by purchasing the pay-per-view subscription, they may well be helping to change the way we all view television in the future.
Hulu, the hugely successful American online TV service, is came to the UK shortly after this post was originally written in 2009. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all currently offer online services to watch television over here, with the BBC’s iPlayer format proving to be particularly successful. So, despite the BBC being a publicly fund non-profit organisation, maybe there is a market for Internet television here that can successfully monetise; we’re just not too happy paying for it directly.
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