English Premier League eyeing the Netflix way
Selling directly to fans and bypassing telcos could mean lower fees
Fancy watching English Premier League games on a Netflix-style channel?
You may get to do just that as the EPL looks to sell live content directly to fans, said its new chief executive Richard Masters.
The EPL had considered trials for a new Over The Top (OTT) service in some countries, including Singapore, during the TV bidding process for the 2019-2022 seasons, but opted out of it then, reported the British media.
Masters, however, confirmed last week that trials of an OTT service, that bypasses traditional broadcasters, could hit overseas test markets as early as 2022.
"During the last (rights bidding) process (for the 2019-2022 seasons), we invested a lot of time and resources in building our expertise and capacity in 'direct-to-consumer'," said Masters.
"We considered whether strategically it would be the right time to test a few markets then and decided not to.
"We were ready last time and we will be ready next time, should the opportunity arise."
The EPL makes £3.1 billion (S$5.5b) a year from TV rights, of which £1.4b comes from foreign buyers, the Guardian reported.
However, launching its own streaming service in some countries could lead to a considerable increase in revenue.
In Singapore, fans' options range from $49.90 a month for a Sports Plus pack on Singtel's Cast app, to $69.90 a month for a TV package.
The telco declined to reveal how much it paid for the rights to its current deal, when it was announced in November 2018.
But the Daily Mail reported last Saturday that Singtel forked out about £70 million a year for that deal and, via its 425,000 subscribers, earns around £175m in revenue.
A change in financial model could bring in more revenue for the EPL, but there are also risks, said Masters.
"The Premier League has been successful by seeking partnerships with established broadcasters and having secure funding as its model, as opposed to direct consumer revenue, which is an entirely different strategy.
"The transition from one to the other, if and when it ever happens, would be a big moment."
Bearing in mind the risks, Masters believes that a two-pronged approach - with some countries watching games shown by TV broadcasters and others streamed directly by the EPL - is the way forward.
"I'm not saying it will happen in the next cycle or when it will happen but, eventually, the EPL will move to a mix of direct consumer and (traditional) media rights sales," he said.
"It is impossible to say when that will be."
James Walton, head of Deloitte South-east Asia's sports business group, said that going directly to viewers makes financial sense for the EPL.
"The EPL has been selling its rights for a very large amount of money, but the broadcasters have been making even more money," he said.
"There were a couple of examples cited, including Singapore... so, obviously, the Premier League is thinking that if they can go OTT... they can go direct to the customer...
"Cut out the middleman, the broadcaster... (and they can) effectively make more money."
Walton added that this move could also be a win for the fans, as there could be a drop in price.
"If the price is exactly the same for exactly the same product (on both models), it doesn't do a lot for me as a consumer," he said.
"But if you look at the model of what the EPL is receiving for the rights from a country like Singapore and what Singtel is being paid, it's clear that there is a gap between the two.
"And you have to think the EPL may try to come in somewhere in the middle between those prices.
"So, in that situation, obviously the consumer would win because the price potentially would come down."
Manchester United fan Vishnuvarthan Balakrishnan is in favour of an EPL streaming service, but added that he was concerned with the issue of lag time.
"Some EPL games were on Amazon Prime this season, but there was a slight lag from real-time TV," he said. "I had to mute my WhatsApp, so that it didn't spoil my experience."
Chelsea fan Darrick Lim is looking forward to the day the EPL adopts the direct model.
He said: "I'm excited as the price will drop... better to have a direct relationship with the content producer. This way, fewer complications with middlemen and greedy broadcasters."