Lots to pick up on today but a Bloomberg article on “Soccer Pirates” grabbed my attention. The US business news broadcaster focussed on a recent fundamental technical shift which has seen high quality and reliable feeds of Sky and BT broadcast football games illegal appearing on TV sets across the globe.
The days of illegal content consumers scavenging around their laptop for a feed in the minutes leading up to kick off are on the way out. Now you can subscribe to a feed of your chosen content in Eastern Europe or China and it will be streamed to a device attached to your TV, where it will appear pretty much as it does direct from Sky.
This is important for several reasons. Subscription football is expensive. Thousands of Scottish football fans pay a significant portion of their monthly disposable income to Sky and BT to follow their team on television. They also get English and Spanish football as part of these subscriptions, but there is a dysfunctional market for football content.
While Sky earn 8% of their UK subscription income from Scotland, they send only 1% of their football outlays north of the border. English Premier League football is the key to entry into the UK subscription TV market, own this content, and you have market control. Cost per eyeball paid for Scottish football is a tiny fraction what is paid for English football (or English rugby league, for that matter), which has fostered a feeling among Scottish subscribers that they are being exploited by an oligopolist.
For some time now the comments section of CQN has seen discussions on how to organise a boycott of Sky, with many making the unilateral declaration “Just cancelled Sky Sports”, but there is a fundamental truth: if we have the money, we are going to watch Celtic.
Scrambling around for an illegal feed minutes before kick-off, fighting pop-ups or coping with lags is not how I want to watch my football, however, as the Bloomberg article makes plain, these issues are irrelevant if, like 2.4 million others, you subscribe to an Eastern European or Chinese feed. To force an oligopolist to change, you either need regulators to step in (they have abandoned us to a fragment of the UK market), or you need to find a way to take your business elsewhere.
One of the main advantages of being paid a pittance is you can take bold steps; Scottish football has nothing to lose by burning bridges with those who collect revenues here and pour the money into the coffers of clubs elsewhere.
The more fundamental question, even than losing Scottish subscribers, to Sky and BT, is the risk this technology poses to the value of their English Premier League broadcast rights. Viewers in England (and across the globe) also pay a substantial levy to watch English football. If the pick-up rate of Eastern European subscriber numbers continues, and assurances given to Bloomberg that prosecutions for use are unlikely, Sky and BT will see collapsing revenues – and maybe then we’ll see the English football bubble burst. Indeed, if Scottish viewers prove the concept and move en-mass, English viewers will not be far behind.
This is an important subject, we’ll talk more about it. I’m not going to advocate breaking even an unenforceable law, although others will, but there is no point playing TV money-victim anymore. This technology will eventually remove the enormous discrepancies in our game, so I’m off to buy one of the boxes, just to take a look, of course.