Rumours have been circling for some time that the Premier League has been working on a Premier League streaming service. Comically dubbed “Premflix” by some journalists, this service could complement or rival the traditional television broadcasters, though details (and the existence of such a plan) are being kept under wraps at present.
So is a Premier League streaming service in the works? And if so, what could we expect from it and when would it likely launch?
A History of Football Broadcasting
Once upon a time, watching a football match meant donning a shirt and jacket (perhaps even a tie), walking or taking public transport to the stadium, and standing with your friends and fellow supports.
If you couldn’t make it to the game in person, you would have to wait to read the score and match report in the newspaper the next day, or, if you were lucky, listen on the radio.
In the second half of the 20th century, things began to change though as football started to appear on television for the first time. In the UK, this was still limited to just a few games a week, meaning fans had to make do with coverage and scores from the BBC’s Football Focus and Final Score programmes.
In 1992, the Premier League was set up with the biggest teams in English football breaking away from the English Football League, creating a new top tier that was directly controlled by the clubs. One of the biggest motivations for this was the desire to have more control over TV broadcasting and to have more games shown to viewers.
The first TV rights deal, which covered the first season in 1992/93 and ran until 1996/97, was worth £304 million. They were bought, at auction, by BSkyB, which trades in the UK as “Sky”. This valued the rights at £60.8 million per season.
The next auction took place for the 1997/98 to 2000/01 seasons, with Sky bagging them again with a winning bid of £670 million. This meant that the rights nearly tripled in value, costing the company £176.5 million per year.
In 2001/02, a three-year deal was valued at £1.1 billion, increasing the cost per season to £366 million. The 2004/05 to 2006/07 auction was a similar figure, with a jump to £1.782 billion in 2010/11.
By the auction for 2016/17 to 2018/19, Sky and BT agreed to pay a combined £5.136 billion over three years, equating to £1.712 billion per season. It is believed a similar amount was agreed for the 2019/20 to 2021/22 deal.
This also doesn’t include international broadcast rights, which are believed to be worth similar amounts.
Today, some of the biggest Premier League clubs are able to generate more than £150 million of net profit each season. This is, in part, thanks to these huge TV rights deals with British and international broadcasters. Though huge sponsorship deals and high demand for merchandise are also big driving forces behind it.
The football betting market is also a contributor to its commercial success. Competition among bookmakers is incredibly high, which results in many of them offering free bets to customers. Additionally, to improve their brand awareness, sports betting companies pay large premiums to sponsor football clubs and broadcasts, driving up the revenues of the teams and TV companies.
If Things Are So Good, Why Upset the Apple Cart?
It is indisputable that the Premier League has become a huge success since its inception in 1992. By offering some of the best football from the most prestigious teams in the world, it has become an attractive league for fans from across the planet.
To serve these fans, the league sells these lucrative rights to broadcasters, who then sell access to their channels to fans for a fee.
Despite the continually growing rights deals, the Premier League could make significantly more money by cutting out the middleman and launching its own streaming service.
Not only that, but it would actually be able to charge fans less for access. This could also, potentially, increase the number of people watching games. More viewers could allow the league and its clubs to demand more from sponsors, further increasing review.
Currently, Sky generates £13 billion from its more than 23 million customers, equating to £565 each per year. They don’t just pay for football though, instead also subscribing for broadband, additional TV channels, and other sport. BT customers pay a similar figure, with around 5 million households able to access the service.
A football fan who just wants an internet connection and to watch Premier League games could easily save £200-300 per year if Premflix was charged at £10 per month.
At this price, the league could also match its current domestic rights revenue with just over 14 million customers. Though, it seems highly likely that more than this would be willing to pay that to access the national sport.
What Would Premier League Streaming Coverage Be Like?
Competition in the current football broadcast market is high, with customers expecting high standards of production quality, HD video, and expert analysis. Therefore, the Premier League would need to at least match current levels of coverage quality for fans to be happy with it.
It’s likely games would be ad-free, but perhaps with sponsors and/or product placements.
New innovations, such as the option to choose your own camera angles, could be included in a service like this too.
When Could Premflix Launch?
With the current rights deal running until the 2021/22 season, nothing could happen before then. It could be launched after that, but it seems more likely that the league would first trial it for overseas fans before making a decision about launching it for the domestic market.
If it was to happen, there would likely be legal challenges by existing broadcasters and investigations by government bodies into whether it would be “anti-competitive”. Though it’s not clear what the outcome to these would be.
Such challenges could delay its launch for years. So in short, don’t expect a Premflix service any time soon.
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