Thursday, 31 January 2013

NI plays £20m 'Spot the Ball'

News International (NI) which publishes The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun in the UK has purchased the clip rights for English Premier League matches starting with the 2013/14 season. This is a deal reported to be valued at £20 million. Clip rights allow the publication of 'near real-time' (actually a couple of minutes delayed) snippits of action, such as goals, that are ideal to be consumed on mobile phones and tablets.
So why am I, as technologist, who was always the last to be picked for the football team at school, interested in this? Because it is all about the technology raising the money to rescue the loss-making broadsheet papers, and ensuring an additional income stream for the 'red top', before as seems inevitable, parent company News Corporation sells its newspaper publishing business.
As demonstrated at the Olympics last year and by NI's sister company BSkyB's Sky Go offering, streaming technology is now very robust, and as 4G spreads across UK population centres (where Premier League football stadia are) next year performance should be good.
However, monetising clips is incredibly difficult because the consumer market has come to expect the majority of content to be on the internet for free. Furthermore the combination of HD cameras on mobile devices, wifi and YouTube means that user generated clips are always quickly and readily available.
Notwithstanding that I believe these clips could be the 'killer content' on the three newspapers' apps for tablets and smart phones. The Times and Sunday Times already have their written and expanding video content behind a £4/week paywall, admittedly with only 131,000 subscribers in October 2012. However, The Sun does not currently have a paywall, and it must also be assumed that a significant proportion of the red top's football loving readership will already have access to Premier League action via SkySport television.
BUT, and it is not so much of a big but, Premier League season tickets now range from £500 - £2000 a year. With single match day tickets being not less than £30, a significant proportion of the target market for match attendees is becoming  ABC1. Those who have more than average incomes, those most likely to have iPad and also those most likely to read The Times and Sunday Times. Could be a nice alignment and inducement to pay for the broadsheet app?
NI has said (at the moment) it has no plans to syndicate the clip rights so it is going to have to get its returns from the apps for its own titles. With The Times and Sunday Times currently losing £40m a year, this means The Sun app must be going behind a paywall this year. Will The Sun readers go for it? Well many pay £60-90 a month for their SkySport subscription, something many of us would never have thought sustainable a couple of years ago, and they are probably also paying approximately £20 month on their mobile contracts.
I remember watching football matches of the 1970's and 1980's when supporters in the stand would be listening via an earpiece on their transistor radios to the commentary on a rival's match whilst watching their favourite team. Their equivalents now have tablets and smart phones.
So how about £4/week to access and share HD clips with your mates at the stadium, in your living room, in the pub, or wherever else you are watching a match?
I think NI has spotted the ball, and also expect to see many more tablets in the hands of Premier League supporters while they are supposedly watching a match they have paid for.

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