Masters, facing the press for the first time since his full-time appointment to the position in December 2019, said that the idea of a ‘Premflix’ product – which would see Premier League matches available for the first time without a broadcast partner – had been discussed internally prior to 2019-22 rights tender. He said: “During the last process we spent quite a lot of time and invested a lot of recourse in building out our expertise and capacity in ‘direct consumer’. We considered whether it would be the right time to test a few markets and decided not to. But we are going to continue for the planning phase in the next commercial term to build out those capabilities.
“We were ready last time and we will be ready next time should the opportunity arise.”
Launching a DTC service would be in-keeping with the league’s strategy, which has in recent years focused on creating the Premier League as a global brand with a distinct visual language. This strategy kicked in when the league ended its £40 million-per-year sponsorship deal with Barclays in 2016 and subsequently unveiled a rebrand. Barclays is still the league’s ‘official banking partner’, but the league wanted to focus its efforts on branding.
Forgoing rights sales for a DTC option would be a huge gamble and would have to be made in consultation with the league’s teams. The EPL generates £3.1 billion per year in TV revenue, with £1.4 billion of that coming from foreign regions. As a part of that deal, premier league clubs make an average of £135 million from TV rights. EPL club owners will be likely to veto the deal should it not make an equivalent sum.
Another hurdle facing a potential streaming product is exposure. Sky has 6 million football customers in the UK, while BT Sport has 2 million. Meanwhile, Amazon, which made a big splash by picking up 20 games per season starting from 2019, has over 6.5 million. Globally, over 200 million people have access to the league via pay TV, with hundreds of millions more being able to view matches on free-to-air broadcasts. While it is unlikely that ‘Premflix’ would be a global product, at least at launch, it is still a big ask to expect this number of people to sign up for a specific EPL-dedicated service.
This point is one that Masters is aware of, noting that “eventually the Premier League will move to a mix of direct consumer and media rights sales.”
While the discussion is currently very speculative, one thing that can be said with confidence is that a ‘Premflix’ streamer will not launch for the better part of a decade in several Nordic countries.
NENT currently holds the Premier League rights in Sweden, Denmark and Finland until 2022, and the new agreement extends those rights to Norway. NENT last year agreed the merger of Viasat Consumer – NENT’s satellite pay TV and broadband TV operations – with Norwegian telco Telenor’s Canal Digital, which operates across the Nordic region.
This deal led Masters to put himself in contrast with beIN Media CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly, who previously said that sports rights are “sleep-walking towards a financial cliff”.
Masters said: “We have every reason to be optimistic about the future of sports rights. I don’t think the bubble has burst because our business is effectively hedged between domestic performance and international performance.”
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