[co-author: Ashley Kerr]
The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been a ratings success for SBS, which has an exclusive Media Rights Licence to broadcast the World Cup across television, radio and the internet in Australia. However, with the tournament now nearing its final stages, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that SBS is attempting to identify illegal live-streamers from Europe and the Middle East who are providing footage of the matches into Australia.
SBS has reportedly spent $30 million for the exclusive broadcast rights for the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups. With an expected $40 million being spent for the rights to the 2012 and 2022 World Cups, it is understandably interested in protecting its investment.
What is the impact on live sports in Australia?
Television operators have shown interest in the ability of SBS to address the illegal live-streaming of sports in Australia. An increase in illegal live-streaming can result in a decrease in ratings for the exclusive rights holders to sporting events such as the World Cup and Olympic games. If operators are unable to secure enough of a return in their investments there may be a decrease in quality and quantity of live sport broadcasting and, perhaps more importantly for sports rights holders, a decrease in the amounts paid for exclusive rights. Currently, there is a battle underway for the broadcast rights for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympic games. The problems posed by illegal streamers may have those vying for the rights questioning their proposed investment.
What is different with current World Cup?
Unlike services offered by paid television operators such as Foxtel, SBS has provided national coverage of every match in the 2014 World Cup without charge or subscription, although SBS is receiving revenue from advertisers on its service. Furthermore, SBS have provided full match streaming, replays and highlights on TV, mobile phones and online in high definition. Television operators and rights holders in Australia are therefore likely to be concerned if the investigation by SBS reveals wide-spread illegal streaming when the service is being offered legally and without charge to viewers.
What can we learn from this?
While the full impact the illegal-streamers have had on the viewing figures achieved by SBS is still to be determined, television operators and other licensees need to be aware that an exclusive licence may not fully protect their rights. With the 2014 Commonwealth Games commencing later this year, television operators will be closely watching to see if Network TEN faces the same challenges currently being experienced by SBS, or if it is able to address the problem before the Games commence.