The meteoric rise of streaming TV in Australia has been an incredible thing to see. We were once happy to watch TV when we were told to, making time in our day to sit in front of the box for the weekly or nightly dose of our favourite shows, or set the recorder to grab it for us to watch later. In the space of a few short years, millions of Australians now get home and pull up a menu of movies, TV shows and documentaries that they can watch whenever they want — streamed on demand and always ready with the next thing on your list of stuff to watch.
If you’re a sports fan, though, you’ll be keenly aware that something’s been missing from Australia’s streaming menu – live sport.
In the US, various sporting codes got in early on the streaming revolution. Major League Baseball and the NBL, for example, have had their own streaming services available for years. But we’re in a different world here in Australia, where the dominant delivery system for live sport has been satellite and cable TV, and with Foxtel owning the rights to all the big stuff.
So the question often comes up: why exactly aren’t the big streaming services rushing to fill this gap? Why hasn’t Netflix, with its billions of dollars of cash to splurge on content, tried live sport streaming? Sure, they’ve never ruled it out, but all indications say they’ve got no plans to try it.
Amazon’s Prime Video service, still in low-key launch phase in Australia, has been asked that question a lot as well. Even though they’re considered as another producer of original movie and TV content, nobody really expected Prime Video to have the ambition to make the leap into live sport streaming (though Amazon certainly has the money to do it).
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Amazon Prime to Stream Live Sport
And then, to everyone’s surprise late last year, Amazon Prime Video announced live streaming of the American NFL’s Thursday Night Football. It’s made available to over 200 countries around the world at no extra charge, in high definition, live and direct. Previously, the code had a deal with Twitter for streaming games — a strange pairing that clearly didn’t work out.
It’s a move that didn’t get much attention at all in Australia, which is perhaps not surprising, given that the fanbase here for NFL football is extremely small. But don’t underestimate the size of the gauntlet being thrown down here. This is one of the biggest companies in the world using their streaming service (which is definitely not the biggest in the world) to show how it can be done – and you can bet that the world’s sporting bodies were watching intently.
Next on Amazon’s list for Prime Video was ATP tennis, with a deal being struck to stream select tournaments worldwide from next year until 2023. An Amazon-sponsored “Next Gen” tournament was used as a test late last year, but when the full service arrives, your Prime subscription will give you access to almost all of it. There will, however, be some tournaments that cost extra to stream – and while there’s no indication what that cost will be just yet, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be cheaper than subscribing to the sports package of your pay TV provider.
So what is Foxtel going to do to stop their sports audience deserting them for Amazon Prime (and any other streaming service that decides to try live sport – both Netflix and Stan have not ruled it out, but have no plans at the moment)?
As an Australian watching live sport from Australia, you’re not going to see much change in the near future. Foxtel has the broadcast rights to multiple major sports sewn up for many years, and their excellent coverage means that most sports fans aren’t complaining about that. But broadcast rights come up for renegotiation every few years, and Foxtel will be keenly aware that Amazon’s laying the groundwork to make themselves a real contender for snagging those rights.
What About YouTube?
While you’ll find a ton of sports content on YouTube – some of it official, some of it fan-created – what you won’t see is live sport coverage on a large scale. YouTube does host live streaming of all kinds of content. But when it comes to regular live coverage of major sports, it’s not going to scratch that itch.
That’s not to say that YouTube isn’t interested in doing live TV. In fact, they recently launched their YouTube TV service in the US, which for the price of a monthly subscription lets you stream a huge range of free-to-air and cable channels. Boasting multiple ESPN channels in its lineup, as well as a dedicated golf channel (!), YouTube TV might look a little familiar to Australians that browse the site.
Why? Because what YouTube is doing with YouTube TV is pretty much exactly what Foxtel is doing with Foxtel Now – except the Foxtel version of streaming TV has far more comprehensive sports coverage.
And the Others?
Netflix and Stan don’t do sports – at the moment. Neither has completely ruled it out, but there’s been talk of Netflix doing live sport streaming for years and it’s never gone past the “not ruling it out” stage. These days, it doesn’t seem like quite the right fit for the increasingly HBO-like Netflix. Stan’s connection to the Nine Network could make streaming sport a real possibility for them, but again, it doesn’t quite seem like the right fit for the service. When it comes to sports streaming, Foxtel’s got a massive headstart on everyone.
Amazon, on the other hand, has big plans for sport. They’ve perfected live streaming after some early hiccups and their coverage of the recent NFL and ATP events was simply first-rate. Surely, there’ll be plenty more to come and you can expect a bigger focus on it when Prime is fully launched here, which is likely sometime early this year.
What’s in it for Amazon? Getting the rights to the sports they’ve nabbed so far hasn’t come cheap, and neither does mounting the coverage. But if they can attract new Prime subscribers with sports, those subscribers will be very likely to take advantage of the free Prime shipping offered whenever they shop at Amazon. Like everything Amazon does, it all leads to one purpose – getting you to their shopping site and keeping you coming back for more.