This past weekend, the main Australian subscription TV company, FOXTEL, screened a much-anticipated boxing match on its pay-per-view channel (PPV); the cost of the bout was $60 AUD and it was available to all subscribers regardless of the tier they subscribed to. There had been a lot of promotion, as you would expect for such a high profile event.
But in the buildup to the fight, two enterprising young Aussies began to LIVE stream what was on their TV screens directly to Facebook through their Facebook LIVE service. This is, of course, illegal, as within your TV contract it clearly states you have purchased a license to watch content in your residential home and not in any means broadcast or further distribute it. However, stream the fight they did and one even received a telephone call from a FOXTEL representative advising he needed to take down the stream immediately. He recorded the call and placed it on Youtube.
Numbers range up to 300,000 for how many fans watched the fight without having purchased the PPV and, quite rightly, FOXTEL are aggrieved and will certainly take this further.
Taking a step back. this is an extraordinary story, yet one that was bound to happen, ever since the Periscope LIVE viewing of the same fight last year and a few more. It is a case of new methods of distribution catching up with ingrained business models.
There is no doubt in my mind that it is wrong, you don't sit in a cinema and record a blockbuster and think that is right... this is the same.
Broadcast rights fund the growth of sport. I did a year-long thesis on the topic and it’s as simple as that. You can argue that the rich sports get richer and the second- and third-tier sports get poorer due to the portioning of TV rights money, but that is for another day.
The real question here is: What next?
Youtube has a very sophisticated "fingerprint match" that catches content and allows the owner to own and monetize it, or take down the content when they spot something, I have used it myself when I worked on reality TV and clips were being quickly shared. Surely this is something that now needs to be developed for LIVE content across all social media channels?
From the social media point of view, Facebook states that they have the ability to watch and act on copyrighted content when it reaches a certain viewer threshold, well this one clearly got past, Broadcasters will no doubt try to push Facebook to a degree of ownership of this problem.
Also, from a subscription broadcaster company point of view, shouldn't it be possible for broadcasters to give access to the public as a "one off" to events like this, so non-subscribers have the chance to get onboard rather than resort to watching via a feed on a social media network? A case in point is the Now TV service here in the United Kingdom that allows viewers without a contract to buy the ability to watch a day's sport or a movie with just a single small payment. What Now TV does well here is that It successfully blends the old business model with new methods of distribution and payment options and that, for me, is the key here.
The ability to stream is only going to get better and better, 4K phones, powerful broadband and even the ability to insert adverts, so if you can’t beat em, probably time to work out how you can mutually benefit.
This story should be a wake-up call for a few parties, oh and what a terrific time to train to be a media lawyer... tell your teenagers!