Friday 30 September 2016

Adrian Weckler: will Eir-BT Sport giveaway accelerate TV's decline?

Published 05/07/2016 | 13:46

Photographed at the launch of Eir Sport are Eir chief executive Richard Moat and former Ireland rugby international Brian O’Driscoll. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Photographed at the launch of Eir Sport are Eir chief executive Richard Moat and former Ireland rugby international Brian O’Driscoll. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

What does Eir giving away BT Sport for free on broadband mean for the future of television?

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On the face of it, it gives a sizeable number of people a good excuse to cancel their normal TV subscriptions.

Because if you’re the type of person whose TV time consists of Netflix, a bit of news and some sport, why would you now have a monthly subscription?

You can now get local stations like RTE free (on Saorview) while getting Premier League matches or rugby or Formula One free as well with your broadband subscription.

Admittedly, plenty of people want more from a TV service than that. And the new free sports stations (BT Sports and Setanta) don’t have everything.

But we’re surely getting a lot closer to broadband being your telly gateway.

To recap how Eir’s new offering works, it’s free to anyone who pays for Eir broadband (not Sky or Vodafone delivered over Eir lines -- it has to be Eir retail branded broadband).

If you want to watch BT Sport on your telly from the Eir broadband service, you’ll need a set top box. (It’s free once you do this, though.)

Alternatively, you can download an Eir Sport app for iPad, iPhone or Android and watch away there. Almost all of the stuff is available in HD.

And this is some of what you get: Barclays Premier League Football, FA Cup, Champions League, Europa League, European league football from Germany, Italy and France, League of Ireland, European Rugby Champions Cup, Aviva Premiership Rugby, UFC, Formula One and Allianz Leagues GAA.

Not bad for a free add-on.

But the wider significance is what it says about the future of TV.

We already know that ‘cord-cutting’ -- where people are quitting television subscriptions and buying movies, TV and sport online -- is a phenomenon that is accelerating in most countries. This could be a step in that direction for Ireland.

For example, recent research from the Irish telecoms regulator Comreg has shown that a majority of Irish Netflix subscribers have switched off scheduled television or lessened their viewing.

According to Comreg, 14pc of those who have subscribed to online paid TV services have stopped watching live or scheduled television, while 43pc say that it has caused them to watch less live or scheduled TV.

In the US, the cord-cutting process is more advanced.

"There are about ten million households with a broadband line coming into the home with no television," said Russell Sapienza, a senior executive with PricewaterhouseCoopers which recently launched a report showing that television advertising in the US is about to be overtaken by digital advertising for the first time.

This, he suggested, is only going to increase. In the US, TV companies are preparing for it. Big cable TV companies such as Comcast and Cablevision are currently working on streaming-only services to take on Netflix and YouTube.

According to the international measurement company Nielsen, YouTube on mobile devices is seen by more 18 to 49-year-olds than any single television service.

Nielsen, which also powers Ireland’s TAM ratings, has released several pieces of research showing that TV audiences are declining relative to phones, tablets, computers and ‘smart’ video appliances.

“People still gather around the sofa to consume great experiences,” said Russell Sapienza, a senior executive with PwC. “But there’s a shift in what device they watch and when they watch, with mobile creating more access throughout the day.”

For many of us, phones are an increasingly big draw.

Late last year, one of RTE’s video partners -- Ooyala -- released figures showing that Ireland has the highest mobile video viewing figures in the world.

And figures from the Dublin-based analytics firm Statcounter shows that Irish people use our smartphones to get content more than almost any other western country, with a third of all web access here now coming from our handsets.

It all adds up to one thing: we are nowhere near as captured by tellies as we used to be.

Some TV broadcasters appear to have figured this out. Sky, for example, has an online-only offering called NowTV. It even sells a Roku digital box that can reverse the service back up onto a full-sized telly.

Will Eir Sport accelerate what appears to be a one-way process? It looks like it will.

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