Friday 19 December 2014

Technology will be the real game changer for sports viewing

Mick O'Keeffe

Published 16/04/2014 | 02:30

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, and Ireland's Sean O'Brien in attendance at a TV3 Group RWC 2015 sports rights announcement, Mansion House, Dublin. However, it is technology that will be the real game changer when it comes to sports viewing. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, left, and Ireland's Sean O'Brien in attendance at a TV3 Group RWC 2015 sports rights announcement, Mansion House, Dublin. However, it is technology that will be the real game changer when it comes to sports viewing. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

TV3 was understandably bullish yesterday when announcing its "biggest ever sports rights contract". The broadcaster had just secured rights to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. TV3 highlighted that it will be the only television network in the Republic of Ireland with exclusive rights to show the "biggest television event of 2015", which is a valid claim in a non-Olympic and non World Cup year.

It was indeed very positive news for the Ballymount-based broadcaster after what has been perceived as a difficult few weeks. The decision by the GAA to go with Sky and not TV3 for a large chunk of GAA broadcast rights came on the back of losing some popular content such as 'Coronation Street' to the new UTV Ireland. TV3 needed to send the market a signal and it has.

TV3 will show all of Ireland's coveted rugby games and the concluding stages free-to-air and in high definition. They say they "will manage the broadcast of live coverage of all 48 matches", therefore making a deal with another broadcaster a possibility.

This announcement continues the seismic shift in sports broadcasting rights distribution here.

Last week, Setanta Sports confirmed that both the European Rugby Champions Cup (former Heineken Cup) and Challenge Cup will be broadcast live on BT Sport from 2014. The deal means that Setanta subscribers can view 35 live matches on BT Sport which is part of the Setanta Sports Pack. This includes half of the televised pool games, two quarter finals and one semi-final exclusively. The final will be broadcast live on both BT Sport and Sky Sports. This was a landmark announcement for rugby coverage in Ireland and another coup for high-flying Setanta which has spent the last nine months announcing extra coverage on its Sports Pack.

However, the sports broadcasting announcement that has garnered most interest on these shores remains the Sky Sports deal with the GAA which has been the source of enormous debate in GAA circles.

The breakthrough deal gives the broadcaster exclusive rights to 14 matches in the senior football and hurling championships. It is seen by GAA anoraks as a milestone announcement, on a par with the opening up of Croke Park in 2005 and changing to a multi-sponsor model in 2008. Some have argued the GAA has gone a step too far.

The arguments against the GAA's deal with Sky focused mainly on exclusion and the GAA turning against its own culture of inclusion. The case against Sky claimed that the under privileged, the young and the elderly would be disproportionately disenfranchised by pay per view.

Those in favour spoke of extra revenue, more promotion, better production values and the importance of exporting the GAA games to millions of screens in the UK. The Sky announcement has split many in the GAA and sports community but the GAA rarely gets it wrong and has vigorously defended its position. So are all these new agreements good or bad news for the consumer.

It does seem that there is something in it for everyone.

TV3 now owns rugby rights that nobody else has. The Setanta Sports Pack has been bolstered beyond recognition with extra soccer and rugby packages to rival Sky as well as Allianz Leagues. TG4 have rightfully stayed in the game and now Sky has some top-class GAA action to add to its already extensive mix. RTE remain the dominant GAA player and it is likely they will do so for some time to come.

The landscape has changed for good. Extra competition and extra choice is good for the consumer and more promotion and extra revenue is good for sport. But the biggest potential developments in sports broadcasting are not the new sports packages that have been recently announced. Sports broadcasting has been transformed from its origins in the 1920s and 1930s on radio. Fans have moved through the years from watching black and white TV to colour TV, the introduction of graphics and replays and lately digital and then HD. Internet streaming really took off around 2005 and most recently 3D has emerged.

The recent broadcasting rights announcements may be tremors but the earthquake is a few years away. Technological innovation will be the real game changer.

MICK O'KEEFFE IS MANAGING DIRECTOR OF PEMBROKE COMMUNICATIONS.

Irish Independent

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