Amazon to livestream Premier League matches: is it the future of sports broadcasting?

Amazon has secured a deal to livestream 20 Premier League matches a season on its online platform Amazon Prime. The rights to exclusive coverage will start from 2019 for a duration of three seasons. The value of the deal was not revealed.

After it saw a decline in the money raised from TV right deals, the Premier League was eager to attract technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, or YouTube.

Source: BBC

This marks a significative step in the growing presence of Amazon in the sports broadcasting market, as it had already gained the exclusive UK rights to the US Open and to the ATP World Tour. On its part, Facebook has a partnership with the MLB to broadcast baseball matches on a weekly basis.

Is this just the begining of things to come or just an experiment by techonology companies?

It is important not to overemphasize the current importance that Amazon has in the sports market. The deal regarding the Premier League has given the US Company 20 matches out of a total of 200 a season. This means that the duopoly of Sky and BT still has the remaining 180 and still remains largely dominant. This is not to say that traditional TV companies can neglect techonology competitors and potential entrants into the broadcasting market, but these can be considered, at the moment, a minor threat.

Amazon is hoping for behavioural changes among sports viewers. Indeed, whereas more and more people give up on buying televisions because they already watch movies, documentaries and series on other devices through Netflix and Amazon, sports lovers still see the television as the most safe, comfortable and enjoyable option.

Nonetheless, younger generations may drive a behavioural change in the sense of more streaming and more interative content while watching (stats, live chats). Technology companies are hoping for it, but may also need to find ways of replicating a laid-back experience that pay TV offers.

The caveat is that it is only streaming a few games but the central point is sport is better at normalising consumer behaviour than anything else. The fact that we may choose to stream Premier League games on Prime, that is a behaviour change. Normalising new behaviour is difficult and Amazon has made a big statement.

What might pose more problems to the TV companies are their internal position and weaknesses. Indeed, while the costs of broadcasting rights surged, BT and Sky saw the number of subscribers to their expensive packages decline. In the United States, ESPN has lost millions of subscribers as well. This does not necessarily mean that viewers are switching to competitors or giving up on watching sports, but rather that their preferences might be changing to short match highlights instead of full matches, to follow the action on social media or to piracy streaming. The latter is becoming more and more sophisticated and everything indicates it will still be a threat to the industry for years to come. If streaming does become the first option among viewers, the free illegal sort will undoubtedly grow as well.

Sport as a TV product is still one of the most appealing products and there is no real substitute for it for many viewers. While consumers are increasingly opting to watch content on digital platforms, sports programming has retained its value. As it is “instantly perishable”, in the sense that viewers are willing to pay a premium for live coverage, it stands apart from other products. This is what has attracted Amazon to the industry and what might constitute a competitive advantage when comparing its services with those of Netflix. Its sucess is not assured, but it is certainly a possibility worth trying.