View Full Version : Has the bubble burst?

October 24th, 2016, 12:35 PM
Interesting article in The Guardian, research suggests that viewing figures in the UK are down by almost 20%.

It has been one of the eternal questions of the Premier League era, echoing down the years as kits have got tighter and wage packets heavier. Will the bubble ever burst?

Will the seemingly insatiable demand for the product ever level out? Will the thirst of giant media companies for live top-flight action in order to grow and retain their customer bases ever run dry?

Every time the question has been posed, the answer has come back ever more emphatically: no. Just as one tectonic plate appears to be shifting, another slots into place to take broadcasting income to new heights.

The bitter competition between Sky and BT Sport, both desperately using sport as a weapon in the battle for customers across TV, broadband, telephone and mobile, plus the increasing demand across the world in an international market that is still far from sated, drove the latest Premier League TV deal beyond £8.3bn over three seasons. BT shelled out almost £1bn for the Champions League over the same period, while the FA has just brought in around £820m over six seasons for the international rights to the FA Cup alone.

Received wisdom, in the US and the UK, remains that in a fracturing, splintering media landscape top-notch live sport remains one of the only types of content for which viewers will make an “appointment to view”.

Since Rupert Murdoch famously bet the farm on Premier League football to rescue Sky TV in 1991, it has been the catnip that has underpinned subscriber loyalty and, even in a far more complicated media landscape, is seen as so vital as to be worth almost any price.

And yet, arresting figures suggesting a decline in early season ratings have prompted an outbreak of soul-searching at those broadcasters and head-scratching among analysts. Early season ratings for live Premier League matches on Sky Sports are down by a fifth. On one particular Tuesday, BT Sport’s Champions League figures were down by 40%. Could the unthinkable be happening? Could fans finally be turning off?

This has coincided with more deep-seated fears in the US, where NFL coverage, for which broadcasters and cable carriers have collectively shelled out more than $50bn for rights into the early 2020s, has also seen double-digit declines in viewers this season.

A recent article in the The Atlantic posited four possible culprits: the presidential debates (short-term displacement of viewers), cord cutters (the phenomenon in the US of cable customers cancelling their subscriptions in favour of streaming services such as Netflix), Twitter streams (the ability to catch up with games without actually watching them) and Peyton Manning (not just him, but a perceived lack of superstars).

The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, was forced on to the defensive last week. “There a lot of factors to be considered,” he said. “We don’t make excuses. We try to figure out what’s changing.”

Could something similar be happening here? Is this a blip or a trend? Are changing viewing habits simply leading people to watch in different ways or is the vast smorgasbord of football on offer throughout the season finally starting to give viewers indigestion as the endless stream of action becomes a blur?

Beneath those isolated figures, the picture is inevitably a lot more complex. Sky and BT point to seasonal or one-off factors that make year-on-year comparisons dangerous until later in the season.

The Olympics, the weather and a comparative lack of heavyweight clashes so far this season have been cited as reasons for the drop in viewers.

BT can reasonably point to the fact that matches involving teams with a smaller fanbase, such as Leicester, in the Champions League are inevitably going to attract fewer viewers.

Perhaps inevitably, one reason its Champions League ratings are down and its Europa League figures are up is because Manchester United are playing on Thursday nights this season.

Sky says that the first genuine heavyweight clash of the season – the disappointing goalless draw between Liverpool and Manchester United on the preposterously billed “Red Monday” – delivered the best figures for three years, with an average of 2.8m viewers.

Even apparently minor factors, such as the relegation of well-supported teams such as Newcastle United and Aston Villa, can have an effect on the numbers watching at home and in pubs.

Both broadcasters can also reasonably point to technological and cultural shifts, which are not captured by the conventional ratings measures, as reasons why the figures are more difficult to parse than they once might have been.

BT Sport and Sky Sports heavily promote viewing through apps available on smartphones and tablets. BT’s viewing online and via its app is understood to have increased by 17% this season.

In addition to pushing its Sky Go service for subscribers and an attendant new “match centre” app, Sky has focused significant investment in promoting its Now TV service. That allows non-subscribers to dip in and out of Sky Sports and other channels on a day-by-day basis and also does not feature in the headline ratings.

Simon Green, the head of BT Sport, told The Guardian that picking out ratings on linear television on individual match nights and comparing them with last season was only one factor by which they measured success.

“Viewing figures will fluctuate on a day-to-day basis and are influenced by many factors, including the team and the size of their fan base, other events happening on the day or even the weather,” he said.

“Barb [the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board] viewing figures are just one of many ways in which we measure the success of BT Sport and only give part of the picture.”

He added: “Viewing figures help us make decisions about programming and rights, but the most important measure is our overall business performance and these are reported every quarter to the City. BT is happy with the impact that BT Sport has made and the content that we are showing on the channels.”

He said the danger of stripping out figures for a single Tuesday was borne out by the fact that ratings across both Champions League nights were up on the corresponding week last season.

“Viewing figures on a Champions League night will depend on which teams are playing, what the stage of the competition is and who they are playing,” he said. “For match-day three we have had a cumulative sum in-match viewing figure of 2.3m versus 2.1m last season.”

At Sky Sports, the managing director, Barney Francis, is similarly bullish, emphasising the breadth of choice provided by the broadcaster and, interestingly, pointing out that ratings in other sports – and the Football League – are up.

“Sky Sports gives customers an unrivalled breadth of sport in a multitude of ways, encouraging them to engage with sport in the way that suits them,” he said. “This is demonstrated by our consumption; we’ve shown the top 15 most viewed Premier League games this season including Liverpool v Man United at 2.8m average, the highest ratings in three years.

“Viewing of F1, EFL and cricket is up strongly year on year, and The Open saw a reach of 8m on TV and 2.8m unique users online. Through our growing digital platforms and apps, On Demand service and Now TV offering, there is something for every sports fan.”

These captains of the sports broadcasting industry, whose necks are ultimately on the line for the billions they have pledged to the sports they bring to their viewers, are of course biased witnesses.

Could something else be going on here? For years, the Premier League has fought a largely beneath-the-surface war on piracy. It has waged a high-profile legal battle against pubs beaming in coverage from abroad while using specialist technology companies to try to close down illegal streams at source.

But now that just about every household has fast enough Wi-Fi to make streaming illegal streams to a phone, tablet or laptop a reality, that effort feels increasingly like the modern equivalent of sticking a finger into a leaky dyke.

Up to now, a concerted effort by Sky and BT to ensure that they provide their subscribers with enough quality and breadth to make streaming illegally just too much hassle, combined with the fact their numbers have continued to grow regardless, has made it another dog that has failed to bark.

But if those who have shelled out more than £5bn for domestic rights start to feel that their ratings are being compromised, expect them to put more pressure on the rights owners to do something about it.

Of course, for BT and Sky the only real metric that matters is whether people are giving up their subscriptions. If viewing patterns fluctuate and fans snack on football in different ways that is fine by them – as long as those supporters are still shelling out every month and are happy with the breadth and range of content and technology on offer.

Even more difficult to analyse is whether cultural factors are having an effect. Clearly, the internet, social media and video games are having an effect on the way that younger fans in particular interact with the game.

Are younger people watching football in a different way? Is the sport now so all-pervasive that actually watching a full match is becoming a tedious inconvenience if the relevant action and talking points can all be absorbed via osmosis on Twitter and other social media channels?

That might seem an extreme analysis, and certainly the sanctity and thrill of the live occasion remains for most fans, but it is one that Sky clearly recognises – for the first time this season, the broadcaster is pushing out selected goal clips for nothing over Twitter as matches take place.

But the theory gives rise to an intriguing thought experiment – could the very ubiquity of the modern game, its endless noise and hype, eventually start to eat away at the exclusivity that has fuelled its growth over the past two decades. In short, will it finally eat itself?

More likely is that fans will continue to make an “appointment to view” for the biggest matches but that they could become fewer and further apart.

But it could also be true that as the market becomes ever more complex and austerity continues to bite, more viewers will start to feel that the amount they shell out every month to gorge on sporting action is an expense too far and look at ways to mitigate it - whether that is switching to an a la carte service such as Now TV or taking their chances with a streaming service.

In a recent note, the media analysts Enders said that the same factors that were driving US “cord cutters” were not present to the same extent in the UK. It doubted that the same dynamics existed in the UK market and recent results from Sky and BT showed continued growth.

There is certainly no sense of panic from the Premier League’s headquarters in Gloucester Place, with the overall feeling being that it is far too early to judge whether the early season numbers are a blip or a trend.

And yet, beneath the bullish exterior, senior broadcasting sources are also starting to quietly question whether rights owners are doing their bit in return for the billions poured into sport since the satellite television revolution began in the late 1980s. On both sides of the equation – rights owners and broadcasters – the stakes have been raised to almost unimaginable levels. What happens next will be fascinating. Stay tuned. Or not.

So what do we think? I imagine for most of us on here, ever-increasing popularity is all we've ever known - I started watching football in 1993 at the start of the Premier League, and it's been endless prosperity ever since. Does anyone remember back when football was supposedly in the shit at the end of the 80s? It's impossible for me to imagine a time when football wasn't unavoidable.

And in any case...is this research even evidence that football is on the wane? Or are people just fed up of the huge subscription fees, especially when an increasingly tech-savvy population can very easily watch for free online??

Personally, I find I'm watching as much football as ever, possibly even more so with the Premier League now expanding to the occasional Fridays and having more and more three-game Sundays, but I've seen a few people on here mention that they hardly ever watch live games now. So if the bubble has burst, what do we see happening next? Transfer fees finally falling? Attendances increasing in stadiums? Or is it all basically just fine?

The Rosk
October 24th, 2016, 12:47 PM
I watch less football now than I ever have. I cancelled Sky Sports in the summer. The game has really alienated me over the last few years. This may have something to do with the woeful performance of my team over this time, but the constant media bollocks/Top 4 shite/ridiculous money/reliance on your owner being a billionaire to win/distance from the fans/most footballers being cunts has pushed me away from what the game was for me growing up. It used to be everything to me. Now it's an interest and nothing more.

October 24th, 2016, 12:50 PM
Presumably having a kid will have limited the number of games you watch too? I'll be raging if I have to give up classic encounters like Boro/Watford last week once ours is born.

October 24th, 2016, 1:24 PM
The article touches on it but NFL viewers are also down over 20% here in the states. People are finally getting fed up with the shitty presentation (overhyped teams, repeated storylines, bad announcers, etc) that it is effecting the eyes on the sets.

Over here, some people think it has to do with either too many social protests by the players (kneeling during anthem), taking the physicality out of the game (limits on hits to prevent injury) and taking the emotion out of players (can't celebrate big plays without penalty). Other people are closer to Simon's thinking that less people aren't really watching, they just aren't PAYING to watch.

October 24th, 2016, 1:41 PM
I'd like to know what the rise is in people watching illegal streams on the Internet. Those thieving cunts Sky are getting what's been coming to them. People are getting wise to their bollocks, jacking up the price every year by about a tenner a month. What is it now, about £80?

Romford Pele
October 24th, 2016, 2:41 PM
I know people who pay 100 a month for sky with multilple boxes, hd etc.

Utter bollocks.

October 24th, 2016, 4:09 PM

I cancelled Sky when it got to 90 quid a month.

Now I stream, although I try not to watch Sunderland anymore if I can.

October 24th, 2016, 4:44 PM
Football has been in danger of eating itself for a good while now.

Other than Everton games and the international tournaments I cant remember the last time I watched a game involving another club. I watch women's football more than men's now as it least it feels that the players give a shit.

The fiasco with the items thrown on the pitch in the recent Barca game sums up modern football for me. Its tedious.

October 24th, 2016, 5:16 PM
Does anyone have one of those Kodi or Genie boxes? Weighing up whether to get one or not, streaming is pretty inconsistent on my computer.

October 24th, 2016, 5:48 PM
Kodi is shit now, everyone jumped on that bandwagon so all the streams are terrible. Your best just going on Reddit soccerstreams and finding one one there. I've got a chromecast hooked up to my tv, and you can just stream from your internet tab straight to that. I'd also reccomend using the Acestream links, they're a lot better than streaming websites.

October 24th, 2016, 5:57 PM

I cancelled Sky when it got to 90 quid a month.
This. :yes:
It feels like not too long ago the same Sky package used to cost me around £45. Then it slowly went up to around £90 without me realising. And what's worse is the fact that I'm usually at work and can't always get the time to watch games. So I cancelled the whole lot and pay £9.99 for Sky Sports Mobile on my phone.

Does anyone have one of those Kodi or Genie boxes? Weighing up whether to get one or not, streaming is pretty inconsistent on my computer.
I've tried Kodi. Its almost no different to googling for the various streams cuz the Kodi streams will occasionally break, lag, or just not work at times. I think the way Kodi works is that people are able to compile a bunch of streams in a more tidy format and present them as channels. It looks great when you have it all set up and running. But they tend to lag a hell of a lot more than your regular web browser flash player streams. I think it's something to do with the amount of people using it simultaneously cuz you can tune in at any random time and it looks perfectly fine, but the moment a game is on or even during RAW, it starts to lag like crazy and kick you out of the stream.

If you're on an iPhone or iPad, download either "Universal TV HD" or "Global Sports HD". Both great apps for streams. Then you're better off getting one of those HDMI cables for your phone or tablet, and watching it on your TV.

October 24th, 2016, 6:07 PM
Yeah I've heard the same. Might just try to get hold of a private stream. Bloodzeed's free streams are unbelievable and I think he has access to basically every game.

El Capitano Gatisto
October 24th, 2016, 6:15 PM
Sky has never been worth it. Been streaming for years, 3pm games, quality picture. Possibly Russian commentary but who gives a fuck. I find myself getting bored by a lot of matches now, the quality feels like it isn't there. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I preferred watching European football in the 90s when there was a wider range of quality teams. This slow, inevitable death of football as a sport to watch and rise as a consumerist soap opera with ultra-marketed iconic twats feels like it has been happening ever since the expansion of the Champions League. It will eventually implode and go back to the way it was, hopefully. I don't believe the appetite or money is limitless.

October 24th, 2016, 6:34 PM
I find that unless it's a game I'm specifically interested in, I now 'watch' most games to the extent that I have them on while pissing around on my phone, only looking up when the commentator or crowd get loud. Those games are more of a social thing now, watching them while reading the reaction on Twitter or talking about them on Facebook.not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

October 24th, 2016, 6:40 PM
almost all the big hyped games are shite and its been that way for years.

as rosk said i watch less than ever, i cant be arsed punishing myself anymore watching absolute tripe whether it be rangers or scotland anymore.

I used to love a bit of Champions League and UEFA/Europa nonsense but now it just feels like we are watching the same thing year after year. Tag along the vile presentation of the EPL and CL by sky and you basically have destroyed any interest I had.

October 24th, 2016, 6:46 PM
The Champions League is garbage.

The whole allure of European football is to see/participate in dream matches that you wouldnt normally see. Whats the point if the same tedious matches happen every season?

Its also decimated a shit ton of former big clubs from the less glamorous leagues of Europe.

Chris Scott
October 24th, 2016, 6:52 PM
Yep it's all about the steaming now. Boss one on twitter called stream planet. So far every Liverpool game away I've watched has been spot on.

October 25th, 2016, 4:50 AM
Yep it's all about the steaming now. Boss one on twitter called stream planet. So far every Liverpool game away I've watched has been spot on.

So its just a stream of BT sports then?

October 25th, 2016, 5:15 AM
Did anyone notice that the BT coverage of the Liverpool game on Saturday was limited to one camera angle, up high? Couldn't hear the commentary so I don't know if they mentioned it, but it was weird.

October 25th, 2016, 5:19 AM
Well, I’ve been enjoying sport taking a back seat for me lately. Been watching some good old proper TV. Films, drama series etc.

Football has irritated me quite a bit for some time. I had been watching more cricket and rugby, but again not much lately.

I still watch football a fair bit, but I’ve been living with the in-laws for 14 months and the father in law has the footie on a lot. Watching it with him has been handy to curb boredom on a Sunday afternoon and a good excuse to have a beer during the week on a Spurs Champions League game. Or any game, really.

But, we move into our new house soon. Getting the BT internet deal thing with ‘free’ BT Sport, so that will be handy for the Champions League. It’s certainly lost its sparkle over the years, but I do still enjoy it. And I can watch the Rugby Union on there too and the NBA. With BT TV you can add Sky Sports 1 and 2 for £22. That covers all the football, most of the cricket, rugby union internationals and most of the rugby league. So tempted to add that, but it’s all rather expensive. Also have the WWE Network.

May need to start looking at alternatives myself.

October 25th, 2016, 5:27 AM
Did anyone notice that the BT coverage of the Liverpool game on Saturday was limited to one camera angle, up high? Couldn't hear the commentary so I don't know if they mentioned it, but it was weird.

Im surprised they didnt just turn the camera the other way and showed BIG STAND for 90 minutes.