Friday, January 6, 2012

Content rights in 2012 - time for a bold move online?

I have written about the move to from TV to online content for many years - with time-critical content (sports & news especially) being watched more online as each year passes.  See previous articles on the 2010 World Cup, the BBC iPlayer statistics, LONAP graphs etc.

The content-owners obviously want to maximise their revenue and in the past this was best done by splitting rights by country - if you own the rights and can sell it over 200 times, you can negotiate your best deal in each individual market.

When a broadcaster relies on subscriptions for its revenue (such as Sky in the UK), they need to keep buying the most popular content to keep their subscriber base with them and the content owners have managed to use this to keep the revenue flowing.

So, the major sports have continued to grow, reinforced by a circle of more PR leading to more press, higher salaries for the sports stars, higher rights payments and the money keeps flowing around and everyone is seemingly happy, even the consumers keep paying, though perhaps with grumbles.

Meanwhile, non-subscription-based broadcasters find it more and more difficult to compete, either dropping sports altogether or slowly drifting down the scale (a bizarre manifestation of this being the shared rights between the BBC and Sky for this year's F1, my guess is next time around there BBC will drop out altogether).

I believe that the current model is unsustainable and the balance of power will shift in part by technology and partly due to multi-country deals.

Firstly, the European Court of Justice has ruled that any EU citizen can get their TV service from any provider - see the case brought by Portsmouth landlady Karen Murphy.  If content-owners continue to negotiate country-by-country, then the cheapest buyer/broadcaster can undercut others to broadcast its content outside its normal area, bringing down all prices - the content-owners (and other broadcasters who have paid a higher price) aren't going to want that, so they are likely to try to negotiate wider rights - perhaps the whole of the EU or even a global deal, if a single or group of broadcasters can afford it.

From the technology-side, it is ever easier for consumers to jump around the web (spoofing their IP addresses, using proxies in other countries etc.) and find the content wherever they want it, as long as someone is broadcasting the content on the web somewhere, it can be found and watched or listened to.  As this is the case, why should a broadcaster in one country keep paying an ever higher price at each renegotiation when some of their customers might be siphoned off to someone showing it on the web in another country?

Meanwhile, YouTube and other broadcasters are looking around for new ways to bring in eyeballs.  This article brings in Google/YouTube and al-Jazeera as possible bidders for the English Premier League with Apple (perhaps) on the sidelines.

So, what will happen in the future.  At risk of making a prediction that has many vested interests fighting against, I think that we may be at or near the top of the right-holders price-curve.  I believe that a mixture of technology, legal rulings, economic concerns and ever-greater leakage of content onto other platforms will reduce the overall prices for content owners.  It will be interesting to see what happens when a major sporting event moves to a non-traditional broadcaster - maybe 2012 will take us further down this road.

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