Is screening England Qualifier on net an own goal for TV’s supremacy?

I am not adverse to paying to watch sport on TV, in fact when it comes to watching England in the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign a few quid in subscriptions seems a small price to pay. But as you cannot have failed to have heard about this week with all the press advertising and media coverage, do we really want to watch this Saturday’s qualifier in Ukraine on the internet and pay at least £4.99 for the privilege??
Now whilst I would dearly love all England qualifiers to be free to view on TV, in today’s commercially driven market, I don’t think that will ever happen. There is simply too much money to be made in screening rights and in the main the subscription channels are winning out over the traditional channels. In the case of the commercial terrestrial channels their efforts are also not helped by the fact they can’t sustain the advertising revenue to support their bids, with companies advertising less on TV in favour of online.
The reason that this Saturday’s game is being screened online is actually as a result of Setanta’s demise. When it bought the rights to England away qualifiers it had hoped to have a much higher level of subscribers to the channel, but they did not materialise and it went bust. Then when none of the traditional broadcasters were willing to pay the asking price, digital sport specialist Perform was appointed to stream the match on-line. The match will now be shown on the website and viewers will be able to subscribe to it using PayPal, the electronic payment service.

So is this “disastrous and an outrage” as one England travelling fan commented on the BBC online or will England fans “embrace” the internet broadcast as you might expect Andrew Croker, executive chairman of Perform to say. Well as rare as it is for me to a) understand and b) agree with, anything that England defender Rio Ferdinand says, he has got it spot on (probably due the fact he received a set of well crafted PR speaker notes). He said “broadcasting of the match marked the way forward and in the future it’ll probably be the reality. It’s a good way to gauge how many people are interested.”

What’s clear to me and always seems to be the case with the media, is that actually we the consumers are in control of the future of sports broadcasting. We decide what we watch, when we watch and on what platform we watch. Perhaps most importantly we also decide how much we want to pay to watch (if at all).

I will be watching on-line this Saturday along with an estimated 2.5 million viewers. Of course what can’t be guaranteed is value for money, but with qualification to the World Cup already secure, let’s hope it’s a good performance and convincing win for England.

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