Only the start: Amazon picks up Premier League rights hinting at more upheaval
It’s finally happened: some Premier League games will be broadcast on Amazon Prime when the 2019/20 season arrives.
When the domestic rights to English football’s top division were first divvied up a few months ago, two packages were left unsold. These were for matches on bank holidays and in midweek which the Premier League had set aside, potentially with bids from Amazon or Facebook Live in mind.
The idea was presumably that online services have the capability and the desire to show all ten matches at once (or at least big chunks of the entire matchday), allowing their viewership to pick the game they wanted to watch. And whilst Amazon have indeed taken one such package, BT Sport will also have a similar deal picking up the second of the two lots signed up today.
This is a deal which will make waves. For the first time since BT Sport assumed ESPN’s Premier League rights, the Sky / BT stranglehold on English football’s top tier has been broken. On top of that, Amazon will be adding more top rights to their growing portfolio. Rather than being simply an online retailer, Prime is now a full on-demand entertainment service in its own right. It is the home of three of the four tennis grand slams in the UK and will have ATP Tour events on its platform, too, even if some of their rights are sublicensed from Discovery.
In the US, Prime is also non-exclusive home to Thursday Night Football after its deal with the NFL.
The problem now for sports fans in the UK will be fragmentation and crucially the need for three subscriptions in order to watch all of the live Premier League games broadcast on British TV.
With its Premier League rights, Amazon will be able to show 20 live games on Prime, but given these are midweek fixtures when all of the matches will be going on at the same time, that rather limits the scope of what they can do with it.
Will we see, for example, Prime provide a match choice offering with a special ‘multiplex’ style programme following the action around the grounds in an NFL Redzone style offering?
Even though UK fans won’t be missing out on too much action if they don’t have an Amazon subscription, it’s clear that this is a huge deal for the sporting rights landscape. Online-first platforms like Prime are showing that they can muscle in, at least to some degree, and at the moment that’s leading to fragmentation.
What happens in the future, though, is less clear. Why have Amazon taken such a basic and undesirable package of Premier League rights? The answer might be that they’re simply dipping their toes into the water with a view to doing more in the future. With their expertise in retail, could they extend their relationship in the league to merchandise and ticket distribution for the division’s clubs in the future? Or could they attempt to use their OTT service to feed live stats and other information to viewers in real time?
That’s all speculation, of course, but whatever happens next one thing is clear: this is just the beginning of something for OTT broadcasters and the Premier League, not the final destination.
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