Football & The Internet: The Premier League Flexs Its Muscle
An official announcement this evening on the MyP2P site confirmed what has seemed more and more likely for the last few weeks or so. The Premier League is cracking down on the illegal streaming of its matches. The site confirms that will “once a judgement has been given, we will notify you of the outcome”, which would seem to indicate that proceedings have already been brought against them. We will await the outcome of it with interest. The biggest problem with the Premier League’s action against these organisations (apart from the somewhat obvious accusations of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut) is that is doesn’t actually affect the offenders. One suspects that the Premier League doesn’t fully understand peer to peer technology or, moreover, that it doesn’t really care that much about the technicalities of what it is dealing with. Ultimately, people are watching their “product” and they’re not paying for it, and that’s what it all boils down to.
The biggest single problems with football by broadband are of delivery, access and quality. Broadband technology in this country still lags behind many in the world, and delivering streaming, high quality pictures is going to be a problem for any service providers. There is always going to be a reasonable chance that the stream will drop or that the picture will be of a poor quality. Because of this, the Premier League is going to have serious difficulties in persuading casual viewers to part money for the service. The fact of the matter is that people will more likely than not refuse to pay for a service unless the quality is very high, and there really isn’t any way of guaranteeing that at present. From the viewpoint of the average punter, the likelihood is that they will continue to take their chances with an illegal stream, knowing that they haven’t lost any money if it goes down and that the chances of individual users are very slim indeed. Even if the Premier League could persuade ISPs to part with information that they would need to be able to prosecute individual users, it would still be a massive logistical exercise to be able to collate the evidence to bring a prosecution and it would quite possibly be a public relations disaster for an organisation whose members are often profligate with money themselves against their own customers.
So, the technology is against them, and this is likely to remain unchanged. Most telephone exchanges in Britain are still incapable of supplying the ultra-fast speeds that an excellent streaming service would be able to provide. In addition to this, the caps that many broadband providers place upon traffic would mean that many users may not be able to use a high quality service if it were available. The other major problem that the Premier League has is keeping a lid upon the sites offering links to illegal streams. It was pretty easy for them to issue against Justin TV as they are based in the USA, and it was pretty easy for them to issue against MyP2P as they are based in Europe, but tackling sites that are based in the Far East, which many of them seem to be, may prove to be a much more difficult issue. How much influence does anyone, let alone the Premier League, hold over, say, the Chinese government? After all, they are the only people that can seriously influence what comes out of Chinese internet connections, and they don’t seem to be doing very much at the moment.
What, then, can the Premier League do? Setanta Sports offer a decent streaming broadband service that is competitively priced, but it doesn’t cover all matches. The principle of the live broadcasting of sport is that matches should only be shown live when other matches aren’t being played, so as to not overly affect crowd levels elsewhere. The Premier League should perhaps investigate the option of selling its broadband rights separately to specialists who can maximise existing technologies and sell packages at an affordable level. Ultimately, if the product isn’t any good because the service isn’t up to much or because it’s too expensive, people will simply go elsewhere, back to the illegal streams. Over the last five or ten years, the Premier League has thrown all of its eggs into the basket of television – a redundant technology, the influence of which is likely to fall rather than rise in the future. They need to be aware that new technology develops at a quicker rate than they could ever realistically be able to keep up with. They have the choice of embracing new technology and pricing it competitively or continuing to leak money while people find easy ways around the barriers that they try to put up. It’s their choice.