With the summer of cricket just heating up in Australia, the competition isn’t only on the pitch as Foxtel faces a large number of competition for subscription broadcast rights.
In a trend that started in 2015 when Optus snared the Australian broadcast rights to the EPL (then retained them for $600 million in 2021), Australia’s major sports tournaments are now split across multiple platforms, such as the Australian Rugby Union on Stan Sport, or the A-League on Paramount+.
The arrival of global streaming giants has seen the competition for broadcast rights ramp up significantly. Amazon Prime fired the biggest salvo so far, securing a four-year deal to provide exclusive live broadcast rights in Australia for ICC cricket, making matches available on Prime Video Australia. The deal includes streaming rights in Australia for 448 live games from 2024 to 2027 and does not include an attached free-to-air partner.
The partnership will see Prime Video Australia exclusively stream all men’s and women’s events, including the Men’s and Women’s Cricket World Cups, T20 World Cups, Champions Trophy, U19s and the World Test Championship Final.
Bringing the match broadcasts behind a paywall has sparked criticism of the move from Australia’s peak commercial TV industry body. Writing for Mediaweek, Bridget Fair, chief executive officer of Free TV, said of the deal:
“The Amazon ICC Cricket World Cup deal announced in early December made it abundantly clear that subscription streaming services with deep pockets are coming for the iconic sporting events Australians love, just like they have with the NFL in the US and Premier League in the UK.”
“Without updates to our anti-siphoning rules to bring them into the streaming age, there is a real risk we could lose the free broadcast of big events like the Matildas, so we can expect this debate to continue well into 2024.”
Amazon Prime told Mediaweek: “Prime Video’s focus is on offering Australians content they want to watch, and it’s well known that Aussies love sport. We want to be part of the growing and changing mix of options Australians have to enjoy sports content on their screens”.
With the competition for sports broadcasting rights at an all-time high, how does it impact Foxtel and Fox Sports?
Mediaweek spoke to Steve Crawley, the managing director of FOX Sports, and Rebecca McCloy, executive director of commercial Sports at Foxtel Group, about the company’s commitment to offering a top-tier sports strategy.
“We’re a sports business, and always will be,” said Crawley.
McCloy agreed. “Those things are just business as usual for us, and it’s always disruption, but the one thing that’s consistent with us is that we’re in sport, and we’re in it for the long term. Commitments like the AFL and cricket out to 2031 say that our strategy is sport and we’re not changing. People come and go, everyone comes in and out and changes their strategy, but we don’t. We stay consistent and our subscribers know it.”
“We’ve been clear on our anti-siphoning position and continue to be. Now we’ve got a free first proposition (Kayo Freebies) and we’ve always said that free is free. We’ve always said that legislation needs to be bought into the 21st century. What we’ve commented on is that we’ve got to be clear about what are our events of national significance. Through our submissions, we’ve been consistent and clear on that. It’s business as usual, this is something that we’ve been talking about for 20-plus years and we continue to talk about.”
This follows Foxtel’s new broadcast deals including exclusive, multi-year rights extensions with Cricket South Africa, the English Cricket Board and Indian Cricket.
The media company also announced new broadcast innovations and improvements, such as LED Stumps that will be on show exclusively throughout Foxtel’s coverage of the 2023 Men’s Big Bash League season. In addition, Fox Cricket is enhancing AI and AR graphics, player-tracking Spidercam, and advanced ball-tracking technologies across the coverage.
Crawley and McCloy said these innovations are important when differentiating themselves from other broadcasters.
“We are listening to what the subscribers want, the innovations are a huge part of it as well as the commentary team. If people are paying for a service, you’ve got to deliver for them over and above and having no ad breaks during overs, delivering in 4k, all of those elements come together to give the subscribers what they want. We’ve got to invest heavily and we do,” said McCloy.
“We don’t want to boast about things until we would see them working, and that they’re real,” said Crawley. “The stumps are real. Brad McNamara from our team and Neil Maxwell have been working with the stumps for a couple of years. They add to the entertainment. When we come up with innovation it is not meant to be part of the judicial system. We always do it from an entertainment reason but the people that run the game ended up using it as well because it is so accurate.”