When The Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that Channel Nine had decided (sorry “requested”) the first two NRL games it would televise in 2014, it was both good news and bad for me.
The good news was that it’s only a bit over four months until the NRL is back on TV. The bad news is that it will still be on Nine.
I always thought that the NRL erred in the construction of its much-trumpeted billion dollar deal with Nine and Fox. The headline points seemed more about announcing that they had done a billion dollar deal, than about properly servicing the fans now, and over the life of the deal.
Had the NRL not done a billion dollar deal, then the media (or at least the Telegraph) would have said that the old administration was on track to deliver the billion and the new administration, under John Grant and David Smith, had failed to get it over the line.
I don’t think the NRL should have cared.
In getting the billion dollar headline the NRL gave up significant scheduling control to Nine, daytime grand finals, live Sunday games, and they kept the second Friday night game – on delay, and choc full of ads.
That didn’t sound great at the time and, a year in, it seems more archaic.
Had the NRL taken less money, they would have copped flack from some quarters (quarters that will give them flack no matter what) but secured greater control over their own product – which, in the long run, would have been a better bargain for the fans.
At the press conference to announce the deal, David Gyngell was very vocal about the fact that if you pay the big money you get to decide these things. He was, he said, “unapologetic”.
Phil Gould has been very vocal on behalf of his employer against complaints about the delayed games, saying that the fans can’t expect to get big money into the game without watching ads, and delayed telecasts offer greater opportunity for ads.
They do, and they also ignore modern technological reality and the overseas experience.
All of the content industries, particularly TV, face an existential threat to their business model, from torrent downloading, and TIVO, IQ and similar services that allow ads to be skipped, fast forwarded or deleted. There is now very little appointment viewing of the type so beloved by advertisers.
One of the few exceptions is sport – live sport. It continues to attract increasingly large money from broadcasters and advertisers because it remains attractive to large numbers of viewers as a live event, rather than one to be collected and viewed later.
It is also one where, increasingly, fans participate on second screens, in real time.
If you pay big money for live sport, and show it on delay, you lose all of those benefits and goodwill and ancillary opportunities. The ratings for the Sunday game haven’t gone down because people don’t like footy, they’ve gone down because people aren’t prepared to be told when and how they can watch shows (or events) any more.
You might, as Channel Nine does, argue that the fans need to understand the economic reality but they really don’t. Customers just want what they want, in all businesses.
Networks like Nine need to understand that making their customers dislike them is the worst business model of all.
Just ask major record companies.