Sport content and viewing habits are changing rapidly – you can watch a pre-season NFL game or English football match live on YouTube for free, or even a big school rugby derby in South Africa.
And with Disney announcing plans to spin-out an independent ESPN streaming service in 2018 – meaning that sports fans will have the choice to ditch their cable provider – BusinessTech questioned Multichoice on its future content plans around sport.
Starting next year, the ESPN online service will feature 10,000 live events a year, including Major League Baseball, hockey, soccer and tennis, as well as college sports.
And should the service be made available in South Africa, it will be in direct competition to DStv’s current SuperSport offerings – including the live television broadcasts and the DStv Now and SuperSport apps.
The key advantage the ESPN service holds, however, is its promise of “just sports”, with a recent MyBroadband survey finding 57% of respondents were interested in a stand-alone SuperSport package from DStv.
Speaking to BusinessTech, Multichoice highlighted that it already offers DStv Premium, Extra and Compact customers the chance to watch their sports on the go through live streaming on its DStv Now and SuperSport apps.
It also pointed out that it doesn’t charge its customers extra for special events – such as the Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Conor McGregor boxing match later this month.
However, the MultiChoice spokesperson cited a recent interview with Graeme Cumming, GM for DStv Digital Media, in which he said that at some point in future DStv Now will become a standalone service, separate from a DStv satellite subscription.
“At the moment, DStv Now is a ‘TV everywhere’ product, so you pay your subscription fee every month, and one of the benefits of paying that subscription fee is you get access to your content on multiple devices,” he said. A standalone service will, however, be offered in future.
“It’s not imminent though,” he warned.
Cumming noted that the days of no longer needing to install a satellite dish and signing up for a specific channel selection were not that far away.
“Right now, we have no plans to change those bouquets, but certainly into the future, if you’re looking three to five years down the line, given the way the world is moving, we absolutely have to consider new ways of packaging content and new products within DStv Now,” he said.
YouTube and Piracy
A big part of Disney’s push towards an ESPN service is a shift in viewing patterns towards streaming instead of live television as well as an increasing number of sporting organisation which have begun to air their games on YouTube and Facebook, free of charge.
This has been compounded by illegal sports streams with the UK’s Premier League (soccer) announcing that over 33% of UK viewers watching games illicitly.
MultiChoice admitted that illegal streaming and content downloading is a worldwide battle, and that South Africa was no exception.
“MultiChoice takes piracy very seriously and has a team that tracks this across the continent. We also work very closely with local law enforcement in the countries in which we operate.
“For us to be able to secure the best international content, we need to be able to give our content providers a sense of comfort that their intellectual rights are protected. This is why we have strict authentication on our decoders and mobile apps,” it said.
Speaking on the push for free content by the sporting organisations themselves, MultiChoice said that it wasn’t a case of the platform being used, but rather the quality of content that was being made available for free.
“Consumers want more for less and have become very data conscious, so it’s a fine balancing act to keep all parties happy.”
“Most innovations around testing free streaming on social platforms have come from MultiChoice’s side; with the support and partnership of our rights holders, who are also eager to explore innovations.”
“We were the first video entertainment company in Africa to live stream sport on our Facebook pages. It’s important to us to keep innovating to ensure our customers truly get world-class entertainment, delivered how, when and where they want.”
MultiChoice further said that the recent free YouTube and VR broadcasts are part of an experiment to test new technologies in sport on SuperSport’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
They form the first of a number of alternative viewing experiences that will complement the actual game, and will play a bigger role in future, especially to a younger generation, it said.