Is pay-per-view football approaching an end?


This coming weekend's meeting between Manchester City and Fulham may not instantly suggest a classic encounter, but it could prove to be a landmark in terms of how the fan views the action.

Saturday's match at the Etihad Stadium will be the first Premier League fixture ever to be made available to watch completely for free, with host broadcasters ESPN providing the game live on Freeview.

This will allow millions of football fans to watch the league leaders take on Martin Jol's side without having paid a subscription fee, in an attempt by ESPN to encourage more viewers sign up to their full coverage.

Should this experiment prove to be successful, it will raise further questions about the longevity of the paid subscription service as football tries to adapt with the advances in digital media.

Sky and the ESPN currently share pay-for-view coverage in the UK following the £1.78 billion deal for the rights to cover matches between 2010 and 2013.

However, the Premier League is already seeing its profit margin eroded by the popularity of live streaming websites, which offer feeds of games from foreign distributors.

The increase in availability coupled with the improvement in quality of these streams, means greater numbers of fans are becoming inclined to watch matches via their computers rather than pay to view them on television.

There is, of course, also the case of Portsmouth publican Karen Murphy, which has forced the Premier League to reconsider how it packages its television rights going forward.

Last September, the European Court of Justice ruled that Mrs Murphy was not in breach of the law when she used a decoder to screen Greek footage of the Premier League games in her pub.

However, it is not only the rights to TV coverage that is demanding a rethink at Premier League HQ, but also those available both on the internet and on mobile phones.

GMF understands that the Premier League have already decided privately that they will sell their online and mobile highlights rights to one bidder, rather than two, after the relatively poor performance of Yahoo and ESPN, respectively, this season.

Sources have told GMF that Yahoo's multi-million pound deal to acquire the rights to broadcast highlights on their website has been deemed a failure, and the Premier League are keen to avoid a repeat performance next term.

Part of Yahoo's problem has been the inability to provide highlights directly after matches, and they are instead restricted to delaying their output until the Monday after a weekend of fixtures.

There is then, it would seem, no real value in offering highlights that are not available instantaneously, especially when entire matches - albeit illegally - can be found on the internet with ease.

However, the future of live coverage is undoubtedly online, and the reported interest of Apple and Google in acquiring screening rights seriously threatens Sky's unrivalled power in the market.

Facebook, meanwhile, have already experimented with live football and are also likely to be serious players when it comes to the progression of sports broadcasting.

A quite extraordinary 845 million people across the globe use Facebook - 483 million on a daily basis - and will be valued at $100 billion when the company goes public. Fertile ground indeed.

Sources tell GMF that an eventual move by the company - founded by Mark Zuckerberg eight years ago - to bid for Premier League rights has been mentioned, although no timescale has been attached so far.

This proposed move could mean no football fan will ever have to pay to watch a match from their home again; an idea that could dismantle Rupert Murdoch's already crumbling empire.

News Now - Sport News