TELEVISED FOOTBALL enters a new era this week.
And nobody knows for certain where the journey will end.
All 10 midweek Premier League matches, split over the next three days, will be streamed by Amazon Prime, available via TV sets and handheld devices.
The world’s richest company has the rights to both the early December midweek fixture list and the Boxing Day matches for the next three years.
Split kick-off times, with games starting at 7.30pm and 8.15pm, mean fans can watch the first half of Palace against Bournemouth tonight and then switch to see all of Manchester City’s must-win visit to Burnley.
Amazon, rumoured to have shelled out £80m for the rights deal, have thrown a lot at it.
A NEW ERA
A host of familiar faces from BBC, ITV, Sky and BT will be rolled out across the three days, including SunSport’s Alan Shearer, Danny Higginbotham and, fresh from her stint on Strictly Come Dancing, Alex Scott,
They will be backed up by more than 350 cameras in stadiums, with 2,100-plus technical wizards on duty, all anchored from the BT Sport studios in Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford, with viewers offered the chance to utilise the “X-ray” option to bring detailed match stats onto their screens.
Amazon’s Prime video managing director for Europe, Alex Green vowed: “We are treating every game as a big game.
“Each match will have its own unique build up, half time show and post-match reaction.
“As a streaming service, we have the added benefit of being able to stay on air until we have heard from everyone and analysed everything.”
For those who like their football in bite-sized chunks, commentator Steve Bower will present a Goals Centre, showing all the key moments as they happen, both tomorrow and on Boxing Day.
Amazon will be putting together three-minute highlights packages from every game, plus full 90-minute repeats for a week.
It is all a million miles away from the 70s and 80s, when live coverage meant tuning in to Radio 2 five minutes before half-time to discover which game had been chosen.
STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN
But it is a step into the unknown for the Prem, who held back one “package” of rights when the original auction bids, contested by Sky Sports and BT, did not reach the anticipated asking price.
Sky, likely to remain the dominant force, have streamed individual games through their “Now TV” subscription division for six years but not multiple games simultaneously.
For all the bullishness, there are significant issues, although the timing of the first set of games, at the start of the Christmas rush for the company’s core business, is not just a coincidence.
Questions about the technical prowess to deliver up to nine games across 11 hours on Boxing Day via internet-connected television, smart-phone and other devices, leave Prem bosses slightly edgy.
So will be the long-established Prem broadcasters, who recognise the possible repercussions.
And web-based rivals to Amazon, such as Google and Facebook, will be interested parties, wondering if they should be considering trying to grab a slice of the pie.
That is what League chiefs are hoping for, as they continue to weigh up all options including in-house streaming.
HOW TO WATCH
Fans with Sky Sports will not be able to watch the games automatically but all 10 Prem matches this week can be viewed on TV, laptops and other devices via the Prime Video app.
For a list of compatible devices go to: www.amazon.co.uk/watchlivesport
New customers will be able to join Amazon Prime for £7.99 per month, or £79 for the
Year and non-members can also start a 30-day free trial.
Viewers with an Amazon Fire TV stick can plug in and watch by following the on-screen instructions.
Amazon Prime is now available on a free six-month trial to all BT TV customers
While the total pot for TV rights in the current three year deal, which began in August, went up, the domestic part of that dropped from £5.1billion to £4.4bn.
The seemingly remorseless rise in the value of rights, the economic power that has seen the Prem become the wealthiest league in the world, is no longer guaranteed.
Early this year, industry analyst Claire Enders predicted a decline in the value of rights in the next auction, due mid-way through the 2020-21 season, of “up to 20 per cent” for the Prem.
She said: “We are going to see interesting moves to bump up income, including having global streaming platforms.
“But the willingness of young people to subscribe to anything has fallen off a cliff.”
That is acknowledged by Prem bosses and club chiefs, with questions about how to monetise the League in the coming years a regular talking point.
Privately, the fear is that, unless there is another serious contender for domestic rights next time round, the two big beasts could operate as an effective cartel, deliberately under-bidding for the broadcast packages.
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If Amazon represent that option, it will help keep Sky and BT “honest”.
One Prem insider told SunSport: “We’re really excited.
“It is something different, the first dive into the water in this area, but we are confident that the viewers at home will have a great experience.”
As for Amazon’s long-term vision, Jay Marine, vice president of Prime’s Europe division, said: “Our mission is to make Prime the best membership programme in the world for our customers.
“Live sport is a new attractive area for us and something our customers are passionate about.
“It is still Day One for us in sport. We will continue to listen to our customers and go from there.”
Day One indeed. The future could be here. Now.