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COMMENT

19/11/2010
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has turned a proverbial ‘online page’ in the sports content arena by introducing the 'NBA League Pass' – a revolutionary subscription package offering live and on-demand basketball games to anyone, virtually anywhere in the world outside the US via iPhone electronic devices.

The package comes directly from the rights holder at the relatively low price of £98.26 per season. It allows subscribers to watch the match of their choice rather than that dictated by a broadcaster. The offer is also soon to be made available on iPad and Google Android platforms.

Traditionally content is sold by the rights owner to large media organisations and is either broadcast on free-to-air TV or increasingly via a subscription.

The English Premier League, for example, sold the majority of its domestic TV rights to BSkyB in a deal worth £1.782 billion in 2009. A similar sized deal saw international rights bought up by TV companies across the world.

For the UK consumer, the Sky Sports package costs roughly £500 per year, not forgetting the one off Sky box purchase and set up costs. On top of this there are additional costs for those wishing to watch the games sold on a pay-per-view basis.

It means that fans are paying a premium price for content but there is no guarantee that they’ll see the live games that they want.

In other European countries rights can be complicated with those in Spain and Italy selling pay-TV packages that allow domestic fans the choice of the match they want, but non-domestic fans still generally have to buy a league package which doesn't allow them the choice of match to watch.

There are four significant issues regarding the NBA deal however. First it is sold directly by the rights holder. It cuts out broadcasters and agents and this is a major threat to traditional media. You can simply go to the NBA website and buy the package for a relatively low amount.

Second, it is a simple and comprehensive package for mobile platforms, surely something that is going to become increasingly common in sport generally. Indeed the logical conclusion here is that fans will in future be able to buy a subscription that would apply to all of their viewing options such as mobile, TV or internet.

Third, it gives viewers absolute choice of live content – they can always watch their favourite team or the biggest clash – in effect they are not dictated to by the choice of the broadcaster.

Finally, this is arguably the first step to the breaking down of international broadcasting boundaries. In many other walks of life, the consumer can order products or view online content regardless of geographical location or national boundaries. Sport is an anomaly in this respect. Why should a fan of e.g. Chelsea based in England have to buy a completely different package to watch his/her favourite team than a fan based anywhere else in the world? One reason has been to ensure that live attendances remain stable – the fan in China was never going to the match anyway, whereas the one in the UK might well have done.. The other reason is supply and demand. A UK broadcaster would be willing to pay more per fan than an overseas equivalent because demand is higher.

We are, however, moving towards a world where consumer choice and technical innovation are removing international boundaries and the distribution of sports content can only resist such changes for so long. The NBA League Pass is arguably the first significant step in this direction.

Visit the NBA League Pass homepage here

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