Amid all the differing opinions in the media industry there’s perhaps one thing we can all agree on – pay TV has made a lot of money for sports rights owners.

In 1988, British free-to-air (FTA) broadcaster ITV paid £44m to show top-flight English football league matches for four years. Today, the equivalent EPL rights are held by Sky and BT at a collective cost of over £4.5 BILLION!

But something is shifting in the media landscape. In October, beIN Media Group’s CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly told an industry summit the “glorious media rights bubble” is about to burst, predicting the industry’s economic model would be completely rewritten.

An industry “unprepared” for piracy

He was referring, of course, to the impact of beoutQ, the pirate satellite and IPTV service. While piracy is not a new problem, the rise of online streaming has created a crisis. Mr. Al Obaidly says the industry remains “completely unprepared” to deal with the scale of challenge. In a warning that seems explicitly designed to chill sports league boardrooms around the world, he said beIN now regards all sports rights as “non-exclusive” and will reflect this in their future bids. He expects other media companies to follow suit.

A bubble under pressure?

There’s little evidence yet of his prediction coming true, at least in the short term, as online firms like Amazon join the rights bidding frenzy. A Rethink TV report estimates streaming will drive media sports rights revenues up 75% by 2025 to a staggering $85.1 billion. We don’t have to look far for evidence: Amazon also has EPL rights from 2019, live streaming 20 matches per season.

Maybe the big change will come in the reasons that companies choose to invest. Deutsche Telekom (DT) recently secured rights to all 51 UEFA Euro 2024 matches for a rumored €225m. Many games will be broadcast free and DT may sublicense others to FTA broadcasters. It’s been suggested DT maybe less interested in driving pay TV subscriptions than in promoting its 5G rollout. This spells trouble for the pay TV industry who are dependent on actually making a profit on the rights they procure. It will probably speed up the consolidation we’ve already seen between Telcos and pay TV operators.

Better cooperation – piracy’s silver lining?

I do agree that many operators remain “unprepared” to deal with piracy, being unwilling to invest in effective online piracy control and expecting sports rights owners to take the lead.

But being unprepared is no longer an option and we’re seeing a growing acceptance that coordinated action is required. UEFA and FIFA have teamed-up with other rights holders to speak with one voice about beoutQ. Meanwhile, media giants Comcast and Viacom have joined anti-piracy coalition the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).

This global threat is also triggering international enforcement action. Irdeto was proud to support the Premier League, Europol and police from Spain, Denmark and the UK in a successful multi-national investigation into illegal IPTV operations. We expect to see more cross-border cases like this in the future.

Perhaps that’s the silver lining to the explosion of online piracy: the growing threat may drive down rights deals, but it’s also driving countries and competitors to collaborate on solutions.

Bengt Jonsson | SVP Sales