Premier League tussle latest: Sky bags Man U

PLUS iSky wobbles | PremierLeaguePass.com apps come down to the wire | Sommet Sports bags Liverpool | PLP gives away 10,000 free day passes.

UPDATE / Aug 17: Good news/bad news from PremierLeaguePass.com.

The good: Coliseum is giving away 10,000 free day passes to mark the season kick off this weekend.

The bad: "barring miracle" there is no chance its  iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android apps will be ready for the first games. 

The PremierLeaguePass site offers guides for various ways to watch games on a laptop, or connect your broadband gadget of choice by cable or wi-fi to your TV.

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UPDATE / Aug 16: Sky TV has finally revealed the fourth English Premier League club in its series of delayed-coverage deals. And it's the big one: Manchester United. 

The pay TV broadcaster now has four of the top five EPL clubs from last season (Man U, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur) in its series of delayed coverage deals. Missing is Chelsea, whose games will be shown delayed on new Freeview channel Sommet Sports - which today added delayed Liverpool coverage to its roster. With PremierLeaguePass.com's free-to-air partner TVNZ showing one game a week plus highlights, committed UK soccer fans will be busy with their remotes this season.

Sky says it wasn't holding back the Man U news as a further spoiler to Colesium Sports Media's PremierLeaguePass go-live (the EPL kicks off this weekend). Mmm'okay.

Meanwhile, PremierLeaguePass.com isn't doing itself any favours. At its mid-June launch, the newcomer promised iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android apps.

48 hours from season kick-off, the apps have yet to materialise.

Late yesterday, Colesium CEO Tim Martin told NBR, "They're all built and with Apple and Google respectively for approval They're working well. We're hoping that they'll be in store by the weekend, but its entirely out of our control at this point."

Colesium's technology partner, NeuLion, is working with Apple and Google to try and hustle things along. The New York based company has a "good and extensive relationship" with both, Mr Martin says, but for whatever reason things are moving slowly for all-comers on the approvals front right now.

iSky wobbles
Meanwhile, Sky TV switched to a new broadband content delivery provider on August 1. It's iSky content is now being served by global operator Akamai. Sky tells NBR it ditched its previous provider, Kordia, due to quality issues (and there was certainly fury when the mens 100m final blacked out during the Olympics). A side-effect of the move to Akamai is that unmetered data (your ISP not counting iSky data toward your monthly cap) is now a thing of the past.

iSky's first big test of the Akamai-era was the Super Rugby final August 3.

It failed. "It was the slowest most disrupted streaming I've ever had on iSky," ad man Tommy Bates wailed on Twitter. Consumer magazine's Hadyn Green also piled in.

Another viewer - an experienced tech writer - told NBR, "Anonymous source says: My iSky was so poor I turned it off. Five minutes later, Iwas watching rock solid (illegal) stream from the UK."

A Sky TV spokeswoman told NBR there were some "buffering issues". The new Akamai setup is still being fine-tuned ahead of its next big test - the All Blacks vs Australia Saturday night [UPDATE: Software developer Keith Patton's verdict: "[It]was pretty crap. Had to refresh quite a few times. Worse than ,normal for me." But two others, Garth Biggs and Dave Greenberg, told NBR they had no problems.]

The broadcaster has given iSky's interface a bit of a spruce up, too, but it's still quite a peripheral thing - and it will remain so for some time.

CEO John Fellet says iSky capability will be added to MySky decoders, so you can watch iSky content on your regular TV. That upgrade was scheduled for February 2014; this week corporate communications head Kirsty Way told NBR it would appear "sometime next year." The broadcaster won't committ to a more specific deadline.

Sky TV apps ... coming
NBR also fields an increasing number of queries from readers who want to now when Sky TV will release iPad and Android apps. The news here is that they're being worked on and are coming "soon". The apps themselves are straightforward, Sky tells NBR; it's integrating them with the broadcasters electronic programming guide and other backend technologies that's the hard part - although it's obviously also quite solvable; across the Tasman Foxtel is way ahead in apps. 

News Corp offloading its Sky TV stake hasn't hindered product development, Ms Way tells NBR. Sky still works closely with Foxtel and BSkyB.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz


Sky TV wrecks Coliseum's Premier League party - Coliseum boss responds

UPDATE / Aug 1: Coliseum Sports Media CEO Tim Martin tells NBR he knew it was a possibility Sky TV would do a deal with three English Premier league teams' club channels (with a fourth in the offing). Such a delayed-coverage deal is allowed by the English Premier League's idiosyncratic licensing rules, he says.

Sky's deal with Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is aimed at spoiling Coliseum's PremiereLeaguePass.com, which launched July 30 (once the season kicks off August 18, one game a week plus highlights will also screen on Coliseum's free-to-air partner TVNZ).

Mr Martin brushes off the development.

"Sky won’t impact us in any way," he maintains.

"There's not much value in a 12-hour delay. Try avoiding the result in today’s world. If you want to have the mystery of who’s going to win, PremierLeaguePass.com and TVNZ are the only places."

Lots of EPL people want to get up early to watch games he says - and crunch games more so. Sky TV says most fans watched delayed or My Sky-recorded coverage when it held EPL rights.

Speaking of those fans, how many have signed up?

Mr Martin won't say.

He did address two gripes from NBR readers, which have also cropped up on social media.

Once is complaints about the quality of PremierLeaguePass.com's video stream. Some fans say it they want it in high definition (HD), or at least quality better suited for streaming it to a big screen (NBR is signing up this evening, so stand by for our verdict on how it looks on a 50-inch TV. UPDATE: read Hands on with PremierLeaguePass.com - not yet perfect pitch).

Mr Martin says the debate shows how much our internet connections have evolved recently. "The initial criticism was 'NZ broadband would never handle this'. That argument has now moved on to whether it’s HD or not."

(Sky TV has egged things along by forwarding journalists a link to a story in which Geekzone member criticise the quality of the pre-season footage now available for streaming through PremierLeague.com.).

While taken aback by the tone of some of the online comments, the Coliseum boss says as a startup (albeit one that makes a virtue of using a ready-made interface from NuLion), his company is feeling its way in the market and is open to feedback. If there's enough customer demand to justify the expense of streaming in HD, PremiereLeaguePass.com will add that capability. There is no technical limitation - although he does say an HD stream is naturally suited to VDSL or fibre rather than ADSL (ADSL being the type of copper broadband most of us have today).

The number demanding HD would have to be "thousands, not hundreds," the CEO says.

"Hurting yourself more than us"
But while he's open to feedback, Mr Martin also has a front front message for those who've said they'll broadcast PremierLeaguePass.com if there's no HD option.

Essentially, his message is it's our way or the highway for boycott-threatening Premier League fans.

"If you don’t sign up, you’re not going to get it and you’re hurting yourself more than us." 

One device at a time
Another reader gripe: A $149 PremierLeaguePass.com season subscription can be used with up to five devices - but only one at a time. So if you've got, say, two football fans in a flat and one wants to watch one game on the TV and, say, another a second game on their laptop (the service will stream up to six simultaneously), you're out of luck. Mr Martin says this is a commercial decision, not a technical limitation.

Sky skewing ondemand coverage?
Is Sky's delayed coverage deal with four marquee clubs the reason that PremierLeaguePass.com is not offering all EPL games for on-demand viewing?

No Mr Martin says. Again, that's just a function of the EPL's quirky licensing rules.

He can say that the rules for ondemand have finally been firmed up.

He says all 380 EPL games will be streamed live via PremierLeaguePass.com.

Of those 380 games, 130 will be watch-once; 250 will also be available for on-demand viewing later. 

The watch-once restriction doesn't apply to the clubs in the Sky TV delayed coverage deal; Coliseum gets to pick which games the rule apples to. Mr Martin says it will be split evenly between clubs.

Goldman Sachs report "inaccurate"
A Goldman Sachs report saying Coliseum needs 13,000 sign-ups for PremierLeaguePass.com to break even is "inaccurate" Mr Martin tells NBR.

"Anyone can work out our revenue but no one knows what deals we’ve done about rights and technology. Our cost basis is not understood. The nature of our product allows us to do some interesting deals."

Sky TV [NZX:SKT] was flat at $5.35 in early afternoon trading.


EARLIER: Sky TV says it has signed deals with English Premier League clubs Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur to show delayed coverage all of their home and away EPL matches and games in a number of other competitions (including the UEFA Champions League).

The pay TV broadcaster says it will announce a deal with a fourth club before the EPL's 2013/14 season kicks off on August 18. All eyes will be on whether it's Manchester United (new Freeview channel Sommet Sports has reportedly gained the rights to screen Chelsea games delayed).

As an example of the delay, Sky TV says games played in the UK on Saturdays will be available on SKY from 1.00pm on Sunday afternoon.

Richard Last, Sky’s Director of Sport says, "When we were outbid for the live EPL rights we received letters and phone calls from customers who told us they either didn’t want to pay more to watch the Premier League or for internet data. Some said they didn’t want to watch it on a computer but really wanted it on their flat screen TV in the lounge."

ABOVE: Sky TV shares [NZX:SKT] have yet to fully recover from their June 19 dip as Coliseum announced it had outbid the pay TV broadcaster for English Premier League rights. The financial impact of losing English soccer is minimal (lawyer and commentator Michael Wigley has even put forward the theory Sky TV may have accidentally-on-purpose lost the bidding to foster the appearance of competition as the Commerce Commission circles).Yet Coliseum's PremierLeaguePass.com is also a dramatic illustration of the potential of a so-called over-the-top broadband service's ability to offer sports leagues and other content providers with an alternative route to an NZ audience.

Sky is mischievously promoting the myth that PremierLeaguePass.com content has to be watched on a PC (it's a relatively easy process to watch it on a normal television).

"While we’d love the live Premier League rights as well, in New Zealand many EPL games come in the middle of our night and, with My Sky, we’ve found the majority of viewing is delayed."

Premier League rules mean that Sky can seek rights for up to four Premier League teams, Sky says. With European games included in the package, Sky TV could end up showing as many as 240 matches involving the four teams.

On July 30, PremierLeaguePass.com went live two days. Coliseum Sports Media boss Tim Martin said the move was in response to demand from fans. Magazine style shows and pre-season games are available for streaming.

A $149 PremierLeaguePass.com subscription offers all EPL games live, plus a selection for on-demand delayed viewing. The service can be accessed via a web browser on a PC, or iPhone, iPad and Android apps - which support streaming to a wi-fi capable TV (or one with a low-cost wi-fi dongle plugged in). Alternatively a laptop or tablet can be cabled to a TV. Live pause, rewind and split screen features are on offer.

A game of the week will also show every Sunday at midday on Coliseum's free-to-air broadcast partner TVNZ, plus a highlights package Monday night.

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