It's been an unusually busy couple of weeks for sports-related announcements, but this is potentially the biggest: YouTube has signed a two-year deal with Indian Premier League cricket to stream its matches online. That's quite important even if you find the thought of watching cricket unbearably tedious (yes, my biases are showing), since it could give you a good reason to ditch your pay TV subscription.
The deal marks the first time YouTube has contracted to stream a major sporting event live, making it available to worldwide viewers and relying on associated revenues from advertising. The exception is that users in the US will only be able to watch archived matches, not live streams, which is bad news for expats. Both the 2010 and 2011 seasons are covered. YouTube signed a deal with Cricket Australia to launch a dedicated channel back in 2008, but that didn't provide any live match coverage.
As well as marking a major shift in global broadcasting rights, the deal might also have a major impact on how TV sports broadcasts are made in Australia. Regular sports watchers are undoubtedly familiar with the anti-siphoning list, which outlines major sporting events which can't sell their rights to pay TV channels unless free-to-air has already turned them down.
While that's a nice idea in theory that's meant to ensure that sports fans aren't forced to pay to watch matches deemed to be of national significance, in practice it often means that free-to-air channels get the rights to all kinds of sports and then don't use broadcast them, or fail to broadcast nationwide, replacing live matches in some states with stale and ancient movie repeats. As media blog Mumbrella points out, this deal potentially undermines the entire argument that the list is based on:
The Google deal threatens one of the fundamental arguments of free TV’s position that it deserves special treatment . . . so viewers cannot be held to ransom by subscription TV buying up the rights . . . as viewers would be able to see the games for free, that argument would no longer hold.
One obvious issue with the deal is how well the streaming works in practice. TV picture quality doesn't degrade when the audience gets larger; streaming often does. However, if this kind of approach becomes more common -- and if YouTube can come up with advertising revenues that let it match what conventional broadcasters pay -- sports broadcasting may undergo a radical shift.
Would you rather watch sport on YouTube? Do you want to see the anti-siphoning list die? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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