Channel Nine and FOX Sports have finalised a deal for National Rugby League (NRL) rights over the next five years. Forget the game: we want to talk about the tech. Does the deal properly take advantage of HD transmission, online streaming and the multi-channel environment? Sort of.
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TV Tonight has a handy breakdown of the broadcast arrangements, which cover 2013-2017. Nine will continue to broadcast three matches a week, as well as the grand final and State of Origin matches. In league-loving states (NSW and Queensland), those broadcasts will be on the main Nine station. Elsewhere, the matches will be shown on a secondary digital channel (GEM is currently used by Nine for that purpose).
That's a definite improvement on how Nine used to approach it, with viewers outside NSW and Queensland given a delayed transmission hours after the match was live. Nine will also broadcast two hours of league-related content a day on Channel 94, which is currently used largely for advertorials. However, since its rights cover two Friday night games, not all matches will be live. Viewers will see the match for their state of residence live, with the alternative broadcast on delay, meaning most games involving a Queensland team will be delayed for NSW viewers.
The arrangement also means no HD broadcasting for free-to-air viewers in 2013. That should change once digital switchover is completed and channels have the option of using some of their spectrum for HD simulcasts, but that won't be until 2014 at the earliest.
If you want HD, Foxtel remains the go-to player. It will stream five matches a week in HD and without advertisements, and allow viewers to watch them on-demand afterwards. Subscribers will also be able to view the matches live via streaming on tablets and other devices. No word yet on mobile rights, an area where Telstra has historically been very active.
Sport remains one of the most dependable sources of viewers for TV, and our desire to see matches live means that it remains less vulnerable to piracy and delayed viewing. That said, I suspect when the next round of negotiations begins in 2017, there will be far more emphasis on the online arrangements.
Nine, FOX Sports confirm new NRL rights deal [TV Tonight]