Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Australian Football Broadcasting - Part 2

The great thing about football being the world game, is that there's so much of it. So many leagues, competitions, cups and tournaments all over the world. Have you ever been to a site like scorecenter.com? On any given day there are at least 10 to 20 games of football scheduled, and on weekends there can be a couple of hundred. So much football that you would need several dedicated football TV channels running 24 hours a day (with no repeats) to be able to show every game. This is why, in order to have even remotely comprehensive coverage of football, pay-tv is going to have to play a major part.

You see free-to-air television has some inherent problems. FTA networks make money through advertisers, thus what is important to them is not viewer satisfaction, not even ratings, but advertising revenue. A FTA network could, for example, pick up some coverage to the English Premier League. They could show a live game each week late on Saturday nights. Their ratings at 1am on Sunday mornings would improve substantially, but when you consider the price to buy rights and produce coverage of the Premier League, the small increase in advertising revenue would not be enough to make coverage viable. Therefore, for a FTA network to actually make money out of sports broadcasting, they need to be pulling substantial ratings - an improvement in ratings is not enough.

Now I'm not going to claim that pay-tv channels like Fox Sports care deeply about their viewers, or that they have some moral superiority to FTA networks, but the fact is that the majority of their revenue comes straight from viewers - meaning they are forced to put viewer's satisfaction first. It's why pay-tv makes sense, and it's why hardcore football fans will always need pay-tv to be able to get comprehensive football coverage. And so, here is part 2 of my blog on Australian Football broadcasting, regarding coverage of football on Australian pay-tv.

Part 2 - Football on Pay-TV

In Australia, the major player in the subscription TV industry is Foxtel. Over 60% of subscribers in Australia get their TV from Foxtel, and the vast majority of the other 40% receive pay-tv through Austar or Optus, companies that feature Foxtel's channel lineup. The result is that there is very little competition when it comes to pay TV in Australia. This has it's disadvantages, but I'd rather the current situation to how it used to be, with several different pay TV companies having different channels and different football coverage - meaning nobody would get complete coverage. There are small pay TV companies like Selectv, which are so insignificant that they can't really be considered competition for Foxtel, although they do have some limited football coverage.

On Foxtel, there are 3 main networks that provide football coverage. Fox Sports, ESPN and Setanta Sports. To get access to Fox Sports and ESPN, one needs to pay an extra $18 a month (on top of a basic subscription). Setanta costs an extra $15 a month for Foxtel viewers and $6 month for Austar viewers. (Austar viewers need to have Fox Sports and ESPN before being allowed to access Setanta).

Fox Sports:



Fox Sports is Australia's biggest sports network, it is actually made up of several different channels - Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fox Sports 3, Fox Sports News and Fuel TV (an extreme sports network). Fox Sports also has access to a 6th channel (Main Event Channel, channel 518 on Foxtel), which they can use if they have a full schedule or want to broadcast an event exclusively to selected areas of Australia.

Since the late 90s, when Fox Sports was just getting started - the network has broadcast the English Premier League. Since then, the premier league has been a key part of Fox's lineup. As well as this, Fox has also had a little coverage of other football, notably the European Championships in 2004, which they broadcast exclusively.

In 2005, when the A-league was created, Fox Sports took somewhat of a risk and guaranteed to broadcast at least two games each week live. Within a few months they had extended this commitment to now show every game live, and were quickly negotiating with the FFA to extend their exclusive deal. The A-league was a massive hit for Fox Sports, and saw football become one of their most important products. In 2006 Fox signed a deal that gave them exclusive rights to the A-league, Asian Champions league, Asian Cup, Socceroos games as well as the Japanese J-league untill 2013. For these rights, Fox Sports payed $120 million - or around $17 million a year.

The A-league quickly became a ratings success for Fox, in it's first year it's ratings were better than the Super 14 (a rugby competition Fox also has exclusive rights too), which had already been around for several years. Although generally not matching the AFL or NRL for ratings during the regular season, the ratings for the A-league finals series (especially the grand final) were huge. Fox doesn't have live coverage of the AFL or NRL finals, and so Fox were very happy to have exlusive coverage of the A-league finals. The 2006/2007 A-league grand final was, at the time, the highest ever rating event on Australian pay-tv, drawing over 250,000 viewers.

Fox really saw how valuable their investment had been when they had exclusive coverage of the 2007 Asian Cup. The record for most pay-tv viewers was smashed, over 419,000 watched the quarter final between Japan and Australia, a record that still stands. The ratings show how Fox Sports had (probably for the first time) managed to secure a really big event. To me the ratings are also an indicator of how many people had subscribed to Foxtel just for the football coverage. Foxtel quickly noticed this, and have invested extra money in the FFA and Australian football through a couple of sponsorship deals.

Currently, this is what Fox Sports broadcasts:

- Hyundai A-league

Fox's coverage of the A-league is really quite superb. Fox shows every game of the A-league live, with replays of every game, highlights on Monday nights and Total Football previewing the weekend's action every Thursday night.

For Friday night and Sunday afternoon games, Fox has a half-hour pre-game show which builds up to kick off nicely. There aren't really a lot of things I could criticise about Fox's coverage of the A-league. The commentary is good, the coverage is produced very well with good graphics etc. Prehaps the analysis is a bit lacking, but still isn't that bad.

- Socceroos Games

Fox broadcasts all Socceroos friendlies as well as Asian and World Cup qualifiers. All games are shown live, and are generally accompanied by an hour-long pre-game show and around 30 minutes of review after the game. Fox produces all home games, and will generally take a feed from a host broadcaster for away games. This means that for home games the quality of the broadcast is very good, while for away games the quality is variable.

Simon Hill commentates on all Socceroos games, along with Robbie Slater, both do a good job. Andy Harper usually hosts the coverage, he is okay, although probably isn't as comfortable being a host as he is doing special comments.

- Asian Cup

Fox had exclusive coverage of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, showing every game, with 28 out of 32 games live. It was very good to see Fox showing this sort of commitment to Asian football, and it was thanks to them that we were able to see how good Asian football can be.

Fox actually provided commentary for most English language broadcasts around the world, and despite being stretched a little thin - the commentators did well.
You would hope that Fox's coverage of the next Asian Cup, in 2011, is as comprehensive as it was in 2007. With the ratings that the 2007 tournament pulled, you would expect that this will be the case.

- Asian Champions League

Fox's coverage of the Asian Champions league is decent. All games involving Australian teams are shown, usually live, although when the two games are played at the same time fox has often delayed one of them. Recently they have been using a viewers choice system, similar to that of the English Premier League, to ensure all games involving Australian teams are shown live.

In the group stages, no other games have been shown (so far), however last year they showed one game from each matchday in the knockout rounds, usually delayed, with live coverage of the final.
Hopefully it won't be too long before their coverage expands to include several more games, as I think the ACL is a great tournament and deserves good coverage.

- English Premier League

Fox's coverage of the EPL has stepped up a notch this season, a new interactive "viewers choice" application has allowed Fox to broadcast more than double the number of matches live than it has in the past. Of the 380 matches in a season, Fox now shows close to 300 live. That's very impressive, and Fox deserves a lot of credit for their innovation. As far as live coverage goes, Fox's coverage of the EPL is as good as comprehensive as you are likely to get, anywhere in the world.

In England there are strict rules about live broadcasting, and they will usually only get 3 or 4 games shown live each weekend. They do have delayed coverage of every game though, and that's something that Fox could improve upon. When a game is not shown live, there is really no coverage of it at all (other than a minute or two on the highlights show).

Another complaint I have is that Fox never replays any of the games that are broadcast via viewers choice. Even if you have a Foxtel IQ (a recording device), you can not record the active content, so unless you watch it live, you can not see coverage of many of the games Fox shows. The reason Fox does this is (unofficially) to promote it's online service, where people can watch these games on-demand (as well as live). Of course even Fox Sports subscribers must pay extra to access this service, I know that for me - it's just not convenient to watch games, in poor quality, on my PC.

Another problem with Fox's coverage is that occasionally there are some big games that are not shown at all. This doesn't happen often, usually around 9/10 games each weekend will be shown, but the choice of the games that are not shown seems (at times) strange. I understand that the rights Fox has for the EPL are complicated, and although I don't know the exact terms fo the contract - there is a maximum to the number of games, played by each club, that can be shown. Looking at the games Fox have missed this year, I would guess that there is a restriction on Fox's rights, which prevents them from showing at least one game played by each club over a period of a couple of months.

This wouldn't matter so much if Fox had highlights of every game the next day, however the EPL highlights show isn't shown untill Monday, so often you have to wait a couple of days to see all the goals from each game. It would be great if Fox could take programs from Sky Sports (such as "Goals on Sunday", which reviews the highlights of each game - which is shown on Sunday mornings in England, and could be shown on Sunday evenings in Australia).

Overall though, Fox's coverage is superb - Simon Hill does an excellent job of hosting coverage of the big games from the studio, with Robie Slater and Spencer Prior providing decent analysis. It is a shame that Fox's somewhat limited resources mean that the coverage is generally only hosted from the studio one night a week (or very rarely at all during daylight savings).

- Coca-Cola Championship/League Cup

Fox basically shows any games from the Coca-Cola Championship that are shown on Sky Sports in England. Generally they are shown live, occasionally on delay. They take their coverage straight from Sky Sports so it's top quality. It would be good to see a few more games broadcast, but that's not going to happen untill Sky are allowed to show more games in England.

Coupled with the rights for the Championship are the rights for the League Cup (or the Carling Cup as it's been know for the past few years). This year Fox showed a couple of games from the fourth round, and then every game from the quarter finals onwards. No complaints about this coverage, it's nice to watch as it's something a little different to league football.

- Other

One criticisim I have, at times, of Fox Sports is that they tend to sit on the rights that they have, with good coverage of things that they already have the rights too, but they tend to be reluctant to show 'extra' coverage. For example, last year the Olyroos went through a long campaign to qualify for the Beijing Olympics - despite coverage being produced of all their games for various Asian markets, Fox only showed one game during the entire campaign.

This was quite frustrating for fans like me, there were a couple of occasions when the A-league was scheduled not to clash with Olyroos games - for example when the Olyroos played North Korea in Newcastle, there was no A-league game scheduled for that Saturday Night. It would have been perfect for Fox to show the Olyroos game, however we were left with a night of no football to watch.

Similarly, this year Fox has been reluctant to show World Cup qualifiers played by anyone other than Australia. Fox has to buy rights to these games on an individual basis, which means it's more complicated for them. It's not like these rights would be expensive, but the process of obtaining them has stopped them from providing coverage of games that would be very good to watch, and would be at a very nice time for Australian viewers. There has been one exception so far, when Fox broadcast a World Cup qualfier between Qatar and Iraq, a game that impacted directly on the Socceroos. That was nice to see, but I'm hoping Fox steps up it's coverage over the next few years.

To be fair, over the past few months Fox has tended to be improving when it comes to 'extra' coverage. Since late last year, Fox have shown games like Wellington v LA Galaxy (friendly), North Korea v Olyroos (Olympic Qualifier), Sydney v LA Galaxy (Pan-Pacific Championships), Qatar v Iraq (World Cup qualifier) - which would all be considered 'extra' coverage, as Fox would have had to buy the rights to all these games individually. Fox also has coverage of Melbourne's friendly against Juventus later this week, so maybe these problems are behind them.

Summary:

Fox Sports has indeed played a major part in Football finally becoming a mainstream sport in Australia. It is very doubtful that Australia could have a football league anything like as good as the A-league without the support that Fox Sports has given.

They could improve though, they do tend to have an English bias at times - it would be good if they could pick up coverage of some European football. Ideally they could pick up rights to Spain's La Liga, and take coverage from their English sister channel, Sky Sports. At the moment the Australian rights for La Liga are held by ESPN (see below), their coverage isn't great, and if we could get the same coverage that Sky provide in England it would be ideal.

On that topic, I think Fox Sports could be using the resources of Sky Sports a lot more than they currently do. If you've seen any of Fox's coverage of the Coca-Cola Championship, you will have seen one of Sky's broadcasts. The quality that Sky Sports brings to it's football coverage is second to none, the analysis, the commentators and the presentation is all first class.

Asian Sports TV channel, Star Sports - a sister channel of both Fox Sports and Sky Sports - uses a lot of content from Sky Sports. They rebroadcast many of Sky's shows and coverage, and even take a Sky feed for some Premier League games. During their news coverage, they will always show highlights from every game of the overnight Premier League and take the footage from Sky. Compare that to Fox Sports, who never show footage of the games they don't broadcast.

With Australian football's recent move into Asia, I for one would love to see Fox Sports forming stronger links with ESPN Star Sports (who run Star Sports as well as ESPN Asia), ESS have some great personalities and talented presenters and a lot of resources that Fox could use. I visited Singapore earlier this year and was very impressed by the quality of Star Sports and it's broadcasts.

Star Sports have a lot of similar content to Fox. They show the EPL, Asian Champions league, and other Asian football. For many of Adelaide and Melbourne's Asian Champions league games this year, Star Sports has flown their own commentators to Australia to commentate for Star's coverage. Star even provided commentary for a couple of the Olyroos games last year, providing coverage to most of Asia - we got no coverage in Australia. It would make a lot of sense if Fox and Star were to work together and share resources - they could share commentary duties for the ACL (prehapse ensuring we always have commentators at the games rather than in the studio), they could even work together to always have a studio panel for EPL coverage. With Fox Sports looking to expand it's coverage of Asian football, forming a partnership with and using the resources of ESPN Star Sports would be a very smart strategy.

Future:

The immediate future for Fox Sports involves the launch of a new channel, Fox Sports HD. As the name suggests, the channel will provide sport in high definition, and form part of Foxtel's launch of their new HD service. As far as football content goes, Fox Sports will soon have some A-league games as well as Socceroos matches broadcast in HD. English Premier League is not 100% confirmed, although it is very likely that at least some Premier League will be shown in HD next year. We'll have to wait and see how Fox's coverage looks in HD, needless to say it should mean a big increase in picture quality - anyone with a Plasma or LCD TV would certainly benefit from that.

ESPN:
ESPN is one of, if not the biggest, sports network in the world. It's main presence is in the US, where it has been popular amongst Americans since the early 80s. In the US it operates several channels, avaliable to more than 100 million homes. With it's various international ventures, it is accessible in over 150 countries. Really the only place ESPN doesn't have much of a presence is Europe, the only channel ESPN broadcasts anywhere in Europe is ESPN classic, a channel that simply shows replays of old and classic sports events.

At the moment, ESPN is attempting to further expand it's operations - recent acquisitions in Europe leave ESPN poised to further cement itself at the top of world sports broadcasting. Unfortunately ESPN, and the Walt Disney Company (who own ESPN), haven't yet invested a large percentage of their massive resources in ESPN Australia, the channel we can receive here. Hopefully this is changing, as ESPN are about to launch their first international High Definition channel in Australia.

This is what ESPN Australia broadcasts:

- La Liga

ESPN is the exclusive broadcaster of the Spanish league in Australia. Unfortunately their coverage does not match the quality of the football on display. The picture quality of ESPN is generally poor, but for La Liga it is terrible - it varies from game to game, but often it is almost unwatchable.

The commentary for La Liga is done from a studio in Bristol, in the US - as is virtually all commentary for football on ESPN. This is part of the reason the picture quality is so bad, the coverage has to go from Europe to Bristol, where commentary and the ESPN graphics are added before it gets to Australia. Along the way there are a couple of conversions between different formats - this is (partly) what causes the poor picture.

ESPN's commentators aren't the worst I've ever heard, although they can get annoying. Because they are never at the games when commentating, they can never describe the action quite as well as a commentator at the stadium could - plus the 'atmosphere' of the game is generally slighly diminished, as the crowd doesn't sound quite as lound as they normally do.

One thing that ESPN insists upon is using it's own graphics for matches, that means that when the host broadcaster has a scoreboard on the screen, ESPN has to cover it up. Usually this isn't a problem, but for La Liga the scoreboard tends to be the wrong shape for ESPN's graphics, and we end up getting pretty ugly looking graphics on the screen. It would be good to see ESPN just use the host broadcaster's graphics, and put their watermark in the corner - like most other channels do.

At least ESPN's coverage is relatively comprehensive, they usually broadcast 3-4 games a week, which isn't too bad. Usually all these games are live, although on occasion they will delay coverage in order to broadcast something like Sportscenter (a news program) - I think most would agree that this is pretty poor on ESPN's behalf - although they haven't done this for a while now.

One thing that is missing from ESPN's coverage is a highlights program or a wrap, that's certainly one thing I'd like to see. ESPN certainly have to make a lot of improvements with this coverage before I'd classify it as 'good'.

- Serie A

ESPN have just signed an agreement to broadcast the Italian Serie A in Australia. They don't have total rights, but they do have what are described as the 'premium' rights, which include home games played by the following clubs: AC Milan, FC Inter Milan, FC Juventus, Fiorentina, AS Roma, SS Lazio, Genoa, Cagliari, Catania and Torino. These are, generallly, the better clubs from the Serie A, so expect to see all the big games on ESPN next year.

Unfortunatley nobody held these rights for the just completed season, so although Setanta had coverage of some of the smaller games, we didn't get to see matches like the Milan Derby. ESPN did, however, manage to secure these rights for the last two weeks of the season, giving us a taste of what to expect next year. I thought the football on display was very good, but like ESPN's La Liga coverage, the picture quality wasn't great.

Part of the problem with the picture quality of the Serie A lies with the Italian broadcasters though. Sky Italia (the foxtel equivalent in Italy) does high definition coverage of the Serie A for it's Italian viewers, but these high quality pictures are not sent to other countries through the international broadcast feed - which is somewhat poor quality and not in widescreen. If they get their act together, maybe there's even a chance that ESPN HD might have Serie A in HD next season.

- UEFA Champions League

The coverage that ESPN does of the Champions league is quite a bit better than their La Liga coverage. The picture quality is decent (still a long way behind Fox Sports and Setanta), the coverage is fairly comprehensive (with replays, highlights, reviews etc.), however the commentary still leaves a little to be desired.

Personally I prefer to watch Champions League on ESPN, rather than on SBS, mainly because I don't like the commentators that SBS uses. It is a shame, however, that such a great tournament doesn't get the coverage it deserves in Australia. If Fox or Setanta were to get the rights, they would probably take coverage from Sky Sports (in the UK), which would see a dramatic improvement (we still don't even get it in widescreen).

- UEFA Cup

This year ESPN have stepped up their coverage of the UEFA Cup, coverage is shared between ESPN, Setanta and SBS, and although ESPN isn't as good as the other two broadcasters (who have widescreen coverage and good picture quality), their coverage is fairly comprehensive.

- FA Cup

This will be the last season the FA Cup will be on ESPN. For the 2008/2009 tournament, coverage will move to Setanta Sports. ESPN's coverage is okay, though still suffers from the same problems as their other coverage. Poor picture quality, somewhat poor commentators, no widescreen coverage etc. Their coverage has been relatively comprehensive. Here's hoping that Setanta will improve the coverage in all of these areas.

Incidently, it would be nice to see SBS covering a bit more of the FA Cup as well - at least the semis would be nice.

- Major League Soccer

There's no question that ESPN's best quality coverage is of the American domestic league, Major League Soccer. The picture quality doesn't suffer from the same problems as their European coverage, and the commentators are actually at the game - which makes a big difference.

Personally I find the MLS quite entertaining, obviously it's not up to European standard, but I still watch it every now and then. ESPN usually covers a live game on Thursday nights (shown on Friday mornings here). It would be good to see a little more coverage here and there, and some kind of highlights show would be nice, but 1 game a week is probably enough for me.

- Internationals

ESPN will usually pick up coverage of a couple or international friendlies or qualification games during an international week. ESPN holds the exclusive rights to England's home matches, although those rights will pass to Setanta (along with the FA Cup rights) in August. Other games they show often involve Germany, Ireland or Sweden - although these rights are decided on a game-by-game basis, so it's hard to predict what games they might show. Between ESPN and Setanta, however, it is likely that most of the bigger games will always be covered.

Because coverage for these games come from different sources, picture and sound quality are varied, although ESPN will still always use their commentators from Bristol. Generally, their coverage is fairly poor.

ESPN also shows home games played by the United States national team, the coverage for these games is similar to their MLS coverage, and is quite decent.

Future:

Like Fox Sports, ESPN also has a High Definition channel coming soon. It will be interesting to see how this improves their coverage. Obviously their coverage of American sports (including the MLS) will come to us in beautiful high definition, however whether or not the Champions league or La Liga are shown in high definition is another question. It's certainly possible, as I know that some of La Liga is avaliable in HD in the US, through a channel called "World Sport HD". The Champions league is avaliable in HD in the UK, so maybe there is a chance we will also be getting HD coverage here. We will have to wait and see though.

As part of launching ESPN HD, ESPN has installed a new fibre-optic link between the US and Australia, which will soon be used to send both ESPN HD and the standard ESPN channel to Australia. Hopefully this will also mean that the standard ESPN channel is improved, maybe even going widescreen.

On a more global scale, it will be very interesting to see what ESPN does in the next few years. There have been rumors that ESPN is interested in buying Setanta Sports - ESPN has already bought the North American Sports Network (a channel avaliable in Europe), which was previously owned by Setanta. ESPN plans to relaunch the NASN as ESPN Europe, if they were to purchase Setanta Sports, ESPN would quickly become a major player in the European sports tv market - the one market where they don't already have a significant prescence.

The impact on Australia? Well that also remains to be seen, the obvious advantage would be that ESPN would be forced to establish a proper European base. That would mean we need no longer be forced to get all our coverage through Bristol, and could take coverage of European sport straight from Europe - fixing a lot of ESPN's problems. I will wait untill I see ESPN HD before saying whether or not this is needed, but something certainly needs to be done, because at the moment ESPN Australia is poor.

One other comment I will make is again in regards to Asia. ESPN runs a channel in Asia that is really fantastic. They take their coverage straight from Europe, with European commentators, and some of the shows they have like Sportscenter Asia are superb. Like Fox Sports, I think there are some major untapped resources that the Australian channel could use here.

Setanta Sports:

Setanta is still relatively new on the scene in Australia. They are originally an Irish channel, but have quickly become established in many countries around the world - specifically the UK, US and now Australia. They have been in Australia for a couple of years now, but it's still only been 6-8 months since they were made avaliable to most Australians through the major pay-tv providers - Foxtel and Austar. As soon as they were on Foxtel, they made a big impact on Australian football fans - as there is now a whole lot of football coverage that was never avaliable before. Here's what they broadcast:

- Scottish Premier League

In the United Kingdom, Setanta hold exclusive broadcast rights to the Scottish Premier League, so you can imagine that this is a big product for them, and hence their coverage is of high quality. It isn't quite up to the standards of their main English rivals, Sky Sports, but we don't generally get Sky's coverage here - so for Australian viewers, Setanta's coverage of the SPL is probably superior to the coverage we get of any other league.

A fair percentage of games that are shown in the UK are also shown here, usually live. Setanta also has a couple of good wrap-up/highlights shows.

- Bundesliga

Setanta holds the Australian rights to the German Bundesliga. I think the German league is a really good one to watch, it's the most attended football league in the world - and the great atmosphere at the games is evident while watching on TV.

Setanta's coverage leaves a little to be desired - firstly, it's not in widescreen. This is a shame, because all games are shot and produced in widescreen (some in HD) by Premiere (The main pay-tv company in Germany/Austria), but Setanta doesn't get this widescreen feed. (update - this is actually because the widescreen feed has a scoreboard graphic right in the top corner, and it would be cut off if you don't have a widescreen TV - I think it's time to modernise, if you have a 4:3 TV you should just watch the program in letterbox mode - widescreen makes such a difference if you have a big TV) Setanta also holds the rights to the Bundesliga in the UK, so it's a little suprising that they haven't been able to get widescreen coverage from Germany yet - hopefully we will see it next year.

Commentary is usually fine, Setanta usually uses their own commentators if they are also showing the game in the UK, but otherwise we get a single commentator (supplied, I believe, by Gol TV, who show Bundesliga in the USA), who usually isn't as good.

My major complaint with Bundesliga coverage is, however, the level of coverage. Setanta usually has 2-3 games a weekend from Germany, always a Friday Night game (Saturday morning for us), as well as another game or two on Saturday/Sunday - sometimes live, sometimes delayed.

They also have a highlights show during the week, which is good, although isn't well put together and good be a lot better than it is - Setanta doesn't produce this show though so I won't go into specifics - hopefully it is improved within a few years.

- Serie A

Setanta have the rights to the "lower quality" Serie A games. Their coverage is pretty standard, no widescreen picture, standard English commentator. Setanta doesn't cover the Serie A anywhere else in the world, so we don't get any sort of fancy coverage here in Australia.

Their coverage of live games isn't that comprehensive, but given that they only have the lower quality games you can hardly blame them for often giving other leagues priority. They do have a highlights show, which shows highlights from all matches, which is well worth watching. Like the Bundesliga highlights show, it's not all that well put together.

- Ligue 1

Like the English Premier League, the French Football Federation outsources production of all the games in the top league to IMG Media and their sports arm, TWI. TWI produces coverage of all games in Ligue 1, with a highlights show just like they do the EPL. Like the EPL, coverage is always in widescreen and is top quality - often the commentators are even the same as the commentators used for TWI's EPL coverage.

Setanta do a decent job of their Ligue 1 coverage, usually they will show 2-3 games a week, sometimes live, sometimes on a slight delay. They also broadcast the highlights show, which is good quality - and very similar to the EPL highlights show that you can see on Fox Sports.

- Eredivisie

The coverage that Setanta do of the Dutch Eredivisie is superb. The coverage is always in widescreen, and very well put together. The commentators are provided by Setanta (they also broadcast games in the UK) and are very good.

Usually there are one or two games shown every week, often there is a live game on Sunday nights (usually not to late, which is good for Australian viewers) with maybe a replay of another game or two during the week. The highlights/review show is also very good - unlike other highlights shows, it is very simple - really you just get to see 5 minutes of highlights from every game.

- Portugese Liga

Setanta also has the rights to the Portugese Liga. Their coverage is fairly decent, although the picture quality is somewhat poor. They usually show one game a week.

- Blue Square Premier League

Setanta holds the rights to the English Conference (The 5th tier of English Football - otherwise known as the Blue Square Premier League) in the UK. We get some coverage here as well. The good thing about this league is that being so low level, they don't take international breaks and often play at times that the big leagues don't have games scheduled. The football isn't that great to watch, and personally I've never sat through a game, but if nothing else is on, it might just be worth watching.

Setanta's coverage is very good, they are allowed complete access to games and will interview players while on the bench, coaches during the game, players in the dressing rooms after the game etc. You will often find a couple of Blue Square Premier League games shown on weekday mornings, and occasionally a game on Saturday night when there is no higher level football on. They also show the play-offs at the end of the year, which are always exciting.

- UEFA Cup

Setanta shares the complicated rights to the UEFA Cup with SBS and ESPN. Setanta's coverage is again very good, however they can only show coverage of live games from the earlier stages of the competition.

- Copa Sudamericana/Copa Libertadores

For the first time this year, Australians have finally got to see some live coverage from the two major South American club competitions. Their coverage is nothing special - poor picture quality, your standard South American commentator who barely speaks English (although he does add a South American feel to the games), but the football is good and it's just good to see some live coverage of these tournaments.

During the early stages of the tournaments their coverage has been a little lacking - usually only one game has been shown per matchday, but as the tournaments progress they have been showing a few extra games. It's enough for me, but South Americans living in Australia would probably like to see a little more coverage.

- Club TV Content

In Europe, the football clubs are so big and so popular that they run their own cable tv channels. Setanta has signed deals with several of these clubs to rebroadcast content from these channels in Austrlaia. Clubs that Setanta have signed deals with include Chelsea FC, Man United, Rangers, Celtic and Barcelona.

Not only does Setanta broadcast various shows from each of these channels, but they are also allowed to show delayed coverage of all matches played by these clubs. That means that Setanta shows all Premier League games that Chelsea and Man United play, La Liga games involving Barcelona as well as Champions League games played by any of the five clubs. Occasionally there is also coverage of reserves matches and other club friendlies.

Funnily enough, Setanta's coverage of the Champions League is of much higher quality than SBS or ESPN provide. Okay the coverage is not live, but it's in widescreen with commentators from Sky Sports.

- Internationals

Setanta broadcasts a lot of international football. Rights to most international games are decided on a game-by-game basis, but Setanta seems to always deliver by securing the rights to a wide selection of matches. Obviously the quality of their coverage depends on host broadcasters, although I usually find their coverage is pretty good. The more common teams featured on Setanta include England (away games) Scotland, Wales, France, Spain, Turkey, Greece, with a few others.

As far as 'comprehensive' rights go, Setanta does hold rights to all South American World Cup qualifiers over the next couple of years. Setanta's coverage of these games have been very good - with most games shown live. The football on display is really good, not suprising with teams like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay etc.

Setanta will also gain control of the rights to all England home matches later this year, which should see a great improvement in coverage compared with ESPN.

- Euro 2008

If you've only heard of Setanta Sports recently, it's probably because of Euro 2008. That's right, Setanta is the only place to watch every game of Euro 2008 in Australia. SBS does have some limited rights, but any serious football fan will really want to have access to Setanta this June. The beauty of Setanta is that any Foxtel and Austar subscribers can just ring up and subscribe for the month of June (and then cancel when the tournament is over). Unfortunately Setanta have added a sign-up fee, meaning that if you just want to subscribe for the duration of the Euros, then you have to pay $30, but still - it's pretty good value.

Setanta will show 28 games of Euro 2008 live, the only games not shown live occur when games are played simultaneously during the last group matches. The games not shown live on Setanta, however, will be shown live on SBS. Setanta will also have highlights, replays, analysis - in short, very comprehensive coverage of Euro 2008.

They will be taking their coverage from English broadcasters BBC and ITV, which some fans who remember channel 9 and their coverage of the 2002 World Cup might dread, but with no England team playing this time, we shouldn't see too much biased commentary.

Conclusions:

There's no doubt that Setanta is a fantastic broadcaster. Although they do have some problems with their Australian channel, which is a little unprofessional in the way it is run, they do provide an amazing level of football coverage. Thanks to Setanta, we finally have football coverage that is up to the standards of other countries.

Where to now for Setanta? Well the biggest problem they have at the moment is really with air time. So much coverage, and only one channel to show it all. Some have suggested that a viewers choice system (see Fox Sports) is the best way to fix this, but I very much doubt this will ever happen (simply because it would require too much cooperation from Foxtel). It would be great to see Setanta Sports 2 one day, let's hope that happens eventually.

Other Channels/Sources:

The main players have been covered, but there's a couple of other channels or similar that I would like to briefly comment on.

- Eurosport Asia Pacific and Eurosportnews

Currently, if you have Foxtel, you will probably only recognise Eurosportnews. Eurosportnews is a channel on Foxtel that constantly loops through 15 minutes of sports news. It's a nice channel and occasionally it will have some good highlights from various tournaments, but content restrictions mean that Eurosportnews is far from comprehensive in what it covers.

Eurosport Asia Pacific is a new channel, that has recently begun broadcasting in (as you would expect) the Asia-Pacific region. If you are in Australia, the only way to receive it is through the low-cost pay-tv network, Selectv. There is, however, talk that a launch on Foxtel and Austar is a real possibility.

As far as football goes, Eurosport Asia Pacific does not actually have that much coverage of leagues etc. What they do have is coverage of tournaments. In January they were the exclusive broadcaster of the African Cup of Nations, and recently they have shown the UEFA Under 17 championships, the UEFA Under 19 Womens championships, and a mini tournament involving various under 21 teams. There's not a lot of 'big' football on Eurosport, but there's certainly plenty of, somewhat random, smaller tournaments - and if you are like me, you'll agree that any football is worth watching.

Of most interest to Australian fans, will be that Eurosport have signed an international agreement with FIFA, that will see them allowed to cover all youth FIFA tournaments. Now, SBS does hold the rights to these tournaments in Australia, but Eurosport's agreement means that any games not shown live on SBS can be shown on Eurosport. So we may one day see very good coverage from tournaments like the Under 20 World Cup through Eurosport.

Incidently, other sports that are covered include Motorsport, Cycling and Rugby - I, for one, would like to see it on Foxtel one day.

- The Internet

Okay, it's not pay-tv. However I did want to briefly mention the internet, which is a fast growing source for football viewing. I'm not going to talk about illegal streams of football games (although personally I find nothing wrong with illegally streaming football matches on the internet when they aren't even being shown on pay-tv - for example some Olyroos games), but there is an increasing trend towards live and legal streaming of football.

Fox Sports and Setanta both offer streaming of some content through their websites, Fox has live coverage of the English Premier League while the majority of Setanta's coverage is also avaliable on Setanta's website through a service named "Setanta Broadband". Obviously you have to pay for access to this content. Other places you could try for football content are UEFA (who stream the Champions League), http://www.the-afc.tv/ (where you can find streams for several Asian leagues, AFC Champions league and Asian World cup qualifiers - however some content is restricted on a geographical basis).

If you are after free content, well there is one site that I have found very good - http://www.bet365.com/. Sign up for a free account and you can watch Serie A, J-league as well as international football without paying a cent.

I'm sure that over the next couple of years, legal streaming on the internet is going to quickly become more and more common.

Final Summary:

So overall, how is Australia's coverage of football looking? Well I think that it's finally starting to look okay. Before Setanta coverage was very limited, but thanks to Setanta and their wide range of content, I am certainly fairly satisfied with the amount of football on Australian pay TV.

Where should things be improved? Well there's one big 'blank spot' I see when looking at the content we get - Asian football. We are now part of the Asian Football Confederation and it's a shame that we see very little coverage of the Asian leagues, or international Asian football. Particuarly as Asian football would fit in very well to the Australian timezone.

Fox Sports will need to play a big part in improving this situation, and hopefully within the next couple of years they will start to invest a little bit more in content from Asia, but I don't think they can do it alone. Ideally, we need to see content from the various Asian networks making it's way to Australia - maybe some of the channels that broadcast across Asia could also one day set up a channel in Australia.

Another thing I think our broadcasters could improve upon is taking coverage from overseas channels, and forming closer parnterships with them. This has been another thing that Setanta has been good at since starting in Australia. They tend to take coverage straight from overseas broadcasters (usually in the UK), including full analysis and commentary. Not only does this result in better coverage, but it's cheaper. I know channels like to have their own hosts and analysts for their coverage, but sometimes I think it would be better for everyone if they would just use the resources of larger overseas channels.

I still have one more blog to go on this topic (hopefully shorter), that will discuss more about the future and how I think football broadcasting in this country needs to progress. I will also use that blog to discuss various rumors that continue to surface surrounding broadcasting.

Bye for now,

Matt

11 comments:

Concerned Citizen said...

Top stuff! :)

Football said...

What a phenomenal, mammoth post.

My browser almost crashed as I had to keep scrolling down.

On the topic of Setanta, I would just like to say how pissed off I am at Optus TV for not allowing their subscribers to choose Setanta channel for the Euro 08 whereas foxtel have no problem.

Matt Winter said...

Thanks for the comments guys - I guess it was a pretty mammoth post - I sort of just kept writing...

I really feel bad for Optus subscribers at the moment, nobody can be expected to subscribe to pay-tv from multiple providers, and that's why it's really annoying when different companines have (even slight) differences in channel lineups.

Personally, I would like to see the government step in and ensure that every provider offers every channel - might be bad for competition, but at least you wouldn't get situations like this.

Matt Winter said...

Oh, and just to add to that:

The worst part is that Setanta is broadcasting to all of you Optus subscribers, however you are being (essentially) blocked from viewing the broadcast because they can't come to an agreement.

Foxtel subscribers suffer from this as well - there are a lot of channels broadcasting that could be picked up through Foxtel (such as Eurosport Asia Pacific), but due to agreements not being made etc. we can't get access to these channels. (I would have loved to have seen the African Nations cup earlier in the year).

In fairness it's the same in most countries, but it is something that governments and regulators need to sort out.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.