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Non-stop AFL: Andrew Demetriou has an app for that

The AFL may bypass broadcasters altogether and stream games live to fans. AAP

Interesting to read AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou’s thoughts on the next broadcasting rights deal, given that the league has yet to work out how to divvy up the money from the deal it recently negotiated with Seven and Foxtel. Which hasn’t even started yet. He’s a busy man. Forward thinking too.

Interesting, too, to note that the AFL has set up its own broadcasting division and is thinking of using the NBN to sell the game directly to the consumer next time around.

Interesting but by no means revolutionary. Major sporting organisations in Europe and the US such as Manchester United, Arsenal and the Chicago Bulls set up their own media production arms several years ago and are already selling footage directly to fans through computers and mobile devices. It makes sense that the AFL would do the same.

The broadcasting of football outside the traditional network model has been stymied in Australia by our refusal to buy into cable TV (will that change with the basic monthly Foxtel footy package starting at $60 plus $150 installation fee?). We’ve also been unwilling to buy content online. TV and the net have traditionally been free here and we as a nation have demonstrated that we don’t want that to change.

Yet we’ve quite happily paid to watch cricket on a mobile phone screen for years. We’re used to paying for everything when it comes to phones (and now tablets) and that’s the mentality the AFL is hoping to tap into through the NBN.

Thanks to that mindset, the must-haveness of the latest phones and tablet devices, and the whizz bang, super-fun nature of Apps we’re all of a sudden happily paying for content that we would never dream of paying for on TV or a desktop.

At the moment there probably aren’t enough people with broadband access to make an AFL App financially viable, but with the NBN expecting to complete its roll out by 2020, that may well soon change. The AFL is banking on that being the case.

So, does that mean that the next broadcast deal will be done between the AFL, Telstra and Apple as well as, or instead of, perhaps Seven and Foxtel? It’s unlikely that by the next broadcast rights deal that there will be enough of a broadband uptake for the AFL to completely write them out, but it will happen eventually.

We’re all aware that traditional, or legacy, media such as newspapers, TV networks and to a certain extent cable TV are being massively challenged by the ubiquity and ease of access to coverage offered over the net. The NBN can only increase that pressure.

As a result we’ve seen TV, radio and newspapers converge – most news organisation websites look and perform the same regardless of their legacy origin.

This media convergence and the ease of access of online content has hit the old schedule-driven network model very hard. One of the traditional bugbears for AFL fans has been the issue of live football versus network scheduling. There are no such issues on the net.

Video on demand delivers the game live anywhere and everywhere to anyone with broadband. That is very attractive to the AFL.

What Demetriou is presaging, is the next stage in convergence in which the media is absorbed by the content ie by the AFL.

This makes perfect sense, if as Demetriou says the AFL is “trying to control as much as we can”. It makes perfect fiscal sense too: cut out the middle man.

The upside of all this, for the fan is the possibility of non-stop footy coverage. The downside is the loss of independence in terms of comment.

What chance of Dean Bailey’s tanking comments being released if the AFL owns his interview? What chance of informed criticism of the game, or the competition, if the commentators are paid by the AFL?

Then there’s the cost. If the AFL is cutting out the middle man and coming straight to the customer for revenue, where is that $1billion plus in revenue coming from? On current population figures that’s $45 per head if we all buy in. That’s a very expensive App.

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