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#Optusfail Shows TV Is Still The Best Way To Watch Sport

The only way sports will prosper in Australia is if they are accessible.

The debacle that confronted many Australian soccer fans when they attempted to log on to watch Optus's coverage of the World Cup over the weekend is a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead in the multi-billion-dollar world of sport's coverage.

When eager soccer fans attempted to access the much-anticipated start of the biggest event on the sporting calendar on Friday night they were met with a mixture of shambolic problems. Some simply couldn’t get access. Others were met with buffering or signal drop-out issues.  Many experienced poor streaming quality. Most were outraged. This continued throughout the weekend.

Optus Chief executive Allen Lew promised the telco would atone for its streaming sins.

“We should have done better, we can do better and we will do better,” he said.

Traditionally sports coverage has been the exclusive domain of television broadcasters and, for most of our popular sports, they still act as the primary source of sports consumption.

But times are changing. For one, television networks are finding it harder than ever to make a buck.  Consumers are increasingly streaming content online rather than watching TV in their lounge room. As a result, advertisers are increasingly taking their advertising dollars to digital companies.

In 2018, online advertising is expected to rise to $8.69 billion, accounting for over half of the ad market. By comparison, advertising on television is estimated to be $3.76 billion in 2018.

Falling advertising revenue led Seven's Chief Executive, Tim Worner, to ponder if we were nearing a crossroad when it comes to shelling out record sums for sports broadcasting right.

"Sports rights have reached a tipping point in this country," Mr Worner said. "Given changes in the market, price rises are not sustainable."

The backdrop to all of this is that sports, too, are under the pump when it comes to funding their games. There isn't a big sport in the country that could survive in its current form without the money it receives from its media partners.  Media rights revenues account for about 80 percent of Cricket Australia's total revenues.

Ahhh, the good old days. Image: Getty.

So, the question has to be asked -- for just how much longer will Australian television networks be able to prop up our favourite sports?

Many believe that in the future the money will come from new media organisations who will come to the negotiating table with pockets full of cash, ready to out-bid traditional broadcasters.  This has already started to happen. It's the reason Optus has the rights to all World Cup games. It's also the reason they have the English Premier League rights.

Yet for all of that, the only way sports will prosper in Australia is if they are accessible. Ours is a small market, flooded with a range of sports for fans to choose from. For any sport to rise above the pack, it needs to be seen by as many people as possible, and more than other sports.

Traditional free to air coverage is still the best option when it comes to ensuring games are seen.  Big sporting organisations such as the AFL will not prioritise digital or social media organisations ahead of traditional broadcasters if it means the experience of consuming the product will be worse. Black spots, drop-outs, buffering problems or poor streaming quality simply will not cut the mustard.

Image: Getty.

So, although people are streaming sport through mobile devices now more than ever, in the current landscape, it seems digital media is still best used to complement television, rather than acting as the top dog.

The anti-siphoning list currently ensures free to air TV is protected when it comes to some of Australia's biggest sports, but make no mistake, as the future of TV and media consumption changes, so too will this policy.

And, if history has taught us anything, when it comes to the business of sport and trying to predict its future, you're best to follow the money, which means ultimately the highest bidder will win.