November, 2013

Ashes Highlights This Winter

Returning to a familiar topic, I note that there are no Ashes highlights on Channel 5 this winter. Instead they’ll be broadcast on Pick TV – Sky’s free-to-air channel available on most platforms including Freeview. They’ll be broadcast nightly at 10pm, just before play begins the following day. Live coveragewill of course be on Sky Sports.

I shall just note that they’re not being broadcast on Channel 5 – I can only assume because either they cost too much for Richard Desmond to stump up, or they were not offered to Channel 5 at all. Instead Sky will put them out on the channel that’s the home of Motorway Patrol and Border Security (OK – they do show the odd decent show too).

It’s worth noting that highlights of England Test matches overseas are not a Listed Event and so Sky is well within its rights to do this.

But in case you’re thinking, “Well it’s on Pick TV which is free to air, so everyone can watch anyway,” then think again.

The Freeview multiplex that Pick TV is broadcast on is available to a little under 90% of Freeview homes. Just over 10% of Freeview homes are unable to receive Pick TV. Not terrible, but not up to the coverage of public service broadcasters which are around 98.5%.

If you don’t offer access to a broad audience for your sport, then do not expect too much from the next generation. Cricket, as I’ve said many times before, is treading down this path, with no free-to-air cricket available in the UK.

Note: I write this as someone who watches cricket, and subscribes to Sky Sports. And I’ve updated the numbers to properly reflect Pick TV’s Freeview coverage.

BT and Champions’ League Football

I must admit that like many others, I was surprised to learn over the weekend that BT had bought all the Champions’ League live TV rights exlcusively. At a stroke they’ve knocked both ITV and Sky out of the picture starting from the 2015 season.

I’m going to try to unpick the subject a bit because there are implications on several levels.

Damage to Sky

Today there are reports that Sky has had £1.4bn knocked off its stock price as the news hits the markets. That feels to me a very short term reaction. While this is a massive show of intent on BT’s part, I don’t think it’s devastating to Sky to have lost these rights, although I suspect that whatever the next big rights package that comes up for attention will be looked at very carefully by Sky.

Let us not forget that in the earlier days of the Champions’ League, ITV Digital (née OnDigital) had most of these rights too. And they were not enough to build a brand (yes, there were other things going on there, not least piracy). Given the nature of football, we’re only really talking about fans of Manchester, London and occasionally Glasgow clubs that are being troubled by these games. Sure, the average fan might want to watch Man Utd v Barcelona, but if you live in South Wales, you might find a Sky subscription more essential in the short-term. And you can still go to the pub if that game is appealing.

That said, losing both club rugby and Champions’ League football to BT is more than bad luck for Sky. You wonder if BT might next target cricket…

Damage to ITV

This does leave a big hole in ITV’s schedules. I’m not sure what they’re going to do with Adrian Chiles et al, since they’re now really only left with England matches, major tournaments, and potentially a highlights package. Arguably, highlights could become more important in a BT-only world. Lots of people are going to be left without any access to Champions’ League football. Packaged in a more Match of the Day manner it could be a more compelling offering than the current late-night highlights which are definite afterthought to the live coverage. Also, ITV currently only has Tuesday night highlights. Highlights only make sense covering both Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But the value of those late-night ads is going to be far less than during live games.

This also leaves a big hole in ITV4 which seems to have been nurtured as a quasi-sports channel with Europa League, French Open, Tour de France, British motorsport and so on. In value terms though, the Europa League is limiting.

Free To Air

As something of a sop to sponsors (not the football loving public), BT has said that it’ll make some games available free-to-air. This would seem to include the final, but will also include at least one match featuring each British club in the competition. However given that each team that makes the league part of the competition is guaranteed at least 6 fixtures, this isn’t really a great deal.

It’s also worth examining how those games might be made available. Currently, BT Sport is carried on all the digital platforms. However on Freeview, it’s channels are carried on the COM4 and COM6 multiplexes. Neither of these have as much carriage as those multiplexes that carry BBC and ITV channels – something like 19.6m households compared with 26.8m households which cover the entire country. So unless those free-to-air games are rebroadcast on a Public Service channel like ITV, or BT Sport changes mulitplexes, there will be millions of households who miss out on these free games.

In the UK we have a designated set of Listed Events. In 2008, David Davies led a team that was to review what was included and excluded on that list, but after despite the team doing work on the subject, the review was scrapped in 2010.

At the time, there was a promise that it would be looked at again post digital switchover in 2013:

The current economic climate also points to us not making a decision at this time which could adversely impact on sport at the grassroots. I have therefore decided to defer any review until 2013, when we will look at this again.

Well of course, digital switchover was completed at the end of last year. And there is no sign of a review of the list, which may or may not be a good thing to be honest given the political muscle of major sporting bodies. David Davies’ group did not recommend that the Champions’ League was added to the list). We are, however, left with the 1998 list of events.

Anyway, the Champions’ League Final (or European Cup) is not on the list – either in terms of live or highlights.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) still has its Olympic Charter, section 48 of which still says:

The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.

Unlike the IOC, UEFA has no “charter” to further its competitions’ reaches. So it can happily sell its tournaments to its highest bidders.

The only people who have any real sway in these matters are sponsors of course. Sponsors like Heineken may be paying as much as $70m a season for Champions’ League sponsorship may question whether they’re losing out under this deal. With six headline sponsors (plus another couple), there is some serious money at play. But the UK is only a percentage of that. UEFA meanwhile is making an additional £500m ($800m) on these rights. So if sponsorships aren’t quite the same value in future, they can live with it.

Gain For BT

This does make them closer to being a real player in the TV sport market. I still think that for most, it’ll be Sky Sports first and then BT Sport. Certainly still for football. But with the end of the Heineken Cup next year, and in all likelihood a replacement tournament on BT Sport, a rugby union fan might well decide that the England autumn internationals on Sky aren’t enough to warrant a subscription.

Both Sky and BT will already be thinking about the next round of Premier League rights. These Champions’ League rights don’t come into play until year three of the current Premier League offering. So there’ll be even more incentive to bid up those rights with BT wanting a bigger slice of the pie. The Premier League must already be rubbing their hands with glee.

BT also needs to work out how it’s going to broadcast all 350 games for which it has rights. Up until now, they’ve not really pushed their own TV platform to viewers who have Sky packages, but I’m not certain that BT will replicate the offering Sky has for Match Choice on Champions’ League rights – at least on satellite. I can see them broadcasting two or three games on their channels and offering the others via broadband – pushing their own boxes. Considering that sometimes much better games are going on elsewhere in Europe, this could be challenging for some football fans.


What is clear is that this state of affairs isn’t good for the consumer. If you want to watch the biggest teams in Britain, you need to take out two premium TV subscriptions to get full coverage. Yes, BT Sport is free to BT Broadband customers, but with fees already going up in January, it’d be a fool who believed this cost wasn’t being subsidised by every BT customer – whether or not they actually take the BT Sport package.

Disclaimer: I pay for Sky Sports, and have BT Broadband entitling me to BT Sport. Indeed I switched broadband suppliers to get BT Broadband to take their sports offering. I guess it’s working for BT.

Kite Aerial Photography #2 – Trent Park in the Wind

KAP#2 Trent Park-6

A few weeks after my first failure to get a camera airborne, I had another go in a local park.

This time there was enough wind. But I was faced with a different problem – too much wind, and too gusty!

The kite went straight up without a hitch. But the next problem was really the amount of movement. The camera – an A470 – isn’t very flexibile. And so far, short of turning off the flash, the camera is taking photos in auto. But with lots of movement, and even with sometimes quite fast shutterspeed (up to 1/500 sec), there were an awful lot of blurry photos. I’d also attempted to take photos at sunset, which means that there wasn’t an enormous amount of light. On the other hand, I’m just not quite ready to send a better camera upwards right now!

Anyway, more results below. But what I’ve learnt from this time around is that:

– I need more light
– I should put the camera into Sport mode to get a high shutter speed
– I need less gusty wind so that the camera hangs more steadily
– I need a winder because all that line is very tiring to pull in and out!

KAP#2 Trent Park-2

KAP#2 Trent Park-7

KAP#2 Trent Park-8

KAP#2 Trent Park-10

KAP#2 Trent Park-14

KAP#2 Trent Park-9

KAP#2 Trent Park-16

Kite Aerial Photography #1 – Not Very High in Norfolk

KAP#1 Sheringham-1

For a while now I’ve been wanting to try something I’ve read about for a long time – Kite Aerial Photography. The idea is that you send up a kite, and from it you hang a camera that you set to somehow take photos while it’s up there.

This is a record of my first experiments!

First of all the kit. Trying to do this as cheaply as possible I’m currently using:

The Kite – Colours In Motion Power Sled 14
Line – 40kg/200m
Rig – Brooxes Simplex

The idea is that you hang the rig (a frame that includes a tripod mount for placing your camera) under the kite line using a clever Picavet suspension system. This should keep the camera vaguely level. There are metal KAP-Klips which hook this system onto the kite line.

So trial number one was on the north Norfolk coast. Unfortunately, the weekend I was there was perhaps the least windy weekend I’ve ever spent on the coast. While the Power Sled kite needs barely any wind at all to get lift, without some decent wind it doesn’t have enough lift to get the camera far off the ground.

My point and shoot camera is an old Canon A470 with CHDK installed on an SD card. With an intervalmeter program installed, I could keep the camera going while I send it up. It must be said that the battery does flatten very quickly in this scenario. The A470 runs on AAs, so a good supply is essential.

Anyway, as I say, there wasn’t enough wind, and so the photographs aren’t quite the spectacular photos I’d had in mind.

KAP#1 Sheringham-2

KAP#1 Sheringham-4

KAP#1 Sheringham-6