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Opinion: Optus EPL Deal Shows Good, Bad of Streaming

Optus EPL
Sean Fang Sat, 07/05/2016 - 16:04

Ever since Optus snatched the broadcast rights to the EPL from Foxtel, most of the attention turned to the question of how exactly Optus would be delivering the best and worst of English (and Welsh) soccer to eager fans without actually having a delivery network. The answer was provided this week - Internet streaming!

Optus, via the Fetch TV service, would be delivering all live games via the Internet for "as little as" $15 per month. But only if you're already an Optus customers (postpaid mobile and broadband bundle), and you'll also need a Fetch set top box or the yet unreleased Mini puck device (for postpaid customers only) at additional cost if you want to watch matches on your TV.

Foxtel has since fought back, but with no live EPL games on offer (which, you have to admit, is still the best way to watch matches even if you have to stay up until 4 in the morning), the only game in town remains with Optus.

Not surprisingly, fans (many of which are dedicated enough to trade valuable weekend sleep for glorious end to end action, or a 90 minutes parking of the metaphorical bus) have reacted angrily to this new way of watching football. While some are genuinely worried about the technical side of things (streaming speed, quality), the biggest gripe lies with the "must have Optus account" prerequisite, which most sees as an obvious cash grab. The cheapest way to watch EPL for someone who isn't already an Optus customer may involve getting a phone plan that you'll never use, just so you are given the permission to pay another $15 per month to Optus (switching to Optus broadband may not even be an option for many, and even if it is, it could cost up to $2880 over 24 month - it may turn out cheaper to buy a return plane ticket and watch a game live at the stadium, the director of campaigns and communications at Choice cheekily noted).

Choice: Optus EPL Offer
What Choice had to say about the Optus EPL deal
Image credit: Choice

And with Foxtel's existing and new deals locking in non EPL action, it's going to get really expensive if you want to watch a variety of league action from mainland Europe and elsewhere. At least if you want to do so legally, because there are many illegal options that will no doubt find increasing popularity in Australia (oh great, not only are we the worst Game of Thrones pirates, we're about to add soccer to that as well), and after this latest fiasco, many will feel justified (rightly or wrongly) in going down the piracy route.

But why has Optus been able to do this? I'm not talking about the ACCC and whether they will step in or not to allow this travesty to continue, but the technology side of things. Internet streaming has allowed Optus to obtain broadcast rights without having a broadcast network, and this has set a dangerous precedent. Any telco can now just buy up broadcast rights to anything and then lock the content up with their own streaming product, saddled with a "must be a customer" requirement - all with a "virtual" network (whatever you think about Foxtel, they been working hard to install cable and satellites to Australian homes in order to build their own physical network - all undone, at least for EPL fans, by Optus's "masterstroke").

At Streambly, we are firm believers in all things streaming, but this may be one instance in which we wish the technology to allow Optus to do what they have just done hadn't existed. It's unfair to blame the technology though, because, to paraphrase, it's not the technology, it's how you use it that matters.

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