The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has signed an agreement with YouTube to live-stream the 2013 Ashes series in 53 countries in Europe and South America, free to consumers. In addition to the live streaming, there will be free one-minute highlights package of each session.
The channel will begin with live streaming on the 11th July for a maximum of 25 days of test matches over the following 7 weeks.
The deal marks another success story for YouTube as a live online sports platform, and is a first for the ECB in live streaming content to fans in territories where there is no broadcaster deal in place. The ECB is not the first sports rights owner to turn to YouTube to live stream its content in markets where it has not been able to sign broadcast deals. The Badminton World Federation and International Table Tennis Federation have both partnered the site to provide live streams to fans, with geo-blocking in markets where broadcast deals have been made. The Google-owned platform also has a global deal in place with the Times of India to live-stream all 76 matches of the IPL Twenty20 cricket tournament. These deals generate instant scale for sporting events at a very effective cost per global addressable consumer - YouTube currently has 1bn monthly users across the world.
Although the Copa America football tournament in 2011 was broadcast live on YouTube in select markets, IHS does not expect many major sporting events to end their traditional broadcast deals and move to a global YouTube distribution model, except in instances where broadcast rights remain unsold. Increasingly, rights buyers are moving to a multi-platform distribution model, buying broadcast, online and mobile rights together for exploitation as part of a multiplatform strategy. This means that online video rights are almost always tied to broadcast rights, so in major markets for any given sport, online video coverage will be provided by the local broadcast partner in most cases, and will not be available in full for distribution via YouTube.
However, YouTube is aiming to add more premium content to its platform and live sports will help cement the platform's position as a professional video site. With YouTube having already begun to pilot paid subscription channels from May 2013, live sports would be a logical next step to begin to monetise in this manner. IHS expects more deals with second tier or niche sporting events, or sports with specific regional appeal, to be exploited in this manner.
Sports video technology firm Perform Group already offers an out-of-market online sports service, livesport.tv, aimed at expat fans of a range of sports/leagues, with pricing for out-of-market football starting from £5.99 (€6.92) per month, and basketball from €11.99. The service has more than 100,000 subscribers and illustrates the popularity of the sorts of niche sporting content that YouTube is looking to tap into.
Ultimately, if YouTube is able to build scale and following around smaller sporting events, as well as encouraging willingness to pay on the still predominantly free-to-view platform, a future in which Google begins bidding for large scale premium sports rights with global appeal is a real possibility.