Channel Nine’s tennis deal will be obsolete by the time it runs out

While Nine snatching the tennis rights from Seven might seem like the grab of the century, the station needs to have a serious think about what the future might hold, writes strategist Mike Chmielewski.

Note: Nine’s sports boss Tom Malone has responded to this piece.

You would have read all over the media interwebs that Channel Nine has snatched the rights from Seven to broadcast the Tennis in Australia.

The deal, worth $60m a year, gives Nine the free-to-air and pay-TV rights for the Australian Open, Hopman Cup, Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the Brisbane, Sydney and Hobart Internationals from 2020 all the way to 2024.

Think about that for a minute. We’re discussing and celebrating (or mourning, if you’re Seven) a television deal for 2024. What will television even be in 2024? Six years ago there was no Netflix in Australia, no Stan, no Instagram, no Snapchat. What we consider media consumption now will be very, very different in two, let alone six years time.

Apart from the television rights, the deal also includes the online streaming rights. Nine hands down has the best streaming platform of the three major television networks, and that will continue to grow, but what is really interesting to consider, is how they will evolve what “streaming” means in the future — and if they’re even allowed to.

We are entering a digital age where the audience is going to expect very different experiences online then they get through traditional television. It’s no longer enough to trade on “it’s time shifted” or “platform agnostic,” that’s standard, even old hat. Digital will no longer be “the second screen experience,” digital will be the first, and often, the only screen experience that matters.

If Nine is smart, and if this deal lets them, they are in a position to reshape what “streaming sport” means in Australia. But if all they are allowed to or willing to do is repurpose their television stream and throw in a couple extra “second screen” experiences, this will be among the last digital rights deal they win.

Look at what the NBA is doing. As part of their NBA League Pass, they stream every game and push the boundaries by offering a courtside VR experience for the user. This is one example of VR actually making sense and adding something to the experience. On top of live games, the app has access to time shifted games, as well as historic games from past seasons, documentaries, highlights and more. Tennis Australia, and every other Australian sporting organisation, can very well follow suit and offer fans a tailored experience.

NBA’s courtside VR experience

Alternatively, they can embrace digital first publishers. For example, the US Open has sold their digital streaming rights to Amazon, who can really push and develop their stream and format without being restricted by the “television first” business model Nine has to abide by.

The English Premier League is expected to follow suit any day now. The NFL and MBL are broadcasting games and shows on Twitter, while continuing to build their own apps and experiences like the NBA is, and Facebook and YouTube are making pushes into sport.

Digital first broadcasts will allow sports to tailor the user’s experience and content specifically to their location, or their favourite team, push the boundaries and offer viewers new and unique ways to experience the sport.

Nine could pull a rabbit out of the hat and reshape their offering, like I said, their 9Now platform is the best in the country, and they have the resources, and should have the motivation. But it remains to be seen if they will, or even if they’re allowed to under the current deal. One thing is for sure, the 2025 and beyond negotiations will be very, very different.

Mike Chmielewski is a strategist at Fairfax Media. This article first appeared on LinkedIn.


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