FTA Premier League audiences provide food for thought
Sky, the UK pay-television operator, averaged almost 2 million viewers for the live matches from English soccer’s Premier League it offered on a free-to-air basis in the latter stages of the 2019-20 season.
Heading into yesterday’s final round of fixtures, the average audience of 1.9 million for the 24 matches made available on Sky’s Pick channel, which is offered on various free-to-air television platforms, was up 36 per cent on the 1.4 million for those games only shown on the broadcaster’s subscription sports channels, according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
It is estimated that viewers of matches on the Freeview and Freesat platforms accounted for 26 per cent of the audience for the Sky matches offered up for free.
In an unprecedented move, the pay-TV broadcaster that is the main home of the Premier League in the UK committed to show 25 games for free after picking up rights to extra matches when the decision was taken to televise all fixtures live in the UK when the season resumed, behind closed doors, in mid-June, after a three-month break caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
This also entailed the first-ever live Premier League games on UK terrestrial television, with the BBC, the country’s public-service broadcaster, averaging 2.7 million viewers for four fixtures that complemented its regular ‘Match of the Day’ highlights show.
BT Sport and Amazon, the other two live rights-holders, were also able to offer extra games in the final weeks of the delayed 2019-20 campaign.
Sky, with eight games, and BT Sport, with two games, shared live coverage of yesterday's 10 Premier League matches, all of which kicked off at 4pm UK time, with Manchester United and Chelsea clinching the two remaining places in next season's Champions League, and Aston Villa staying up, while Watford and Bournemouth joined Norwich City in being relegated to the EFL Championship.
The success of the free-to-air offering, in exceptional circumstances, over the past six weeks, is reported to have prompted a debate over whether to offer further matches on a similar basis in the coming seasons.
The Telegraph quotes an unnamed broadcasting executive saying that “momentum is building for a serious conversation about the way we negotiate future rights deals with the Premier League. Give free-to-view fans a taste of what the subscribers get is likely to give them the appetite to want more.”
The current three-year UK rights deals, worth just under £5 billion ($6.4 billion) run to the end of the 2021-22 season.