By Andrew McGoff
It was Wellington Anniversary weekend in January 2016 and I’d just witnessed an incredible game of football. My beloved Liverpool had been 3-1 down at Carrow Road against a fired up Canaries side and come back to steal a 5-4 win in the 95th minute. Many can remember the celebration as Jurgen Klopp celebrated with his players, breaking his glasses in the process. I was on holiday at the time with a family who didn’t have SKY. Historically this would have been a problem, but not then. Premier League Pass (PLP) had introduced a brilliant online viewing product to customers meaning you could watch your team, LIVE (or on demand) wherever you could find either an internet connection or sufficient data (I once viewed half a game from my car outside a SPARK phone box at 2am when on holiday in Wanaka).
Fast forward a few months and panic spread over the NZ, English Premier League (EPL) football community. PLP did not renew or bid for the EPL rights for the next 3 years as prices had gotten too high. SKY also said the cost was above them (even when making a $150 million profit). Not only was this upsetting from a football viewing standpoint, but PLP had a great customer service team that responded quickly to queries. PLP worked with the footballing community, offering rebates to football and supporters clubs each time a club member signed up.
It was a whole month after the EPL season ended (June 2016) that rumours started to circulate that beIN Sports had in fact purchased the NZ rights. The rumour goes that they had tried to buy rights for both Australia and NZ, had offered ridiculous bids in the process, failed with Aus (won by Optus) and were stuck with a 3 year contract for New Zealand’s rights. A country they had no presence in, and no means to show the games. With that SKY did what they do best and tried to appear as though they were the knight in shining armour. On a certain radio hosts show they announced they had cut a deal with beIN and would show two 24hr channels, one with the EPL which would include preview and review shows, and the other with football from Spain and France. The offering would cost an additional $11.96 a month, would include some pop up channels and also BeIN CONNECT so we could watch games online. Not a SKY customer? Don’t worry, you’d be able to buy BeIN CONNECT separately which would start with 1 channel and would progress to 2 as well as an On Demand offering. Here’s their release:
Time to relax as an EPL fan, right? SKY told us it was all sorted, there was no need to worry…then it all went quiet.
With the start of July came pre-season fixtures and general hype about the EPL starting…still nothing from SKY or BeIN. Martin Devlin chased it up and found out that it was beIN that were holding up the process. SKY had been given the go ahead to promote the package but beIN were pre-occupied with ‘problem countries taking priority’. It was now three weeks until the EPL season was due to start and the calls for PLP to return were dominating my twitter timeline.
It was SKY that front footed this in late July (beIN had set up a twitter account and facebook page but wouldn’t reply to queries) commenting that all was well and customers would be able to add BeIN Sports to their basic SKY package from early August (maybe beIN had taken a leaf out of NZ Footballs book and hadn’t been able to work their fax machine to get the contract back!). The $11.96 we were to pay SKY would be a pass through to beIN according to the Ombudsman. SKY were true to their word, we were able to pay to add on beIN 1 and 2 from the 2nd of August. There were many SKY customers who were pleased they would get to see their team play LIVE on their TV, or be able to MYSKY the game to watch at a more convenient time. I know some media outlets were also pleased that they would be able to show footage that wasn’t grainy (one of their issues with PLP). Access would go LIVE before the first game of the season on the 13th August.
One of the great conveniences of PLP was that you could stay in the comfort of your bed, put your headphones in and watch games at 3am instead of walking through to a cold lounge. This is what beIN CONNECT would provide us. It was also going to be the alternative to those that didn’t want to sign up to SKY but were frustrated with trying to find (flaky) streams.
On the 4th of August we were told by beIN (who finally decided to use their social media accounts) that “SKY customers who subscribe to beIN will be eligible to access beIN SPORTS CONNECT at a future date at no extra cost using their SKY My Account/SKY GO login. beIN SPORTS is working to provide access for … customers asap”. Less than a week later (5 days before the EPL season was due to start) we were told “once CONNECT is up and running you’ll be able to watch every EPL game live! We can’t confirm the launch date as of yet”. Alarm bells started to ring but I, along with others, was prepared to give them a bit of slack. They had just entered a new market where they didn’t previously have a presence. Maybe they just had a few teething problems. The fact we’d be able to watch all games LIVE through CONNECT was exciting, it was similar to the PLP model we loved. Grumblings started to be heard from non-SKY customers as the first weekend of the EPL came and went and there was no access to CONNECT. No need to worry though, it’s ”coming soon”…
On 27th August SKY added fuel to the fire when they released a statement suggesting fans of the EPL in NZ will not be able to watch this season’s action on a separate online streaming service. Communications Director for SKY, Kirsty Way, said “We have been advised they’re (beIN SPORTS) not going to launch it independently…I felt a bit disappointed because I’d said so whole-heartedly on the radio two days before that it was happening”. Two days later beIN SPORTS shot down Kirsty’s comments, telling people “reports in the media are incorrect. beIN SPORTS CONNECT will be released in New Zealand.”
Two months later, on the 26th October beIN SPORTS were ”pleased to announce that the first release of beIN SPORTS CONNECT NZ will be available tomorrow”. All info was in the pic below:
I, like many others, signed up and promptly downloaded the app. To be honest, I only used it once over the month of the free trial as I went to Four Kings to watch Liverpool’s games and I wasn’t interested in the games of other sides. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the product, but all said and done, at least it was now up and running and those of us who are SKY customers (and who had been paying for the product for the last 2 months without having access) would be able to use it if we wanted, right?? WRONG!
beIN SPORTS CONNECT is only available to people who are willing to pay them $17.99 a month, either individually or in addition to the fee paid to SKY. 2 ½ months later the line that is being given to SKY customers is ”Being a subscribers to the beIN SPORTS tier on SKY, will be eligible to access the online streaming service at a future date at no extra cost using their SKY login details.
beIN SPORTS is working to provide access for SKY beIN SPORTS tier subscribers. However, at this point of time, we are unable to give any indication of timing about the availability of the full service. Please continue to visit our website and follow us on social media for the latest updates, including pricing and content information.”
When contacting SKY their response to whether it will be available ranged between “we don’t yet have a date when this will be available” and “we are not entirely sure so please take this query to beIN SPORTS CONNECT”.
One of the things that shocks me most about this is the lack of media coverage around it all. PLP got hammered in the press when their service dropped below expected. SKY should be hounding beIN SPORTS to get this resolved as they are the ones with the direct relationship and are the ones taking our money for this product. Or do they not care as they aren’t making money off the subscriptions (other than the new customers who had to sign up to SKY in the first place)? How can beIN offer the product to non-SKY customers, yet say the product isn’t available to those of us that are? Is this something that the Commerce Commission need to get involved in, or Fair GO?
EDIT: Listen to Andrew talk to Daniel McHardy on the subject on Radio Sport.
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