Date: 24th March 2009 at 9:06pm
Written by:

A little over six weeks ago I moved house. In doing so, I decided to ditch my subscriptions to Sky and Setanta. (NO, NOT because of the *shudders* credit crunch, if I was buying sky on credit then that would suggest I could not afford it in the first place). I attend pretty much every Arsenal match anyway, I reasoned to myself and any games that I am itching to watch that do not involve us, I can watch at my local. So far, I have only troubled the Guinness barrels once in that six weeks, to watch the Carling Cup Final. Match of the Day has scarsely been on my radar for some years, Saturday evenings are usually spent either hurtling down the motorway away from another Northern arena or else indulging wine, women and song. (Well, usually whining about women, I let around 30,000 at the Emirates whine about Song).

In fact, now moved, my flat has only one television, a 15 inch portable in the kitchen which picks up only four channels. I was never the most erstwhile television viewer anyway, but I have not missed it one bit. Having thrown off the mind forged manacles of the goggle box; I have come to realise that the online revolution is gathering apace. Can’t see Match of the Day or Goals on Sunday? There’s always a stream someewhere offering highlights. No televisual access to the paint drying epic between Liverpool and Chelsea? Games are streamed all over the interweb. Whilst the legality of these sites is certainly questionable, it is doubtless that people are aware of them. But if I have been slow to fully realise the emerging underground of football viewing, have the television companies had their thumbs absent mindedly dithering away from the pulse too?

BSkyB has just spent a gargantuan £1.62bn on securing rights to Premiership matches until 2013. But will the way in which we view football have altered irrevocably by then? The cult of viewing football over the internet has been bubbling under the surface of the mainstream for some time now, but the counter culture is always two steps ahead of culture, the underground always sets the beat for the mainstream and crime is always a hop, a skip and a jump ahead of the law. As it is, was and ever shall be. With economic recession rife all over the globe and streaming technology improving all the time, you have to wonder if more will swap their Panasonics for their Packard Bells. I began to pontificate that it will only be a matter of time before the television corporations get a stranglehold of the online revolution and slowly bleed it back into their coffers. Instead, I read they are actively trying to surpress it.

This is the massive error that the music industry made initially. Online file sharing and free downloading had been commonplace for sometime in the early 2000s, but instead of seeking to embrace this new technology and commodify it for their own ends, the industry tried to quash it. Led by the American rock band Metallica, indigenous file sharing website Napster found itself hauled before the courts. It would take several years after the shutdown of Napster as a ‘pirate’ site for the music industry to cotton onto the will of the people. The backside had to entirely fall out of the whole industry before the pennies stopped dropping and they patented the likes of I-Tunes; years after the laptop had begun to replace the Compact Disc Player. Television could be heading down a parallel path. The Premier League are currently undertaking a crackdown on public bars that broadcast Premiership games through foreign satellite packages, so they must feel as though their territory is being threatened. A publican in Portsmouth is currently taking her right to show top flight football on cheaper foreign packages through the European Court of Justice as she feels preventing her from doing so contravenes European Trading Laws. Clubs suffering low attendances will be taking note, if they feel local punters are eschewing the ticket prices of Ewood, The Stadium of Light and the Riverside in favour of their local pubs, their territory is threatened too.

Channel 4 and the BBC have begun broadcasting programmes online; indeed you can view Match of the Day live on your apple mac in the UK, so the television online revolution is a train that is slowly chugging into the station. Much of Arsenal TVs output mimics established programmes from the Arsenal TV Online package. In Germany, as from next season, TV channel Premiere will be offering live pay per view Bundesliga matches on the internet. This will be most favourable to supporters keen to see their own team’s games without having to subscribe to an entire package of randomly selected fixtures. In the meantime, Sky are not so much embracing the potential as trying to whitewash over it by pushing the Government into policing sites that provide these streams with a more Dickensian bent.

We seem to have hit a cul de sac with regards to football coverage. Sky’s overbearing dominance of football broadcasting in this country (confirmed by Setanta now only being able to afford 50% of their current football coverage for next season) is punishing for people and businesses in times such as these, but allowing the anarchy to continue will likely hit clubs in the pocket if stay away fans can be tempted by the pub or the internet, not to mention hit the pockets of the television companies who are sponsoring football’sfeeling of insolation from economic sanity. The juggernaut success of I Tunes, some years after the renegade phenomenon of Napster has showed that if you give people the service at a fair price and in a manner that suits their current habits, they will pay for it. I rather think Sky is repeating the mistakes of the music and film industries from the turn of the Century in trying to ride roughshod over this revolution. No matter how curmudgeonly the corporation or how oppressive its power, the underground will always be one step ahead, because that’s where the creativity emanates from. Television companies concerned with broadcasting football are going to have to accept that the will of the people will always win through.LD.