May 9, 2021

Here’s why you need to get used to not ever watching the FIFA World Cup – or any big sports event – for free

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By PETER FARQUHAR From Business Insider

Here’s how to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup live, online and free in Australia is an intro that feels a bit like a shameless grab for SEO traffic.

But sometimes the news is the news, and since it was published last Thursday, Business Insider’s guide to not using Optus’ app to watch the World Cup has been read by almost 100,000 people.

Coincidentally, around 100,000 is how many people have downloaded the Optus Sport app on Google Play. Many of which saw this message far too many times during the opening weekend:

Welcome to the future of international sport coverage, because we’re three nights in and Optus still isn’t delivering its promise to “broadcast all 64 games of the World Cup”.

Instead, there’s pages and pages of this: “ERROR OCCURED” , “PLAYBACK ERROR”.

To be fair, $14.95 isn’t a lot to pay for full access to one of the world’s most exciting sporting spectacles.

And there was plenty of warning. When Optus announced its coup and the fact it would share 25 games with SBS, there was blanket coverage, and plenty of experts saying we all have to get used to these kind of media deals.

“Telecommunication companies are a legitimate player in streaming sport and see sport as valuable content … this is the way of the future,” media expert Dr Sam Duncan told The New Daily.

“Younger demographics are gravitating to the idea of watching sport on mobile devices.”

Younger indeed. If you’re the kind of person who uses their real birthdate when apps call for it – and you’re old – you’ll be feeling your age in your index finger when you realise Optus Sport has set the optimum birthday of its subscribers around January 1993.

That’s around 240 taps back through the months for your average Gen X. But get used to it, because all that matters now and forever into the future is how people born in January 1993 want to spend their money. And they want to spend it staring at their phones.

(As an aside, here’s an interesting study out today that shows despite the average spend of $44 per month on phone plans, mobile bill shock sets in at $240 for data-hungry Gen Y compared to $148 for Boomers.)

What that means is the rest of the world has to wave goodbye to all the glorious, free-to-air global sports tournaments they’ve enjoyed to date on cinema-sized screens right there, interrupted only by sponsor messages, in front of their La-Z-Boys.

Do not kid yourselves into thinking technology performance will one day catch up with demand for new technology. Optus Sport presenter Mel McLaughlin fell for that trap a week before World Cup kick-off, telling the SMH:

“If anyone wants to go, ‘That’s just a phone company, what the hell do they know?’ – well, they’re completely wrong and absolutely out of touch with what’s going on in the world and where sports coverage is going.”

Instead, McLaughlin’s boss, Optus CEO Allen Lew, spent all Saturday night and a few early hours into Sunday morning at Optus’ production studio in Redfern, inner Sydney. He told the SMH that Optus underestimated the demand for its World Cup service.

“Australians can be assured that this has my personal attention, and the entire network’s team’s attention, and we will solve it,” he told the SMH.

“We will solve this problem by the end of this evening.”

Cue 10.29pm that evening:

In 2018, that kind of content is king, apparently. But so is “my uncle Rob who could do a better job hanging a coat hanger from the Edmonton Bowls Club in Far North Queensland”:

SBS has given Australians full access to the World Cup since 1986. But this year, it swapped its full rights over to Optus in exchange for – wait for it – a single English Premier League fixture each week.

SBS is still showing 25 games, including the Socceroos matches, and not quite all the finals. You’ll miss out on two of the quarter finals.

Optus is also unashamedly holding onto Argentina’s games, so you’ll have to pay if you want to watch Lionel Messi.

Again, this was announced two years ago. But there were still at least 100-odd thousand people thinking “Yeah, but we’ll still be able to watch it for free, right?”, because they found their way to BI Australia after searching desperately late for “how to watch the World Cup for free“.

Most of it isn’t and won’t ever be again. Expect the same to apply to The Ashes, World Cup Rugby, World Cup Anything, and the Olympics.

Surely the biggest content coup of all will one day be the Melbourne Cup, “the race that stops … streaming.”

For now, the only good advice to those who have paid their $14.95 comes from iTWire, which has found that you’ll get a better service by using the SBS World Cup app:

“You can still log into your Optus Sport account with it and access the live streams. They tend to be MUCH more stable.”

And while we’d like at this point to say “here’s something else that’s much more stable – radio”, you need to catch up with this news about how not even the ABC can guarantee the world’s best future cricket coverage.

That “content is king” future is now squarely in the next generation’s dextrously-thumbed hands.


Sorry to burst your bubble, fans. Picture: Getty Images

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