DAZN’s broadcaster deal changes the game

The sports streamer no longer holds exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, and experts weigh in on whether Canada will ever have a true 'Netflix for sports.'

Sports streaming service DAZN has offered its broadcast peers a piece of the NFL pie, giving NFL fans a few more options for online viewing.

The company announced on Twitter that it had partnered with BDUs Shaw and Sasktel on Oct. 7 to offer the NFL Sunday Ticket subscription through the broadcasters’ offerings. Partnerships with Rogers and Eastlink followed shortly thereafter. DAZN has said on social media that it is still working with other BDUs on partnerships.

The company’s head of Canadian PR Paolo Senra issued a statement to MiC confirming that it had partnered with some cable providers to offer Sunday Ticket, adding that DAZN “is open to any partnership that can benefit Canadian sports fans.”

DAZN landed in Canada four months ago with much fanfare for its exclusive rights to the NFL’s digital subscription product, NFL Game Pass. It billed its service as the only destination where Canadians could watch every game of the pre-season, regular season and playoffs. Game Pass includes the rights to all the coveted Sunday games, which were previously part of subscription packages administered directly by the NFL.

At the time of its launch, several outlets labelled DAZN the “Netflix of sports.” Its arrival raised questions about cord cutting, as many see live events such as sports – particularly football – playing a significant role in keeping linear TV afloat in the age of streaming.

DAZN’s broadcaster deals were struck in the midst of persistent customer complaints mostly related to stream quality, audio problems and video lag.

So should traditional TV networks breathe a sigh of relief now that there is broader access to these digital products?

Devon MacDonald, chief strategy officer at Mindshare Canada, said traditional TV will likely remain a reliable source for “unskippable” programs for at least the near future. Despite stream-able binge-worthy favourites like Stranger Things, he said viewers “will keep going back [to TV] for essential content — sports and reality.”

A “TV killer,” in his words, would have to have the broadcast rights to an entire league for more than one season. “It would need to overcome the friction of regular TV viewing and allow access to all content, at any time,” he said. “Live, archived, ref cams, everything.”

Service delivery problems aside, he said a niche service like DAZN would still likely work best as a supplement to regular TV viewing.

A recent study from the Media Technology Monitor showed that most Canadians who subscribe to OTT still subscribe to cable, indicating that many still view streamers as a supplement.

Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group, said that Canada is likely about four to five years away from an “robust streaming solution on a mass scale for live sports.” He doubted any single player could build the clout to offer an attractive combination of league rights, product price and customer experience to best major broadcasters’ offerings.

But Jennifer Bidwell, managing director of television at Media Experts, said that even if DAZN couldn’t bring down TV, cord-cutting may not be curbed anytime soon.

“Streaming models can work if the infrastructure is there,” said Bidwell. “Imagine if Netflix shut down on the premiere night of Narcos. There would be fury.” She noted that Netflix, much like traditional cable companies, has made substantial investment in the technology to support massive audiences. “Live sports would also demand a similar infrastructure to support millions, if not 100 million-plus users, to be able to watch the same program at the same time.”

She said new services like Bell’s Alt-TV and the incoming CBS OTT service, there are increasingly new ways to watch linear TV via streaming, and the trend will likely continue.