In the face of the budding threat of “over-the-top” online TV services such as Netflix, the traditional cable and satellite players have always had one strong defence: they’ve got game.
For the average fan, live sports content is a powerful reason not to cut the cord on a pricey TV subscription in favour of alternative services. Rogers Communications Inc. is expanding access to Toronto Blue Jays baseball games to the Internet and mobile phones, in order to court fans’ loyalties even more.
The company announced on Tuesday that the remaining 54 games of this regular season can now be viewed on the Web for free for Rogers cable and wireless customers, and for $5 per month on mobile phones through the Rogers on Demand mobile app.
The programming is a part of the Rogers On Demand Online platform, the Toronto-based cable giant’s version of the well-known “TV Everywhere” strategy adopted by cable and satellite firms in the U.S., and other providers in Canada as well. The idea for companies such as Rogers is to keep its customers happy by offering TV shows and movies online for free, as long as customers are already paying for a TV subscription. Viewers simply log in to the Web portal with their account information. The companies do this in hopes that if subscribers can watch what they want on any device, they won’t migrate to cheaper alternative viewing options.
“We think it’s critical for our business,” said David Purdy, Rogers vice president of video products. “…Streaming sports and news is a big part of our strategy.”
In fact, Rogers is now “actively negotiating with several rights holders” to add more sports content to its Web and mobile platforms, Mr. Purdy said.
“The leagues generate so much money from their licensing of content to the major networks, that they are loathe to do anything that would jeopardize that revenue stream. So if you can allow for streaming of live sports content that complements the network, I think that’s much more in line with what the leagues would like to see,” Mr. Purdy said.
In this case, Rogers did have one major conflict to contend with: the league itself owns a streaming service, MLB.TV. But being a team owner gave Rogers a leg up: Blue Jays president Paul Beeston negotiated with Major League Baseball Active Media to hang on to online and mobile broadcast rights in Canada, which it has now made available for the Rogers On Demand service. Live Blue Jays games are blacked out on the MLB.TV service in Canada.
Rogers is also willing to negotiate with competing TV and wireless providers to allow them to provide access to the games, according to Mr. Purdy.
Rogers has made sports content part of its online and mobile video lineup once before. During the FIFA World Cup last year – for which Rogers was a sponsor – the company made all 64 matches available on the Web and on mobile phones.
The World Cup acted as a pilot project for Rogers in sports broadcasting across multiple platforms. Rogers also announced on Tuesday that it will broadcast the Rogers Cup tennis tournament for free on Sportsnet.ca as well as on its on-demand services for the Web and for mobile devices.
It’s especially important for TV providers, since live content is one area where the new players such as Netflix simply don’t compete.
“If you look at the over-the-top guys, they’re largely offering library content today,” Mr. Purdy said. “For me, I’d rather be watching the best of The Movie Network, or the best of AMC or the best of Sportsnet, than a bunch of content that’s been sitting on the shelf at a studio.”
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