In one of his more recent efforts to be perceived as a forward thinking, progressive sports administrator, FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to be “the first truly mobile and social world cup” – a statement that is hard to dispute.
Twitter’s traffic records were broken, Facebook experienced a surges in popularity and mobile networks reported that live streaming, video highlights and social media use was reaching unprecedented levels.
This was partly fuelled by the sharing of video clips of goals on YouTube and Vine shortly after the ball had hit the back of the net. But despite the obvious exposure and fan engagement opportunities that such activity provides, the Premier League has pledged to crackdown on users sharing clips of its matches.
Sky Sports and BT Sport currently pay £3 billion for the rights to broadcast live Premier League matches, but even they are unlikely to view the sharing of grainy, amateurish footage on social media as a threat to their business. Live streaming is a much more serious problem.
But for News UK, which holds the rights for near-live highlights and distributes them via The Times and The Sun’s website and mobile apps to subscribers. Given that goals are free to watch on Match of the Day (including on the BBC iPlayer), the main selling point of News UK’s products is that the goals appear instantly.
If News UK feels its investment in the rights is being impacted by goals appearing on Twitter almost instantly, it’s a problem for the Premier League as it decreases the value of its property. The League is understood to be working on GIF and Vine crawlers so it can identify and remove offending posts, but in an era of smartphones and 4G, does it really think it can change fans’ behaviour?
Premier League crackdown
“The use of Vines and GIFs to show Premier League football is a breach of copyright, and we would encourage fans to use legitimate means to access this content, such as The Sun or The Times goal apps,” a league spokesperson told Pixel Sport. “We are working with social media providers to take down pirated clips and hope fans understand the need to maintain the investment model that produces the football they love.”
Observers don’t believe it will be easy, partly because fans don’t think sharing a six second clip of a goal is illegal and partly because media organisations haven’t developed a way of harnessing social media. This, they say, is the latest development in the long-running battle between the Internet and traditional media organisations that has seen the music and film industries struggle to adapt.
“This isn’t a new problem – the internet has changed viewing habits forever,” says Warwick Business School Professor of Practice Mark Skilton. “Broadcasters will struggle to prevent this so long as their sites are not integrated with social media websites.”
Vine’s terms and conditions prevent users from sharing copyrighted content and Twitter has processes in place, with various transparency measures, to remove such posts. However there is one crucial flaw – it might not actually be illegal to record footage of football matches.
A Sky sports broadcast is copyrighted material, but raw, amateur video taken inside a stadium isn’t. Adam Rendle, senior associate at Taylor Wessing, suggests the Premier League could become sneakier and says some clubs could ban some mobile devices from their grounds.
“Live matches themselves are not protected by copyright,” he says. “Nevertheless, there are other copyright works that could be captured in a video (for example, copyright musical works such as the Champions League anthem) which may give rise to infringement claims.
“Stopping the problem at source (i.e. in the stadium) may be more important. It is in rights owners’ interests to clamp down as much as possible on widely available amateur footage where that footage could act as a substitute for the official, licensed footage.”
Is it worth it?
Manchester United recently banned large electronic devices such as laptops and tablets from Old Trafford on “security grounds.” However Greater Manchester Police have indicated they have not advised of any impending threat, leading some to speculate there is an ulterior motive to the ban.
However given that smartphones, which can record video, are still allowed, it is difficult to see how this ban would have any impact. Rendle suggests a more likely that stewards will take a more proactive role in preventing such filming.
Online rights might bring in a few million pounds, but in a league flush with cash, is it worth antagonising fans who already pay for season tickets and television subscriptions? Many leagues provide free online highlights in the belief it increases exposure and revenue for its clubs through ticket, TV and merchandise sales.
Banning devices at stadiums would not only alienate supporters who have come straight from work with a laptop or tablet, but it was also contradict many clubs’ current strategies of offering free Wi-Fi and smartphone applications in an effort to increase matchday revenues and ensure the stadium experience is as good as at home.
Much like the music industry’s battle against downloads and London cab drivers’ ongoing dispute with Uber, outright hostility may not be the answer. The Premier League has adopted goal-line technology and vanishing spray, so hopefully it won’t be a Luddite on the issue of social media.