The general consensus amongst Apple watchers, myself included, is that the company will broadcast live sports through TV+ in the not too distant future. Staff hires, talk about purchasing the NFL’s Sunday Ticket games, and the recent discovery by 9to5Mac of something called SportsKit in the iOS 15.2 beta code has only fuelled speculation further. However, one well-informed analyst has told The Mac Observer that the move is not inevitable.
Rights Expensive But Don’t Retain Value
“I don’t think sports makes sense for a lot of the online digital platforms,” Julian Aquilina of Enders Analysis commented. He also said that he “wouldn’t read too much” into the discovery of SportsKit as an indication that Apple is preparing such a move. This software could be used to deliver things like the latest scores to fans instead of live streamed matches.
There are also a variety of reasons why he is skeptical about streamers getting into sports. One is that the “rights do not retain long term value compared to scripted content.” If a service owns the rights for a big drama series, those are retained for years. Having a hit show on your platform brings people in long after it has originally aired. Sport is only live once and the rights have little value once a match is finished.
Another issue Mr. Aquilina highlighted is that sports rights are sold on a territorial basis. The same sporting event is shown by different broadcasters around the world. One of the biggest advantages the major streaming services, including Apple TV+, have compared to traditional broadcasters is their huge global scale and ability to get content out in lots of territories. This may not be possible in sports. Sports rights are also very expensive, which may point them in conflict with the low price points that streamers, particularly Apple TV+, want to stick to.
Apple And Other Streamers Can’t Afford Sport Glitches
While a bundle, whereby sports are included, for instance as part of a new Apple One tier, could provide part of a solution to some or all this, Mr. Aquilina said he’d “be really surprised if Apple went into live sports rights…delivering live sports over the internet is quite a tricky thing.”
Indeed, the biggest problem is that sports fans need to know they are watching in as close to real-time as possible. Buffering, glitches, and delays are not acceptable. It puts huge pressure on those providing the content. “Viewers, especially sports fans, will not accept any buffering,” the analyst quite rightly pointed out. This was an issue when Amazon Prime Video first broadcast Premier League soccer, although it did also drive record sign-ups.
My personal guess is that Apple will dip its toe in the water, perhaps via some lower-profile sports, and then build. Despite the Sunday Ticket rumors, this would be a pretty Apple-like approach, particularly to services and media. Sports and Apple fans shouldn’t hold their breath though. “I don’t think it’s inevitable,” said Mr. Aquilina.