Commentary

Is OTT The Future? Eleven Sports' Struggle Suggests Not

I know it's not trendy to say, but the rise of OTT -- the whole rhetoric about how traditional tv is dead, that Gen Z are going to start a revolution -- is all a load of rubbish, isn't it? Surely it's a massive exaggeration, to say the least.

There are two things to bear in mind, and bear with me. First, everyone is right in saying voice is going from strength to strength because it takes the friction out of search or asking a smartphone or speaker to turn on the lights -- or more importantly, play a bunch of songs. No fingers, no keyboards -- just a request.

The second -- if this search for a frictionless world is truly shaping the next generation of devices and internet access -- then why would anyone limit themselves to an OTT package they can't watch directly on the television? Why would they feel the need to go to the length of mirroring their iPad somehow on the big screen?

This is the question Eleven Sports has had to answer this season as it took up the challenge of selling Spanish and Italian football matches without being present on Sky, Virgin or BT.

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Without access through a set-top box to the main screen in the room, subscribers were left watching games on a laptop. I researched it when my son wanted to watch Real vs Barca the other day, but we would have needed a Google Chrome dongle in a household littered with Amazon Fire Sticks. 

I wasn't too surprised to see this morning that the sports "broadcaster" is surrounded by reports that it may soon have to close due to poor distribution and low user numbers.

Now let's bear two more things in mind. The people the trendy conference speakers are telling you about -- the ones who don't care so much for the main set and are happy to watch on laptops and smartphones -- any parent can tell you that they're not the ones paying the bills. Gen Z might well love a bit of "Stranger Things" on their tablet in their room, but they're one of the photos on the right of the bill payer. 

People who pay for subscriptions cannot be bothered to find out which dongle they need to put in the back of their set. They also can't be bothered to find out about mirroring their device with the Chrome or Stick device they already have. They just want to press on and sit back and be entertained.

There is obviously the exception that if you have incredible content, such as Netflix, people will find you. But then again, if you're Netflix, your app is on every Smart TV as well as either of the dongles people plug into the back of a television. It's even built in with the Sky Q platform. 

So I could never see Eleven Sports taking off, if I'm perfectly honest. Who knows -- maybe they'll pull it out of the bag, but I very much doubt it. It would need the main broadcasters to cut it some slack and give it a channel number. Why would they do that to bail out of a rival?

In all honesty, I think we have an example that can now be rolled out to challenge the assumption that traditional tv is dead and the cord cutters are taking over. Getting from the home router or laptop on to the big screen is a major challenge not relished by the people who actually pay the bills in the average household. 

Friction-free viewing vs cord cutting? Simplest is always best. 

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