January 23, 2013 11:14 pm

Murdoch wins rights to mobile football

Rupert Murdoch’s News International has won the exclusive rights to show Premier League football match highlights on the internet and on mobile devices in a move designed to attract digital subscribers to its newspapers.

The content deal gives a sign of the strategy being adopted by Mike Darcey, NI’s recently appointed chief executive. Mr Darcey has been put in charge of making the UK division’s newspapers profitable in the long term as parent group News Corp prepares to split into two separate divisions.

NI’s The Sun newspaper is profitable but the Times is heavily lossmaking and the Sunday Times, traditionally a profitable paper, has been suffering from declining advertising.

NI said it would not charge users separately for access to the sports content, which will allow it to show near-live clips of all 380 Premier League football matches. Instead, it plans to embed the content into its existing digital products for the Times and the Sunday Times and into its planned tablet app for the Sun newspaper. As of December, NI had close to 300,000 digital subscribers across the three newspaper titles.

Mr Darcey joined from BSkyB, where he was chief operating officer and responsible for negotiating the satellite broadcaster’s content deals.

BSkyB insiders on Wednesday expressed surprise at NI’s successful bid, which has given it three-year rights starting in August. But the bold move appeared to have the full backing of Mr Murdoch, who tweeted “Goal!” shortly after the announcement.

The internet football rights are currently held by Yahoo, with sports channel ESPN holding the mobile rights.

Analysts said growing mobile video usage boded well for the deal. However, they were concerned over how readily users would pay to watch football matches on mobile devices.

“Is this finally the year of mobile video after a decade of people saying it?” said Benedict Evans, an analyst at Enders Analysis. “The devices are there, the downstream part is in place now and the audience is there.”

However, he expressed scepticism that a sufficient number of people would be attracted by the service to become, or remain, digital subscribers as a result.

In a separate deal, Sky Sports won TV Premier League rights to broadcast highlights of 226 matches not shown live on television.

In 2007 BSkyB and NI launched 24-7 Football, an on-demand football clips service for mobile users. For £5 a month, or 50p per video clip, users bought access to goal highlights.

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