Normally when September rolls around, I’m happy. Ecstatic. Itching to get going. Because it’s the start of football season.
Except this year, there’s not much to celebrate. The team I support, Aston Villa, was relegated last season, and one prediction this year even suggested we would end up 16th in the Championship league – fighting to escape relegation again.
Even worse, because they no longer play in the Premier League, their matches are not screened on satellite TV. Last Saturday, when I would normally be eagerly watching the Villains play the first home league game of the season, there was no live footage of them on TV.
I’m not just talking about Malaysia, but about the whole world.
So what’s a guy to do? Search on the Internet, that’s what.
Aston Villa has a website with a section called AVTV. If you subscribe for a mere £45 per year (about RM240), you can watch live video of all the pre-season games, the reserve games and the Under-21 games. For the league and cup games, you get live audio commentary – but not video. The licensing for those matches has been given to various broadcasters, along with exclusive rights (emphasis on “exclusive”).
The next alternative is Twitter. Some accounts provide a play-by-play commentary. Twitter is great if you want to know as quickly as possible when something special has happened. Aston Villa football is special for enough people that it works.
I would say close my eyes and it would be like being there, except I can’t read with my eyes shut. However, the other thing Twitter is good for is sharing information like which radio stations have live commentary and where you can find the streams.
Of course, this is similar to what you would get if you subscribed to AVFC, but without the benefit of contributing 45 quid to the club coffers.
What is the commentary like? Well, if you close your eyes, it’s not like being there at all. But you could pretend very hard.
The other live sporting event we’re all tuning in to now is the Olympics. Again, coverage is a problem of untangling commercial rights.
I understand that international sporting events are money-making ventures, and that broadcasting deals naturally try to maximise profits.
But when even Singapore’s Mediacorp, which paid S$2.5mil for the rights for the 2012 London Games, balked at the figure for this year’s Olympics, something is unusual. In the end, last-minute negotiations resulted in Mediacorp paying about S$8mil (RM23.8mil) for the rights.
The 2012 deal was negotiated with the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, a non-profit association. This year, the rights holder is Dentsu, a for-profit middleman.
Fortunately in Malaysia, we have the option of watching on satellite TV, on the company’s live streaming app, or from RTM’s own streaming site (http://hospenyiar.rtm.gov.my). Ironically, I find the latter easier to use; you don’t need to log in and aren’t limited to a single device per account.
In fact, the RTM streaming website works so well, you might be tempted to think that perhaps the future of TV in Malaysia should be over the Internet. This would avoid having to expensively upgrade equipment to transmit high-definition TV over normal TV aerials. The money saved could be used to pivot RTM into a watch-what-you-want-when-you-want model. No more TV1 and TV2, just make every show available for streaming.
Which is how we should be watching even sporting events, to allow those who can’t wake up at 3am to watch a recording over breakfast at 8am. But as it is, if you missed the live event, you have to make do with scraps we can find on YouTube – and which events are shown in full, which are shown as highlights, which are not shown at all, are at the local broadcaster’s whim.
In fact, I only know of one broadcaster that makes all clips from all events available to watch at any time – the BBC.
Unfortunately, its app limits its use to only those within the United Kingdom.
It is not the technology that limits us from watching the Olympics as a united planet, but the commercial agreements between organisations that place artificial blocks. But people are resourceful, and technology also makes it easy to get what you want in some other way.
For example, did you know there is a way of fooling the BBC app so that it thinks you are in London, England, even if you are lounging in your sofa in London, Canada? If your morals are flexible and your tech know-how is sufficient, you can watch any Olympic event in KL, bypassing the local channels – and making their expensively paid-for exclusive rights redundant.
I think rights holders need to realise that the harder they try to control their rights, the more likely it is people will turn to other sources for what they want.
The same goes for the Aston Villa games. No official stream could be found. But one enterprising fan at Villa Park took out his mobile phone and started to broadcast the game using Facebook Live. That was, as far as I could see, the only live broadcast of the game, a handheld shaky view from a distance presented in portrait orientation.
But it was still better than anything else on offer.
Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.