What would Spotify for Sport look like?


I did a thing for The Independent on the back of Wisiwig’s takedown:

By the time Harry Kane had scored Spurs fourth goal of five against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, he’d become a Twitter meme. The face of the 21 Year old forward was photoshopped on to images of Superman, Jesus Christ and Mount Rushmore among others and sent flying around the internet.

Meanwhile, the lawyers working for the Premier League were playing another game, which was much less fun but far more financially rewarding. It was a variation of that old children’s favourite, Whack a Mole; The mole in question was Wisiwig, a site that until January 1st led the way in offering illegal online streaming of live sport.

Wisiwig closed down under pressure from a concerted legal effort by sports rights holders including the Premier League.

The site posted a farewell message:

“Today is a sad day for all fans of live sports streaming, as we at Wiziwig have to announce that we’re forced to close our website, at least for now. This due to new laws in Spain which will get into force starting tomorrow, the 1st January 2015. Failing to comply with the new reform puts us at risks of fines being as high as € 600.000,- and also losing our domain, hosting and other necessary stuff to operate wiziwig.

Within hours, sports fans were being directed to alternative sites offering the same or very similar service.

The rights to show Premier League football were sold to broadcasters for over £3billion, equating each match as being worth £6.6million in the UK alone. In addition, the exclusive right to show goal clips on the internet were bought by The Times and The Sun for around £20million over three years.

Illegal downloads undermine this business model which has sustained the football boom of the last twenty-five years. If fans can stream it for free, why pay for a Sky Sports subscription? Given the stakes it’s unsurprising that the Premier League has come out fighting.

But the existence of Wisiwig and other iterations raise questions to which ‘Big Sport’ has yet to find a satisfactory answer.

Supporters of Wisiwig put it in the same category of disruptive innovators such as Uber, AirBnB or Spotify, companies that have seek to use digital technology to undermine what they see as complacent monopolies.

Now Wisiwig is no more. But it won’t be the last attempt to do to sport what Spotify has done to music, which offers a useful case study.

Rather than pay full price for an album, punters can pick the best tracks and leave the rest. Viewed through this lens, a football match has similar characteristics, with goal clips and controversial moments being streamed in six-second chunks on Vine.

This is in part a generational issue. A poll run by YouGov and Populus suggested more than half of 1,115 Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 watched pirated content. Such figures reinforce the idea that television is not the first screen of choice for the Millennials, the most sought after advertising demographic group. The average age of a Premier League fan is 41.

Google has a warning for those who fight market forces with lawyers.

“Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply. As services ranging from Netflix to Spotify to iTunes have demonstrated, the best way to combat piracy is with better and more convenient legitimate services,” the company noted earlier.

“The right combination of price, convenience, and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can.”

The number of takedown requests received by Google in 2008 was 62. Last year it was half a million.

That’s a lot of moles.