How Cricket Australia’s digital strategy sets it up for its next broadcast deal

All-rounders: There is more cricket on offer – across more formats – than ever before. David Hunt

While the television industry waits for Cricket Australia to start official negotiations for what looms as a blockbuster domestic broadcast deal later this year, the organisation has quietly and methodically laid the groundwork for it to have greater direct involvement in selling the sport to the world.

Cricket Australia is set for the first time to sell digital subscriptions for the broadcast of the upcoming Ashes series against England to consumers in south-east Asian countries such as China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia via its Cricket Network portal.

It is also set to announce a deal with former Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who stars in Network Ten’s Big Bash League coverage, to also appear on Cricket Australia’s digital Ashes coverage, filming video analysis before and after play of each day of the five test series that begins in Brisbane on November 23.

Cricket Australia is also going to produce the broadcast of the upcoming women’s day-night Ashes test match at North Sydney Oval from November 9, engaging its own commentary team and pushing out the coverage via its app and website, with the potential for the coverage to be picked up by BT Sport in the United Kingdom.

All of which, although the organisation will not necessarily admit it publicly, stands it in good stead for when it soon puts its next domestic broadcast rights to market, most likely later this year and for which Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland last week said there was “unprecedented” interest.

Nine Entertainment Co has already signalled it is keen to lob a big bid for the rights, Ten Network’s new owners, CBS, not only have extensive experience in big sports in the United States but also have recently met Cricket Australia’s management and want to maintain Big Bash League rights, while even Seven West Media are understood to have considered how to juggle Big Bash and Australian Open tennis coverage across its channels.

Fox Sports will also play a part in the rights discussions, although would want some exclusive content for its pay-television network. Cricket Australia is also understood to have had meetings with the management of Facebook, which recently made an unsuccessful $US600 million bid for Indian Premier League rights. Optus is also said to be keen on mobile streaming rights.

How Cricket Australia’s own burgeoning digital media business is positioned in all of this will be fascinating to watch, given that – by the end of this summer – it will likely have a website attracting 3 million unique monthly visitors at the peak of summer, broadcast production experience of its own, and have been monetising its digital broadcast capabilities to consumers and commercial partners. It will even have produced and released its historic documentaries.

While he is quiet about the forthcoming broadcast rights battle, Ben Amarfio, Cricket Australia’s executive general manager for broadcasting, digital media and commercial, is confident selling live broadcast subscriptions to south-east Asia can be a success.

“We want to have a direct connection to our fans, and we think we know cricket pretty well. Not only are they large markets, there is also big Australian and English expat communities there … as well as Indian. So we are close to deciding to do that ourselves as we think there is a market for a subscription service. We charge $30 here in Australia but that is with a free-to-air presence in the market … that is not there [in south-east Asia] so we could charge more.”

Cricket Australia has about 16 staff covering cricket around the world for its website and app under the organisation’s head of digital, Finn Bradshaw, as part of a staff of up to 50 working on content, production and building apps and other digital capabilities.

Bradshaw says Ponting will be a key part of the team’s Ashes coverage, describing him as “one of the best analytical talents in world cricket.”

The organisation has also spent several million dollars on a CA Productions unit project that has digitised all local cricket broadcasts including, ironically, the anti-establishment World Series Cricket of the late 1970s. A three-part documentary series about the history of the Ashes will screen on Nine in December and if successful there are plans for more in future summers.

“What I’ve been saying recently is that we have gone through our start-up phase and now we are into that growth period,” says Bradshaw.

It would therefore be a surprise if Cricket Australia did not continue along the path of backing its own digital business, which is for now in a joint venture with Nine.

From as early as the 2018-19 summer, Cricket Australia could take charge of the production of all cricket, sell its own digital advertising and subscription packages via its Cricket Network and apps in Australia and abroad.

It looms a game changer for one of the country’s oldest sports, one that has modernised itself off the field very quickly.


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