Are Sky’s Olympic restrictions justifiable or is it fighting against the future?

This week, Sky provoked ire in the nation’s news publishers by applying a range of conditions on those wanting to use highlights of the Olympics as part of their reportage.

The conditions put forward by Sky would, among other things, require journalists to hold off for three hours after an event before publishing highlights footage. 

A stoush ensued and eventually culminated in both Fairfax and NZME pulling their journalists from reporting on the event.

In an article published yesterday on the Herald, NZME managing editor Shayne Currie called the conditions “unduly restrictive”.

“These do not allow for fair-use of copyright material in accordance with the New Zealand Copyright Act and have the potential to impact heavily on our ability to cover the Games in a fair and meaningful way,” he told the Herald.

Sky is, of course, within its rights to limit the use of footage, which it paid handsomely for.

At a time when Sky’s entire business model is being rattled by streaming (and illegal viewing), it’s not surprising the organisation will become more protective of its content and make the walls around its garden a little higher.

By limiting access to the content in this way, Sky is essentially hoping to incentivise viewers to pay the fee to watch the footage as soon as it airs. 

This very public spat between media companies might have been flung into the local media this week, but it’s something the NFL has already been doing for some time.

Historically, the NFL has been militant in its protection of its content, regularly sending takedown notices to Twitter, forcing the platform to remove GIFs and videos of key moments in games.

Sky has taken a similar approach, this week shutting down three illegal streams of Joseph Parker defeating Carlos Takam.

This approach might be effective to some degree, but with live-streaming becoming more popular across all social channels, it seems like the proverbial finger in the dyke approach to modern media and it will only be more difficult to moderate illicit streams over time.

In contrast to the walled garden approach, the NBA has embraced the value social media can add by spreading the word of the sport.

In an excellent article published in May, Wired described the NBA as the most forward-thinking sports league in North America.

“Other leagues struggle with aging fans and restrictive views on intellectual property; the NBA has the youngest TV audience of any US league and lets its content flow through the wilds of the Internet,” Wired writer Mark McClusky explained.

“While the other US leagues struggle to build international interest in their games, the NBA has leveraged social media and new technology to build a huge global following.”

The NBA figures that when moments of individual brilliance are unleashed on social media, they take on a life of their own and drive interest in the sport.

By stopping those moments from being shared, rights holders (and broadcasters) may be missing out on a massive opportunity to attract people to the sport.

Nielsen data commissioned by Facebook showed that each additional share about a game 15 minutes before it started led to an extra 1,000 viewers tuning in. These numbers will only be further consolidated by shares of key moments during the game. However, if clips are removed, you leave fans with nothing to share.

When viewed in the context of Sky ordering takedown notices and requiring journalists to wait three hours before publishing a story, it seems like a missed opportunity for both fans and the event. 

And on the topic of fans, Sky already finds itself in the unpopular position of locking up national sports content, and requiring viewers to pay for the right to watch it.

One thing that’s clear is that Sky isn’t going to win many friends by clamping down further. And it’s difficult to see a few extra subscriptions really balancing out the harm this is causing to a brand already viewed as the hated incumbent.    

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