Heads You Lose, Tails They Win

Sport has been the making and breaking of most contemporary television services, from ITV Digital's disastrous purchase of the minor league rights in UK soccer to the current woes facing Setanta. In the meantime BSkyB has marched on regardless seeing huge success on the back of massive gambles in buying top end sports rights.

The problem with sports right is one that is reflected in many rights markets: the long tail isn't a linear projection, rather, it is a hockey stick where the value of the 'head' is massively disproportionate to the 'tail'.
Television has been, and remains a generalist medium based on aggregating large audiences; this is very slowly changing with the advent of narrowcast channels.

But the real problem in traditional television is that sports rights are a double edged sword; they are often bought by initiatives without widespread distribution to build audiences - a strategy that has worked for BSkyB, but not for ITV Digital and Setanta.

But markets have a way of finding a level and the current fallout from Setanta's demise (and I still hope that they will be rescued since British television needs another sports operator), along with other development such as the posturing around F1.

More and more sports are going to find themselves dropping down the long tail, but it's also likely that other sports will see greater success - cricket, lacrosse and hockey have all seen their rights situations improving.

Gradually, the ubiquity of distribution that's available via IP will start to level out the long tail, but at the moment it's more difficult than ever to see anyone challenging the might of BSkyB in the UK