An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

It's a funny old game

I’ve been meaning to blog something on the subject of screened football matches in pubs for some time. As the January transfer window closes and the bizarre economics of football is spread over the newspapers now seems a good time. I follow developments in the saga of pubs and bars that screen foreign satellite TV.

There is little point in commenting on the crazy economics of the game of football other than to say that so long as “fans” are willing to stump up ever increasing sums, the economics of the game will remain more entertaining than what occurs on the pitch.

Having said that I quite enjoy watching a game of football. I don’t follow the game as such, or follow a team, but I do like to watch anything described as “The Big Game”. From reading the blogosphere and the views of many that love traditional pubs one can get the impression that seeing a football game on in a pub is as awful as an absence of old man’s pongy ale. Pubs ought to be quiet places full of old timers sipping away at pints of mild in front of a roaring fire in a grotty old building that has stood since the English Civil War. God forbid anyone enjoys themselves or smiles. Popular music, football, keg lager? Down with that sort of thing!

Watching a football game in the UK can be either free to air or for regular season games require a subscription to Sky pay TV. Many pubs subscribe to Sky via a business package that affords the copyright to broadcast the game to customers and is more expensive than a personal subscription. The rights to the games are held by the Football Association that sell on those rights to TV broadcasters for each region they have cut the world into. The FA know that an English football match is worth more to UK broadcasters than none UK broadcasters and that none UK fans cannot get to see any game at the stadium. Hence the rights are sold more cheaply to none UK broadcasters and games are shown live that would otherwise not be in the UK. The FA own a monopoly of broadcast rights that apparently isn’t an illegal cartel via the clubs that form the league.

The technicalities of broadcasting have resulted in broadcast signals being available beyond the remit of the copyrights the broadcaster has bought since broadcasting first began. In the days of analogue terrestrial television it was possible to pick up UK TV in parts of Holland and Northern France. As the people picking up these signals were few in number and private individuals not engaged in a commercial activity (Dutch bars never picked up on the exciting commercial possibilities of showing Eastenders) it was never considered an issue worth pursuing. Why would a copyright holder of a Hollywood movie that sold the rights to the BBC for broadcast in the UK have much of a problem with a few hundred other people watching it, considering the costs and legal issues involved?

Satellite signals are however receivable across large landmasses. In point of (apparently dubious) fact, any satellite signal is receivable by 50% of the globe. There is no technical reason why I cannot receive a signal from any one of 50% of the global broadcasters of the world. It is to do with the world being round and not flat. With the advent of pay TV and the revenues from it, many signals are encrypted and rights fiercely protected. To decode the signal I would have to acquire a decode card from the broadcaster. In a free EU market you would think there ought to be nothing stopping me buying a decode card from any EU broadcaster. If I wanted to watch German football and TV, I should be able to subscribe to German Sky. German Sky would not sell me one for use in the UK, and also if I wanted to watch German football it is broadcast on ESPN in the UK and available cheaper to me than it is to domestic German customers.

However if the broadcasters would sell me one, is any law being broken? Copyright is being broken but am I breaking copyright by receiving it or are the broadcasters breaking copyright by broadcasting a signal beyond their market? It’s a tricky one.

I have been following the issue of UK pubs showing football matches from foreign satellite TV for a while. The morning advertiser covers the subject often enough to remain informed of goings on. I have an interest in it because whilst I am not a pub regular I do like to watch the odd game with the lads over a pint or two. It may not be your cup of tea, but it is mine. Football for me is a draw and a reason to go into a pub on a wet rainy weekday night and meet up with the chaps for a few scoops.

Many pubs around my neck of the woods use Arab satellite TV to show the football. A workings man club I occasionally go into despite not being a member and because the old timer on the door never asks and even holds the door open for me shows Arab satellite TV on 3 big TV’s in the room they keep the full size snooker tables and dart boards in. It is not your cup of tea, keg lager and bitter under £2 a pint and no beardy beer geeks to be found, but it is a cracking atmosphere. 3pm games not shown on Sky are available; it is cheaper for the pub, bar or club and me the punter sits with my mates watching the game drinking cheap beer. I’m not about to complain, and I gather few do. The establishments that come a cropper do so from Sky TV inspectors rather than vexatious punters.

The legality of this state of affairs is I gather currently being bounced about the European courts. I hope the courts consider the rights of humble EU citizens to live in a free market and not be stitched up by large corporations that seek to cut the world into separate markets for exploitation. The EU is one market, not many. I hope the law of contract in the free market supersedes that of copyright. I hope more than expect, mind you. If the kybosh is placed on this noble attempt to stick two fingers up at the cartels of large corporations, hope lies in the internet. The internet has all but ended copyright in music, TV and film. I’ve found a few websites that show any sports game in the world streamed live, but still have little interest in baseball. It looks a bit blocky when I plug my net book into my TV, but it can only get better. It might mean letting my mates in my house to neck my gorgeous collection of cheap lager and incur the wrath of the squeeze, but at least it is one up on Rupert Murdoch. I wonder what the legalities are if I take a netbook computer into a Spoons and use the free wifi to stream footie to the table my mates and I are sat at? An experiment may occur.


Neil, said...

I totally agree there is a need for footie in pubs, and there's also a common misconception amongst the beer geeks that any pub showing the footie will be crap.

This simply isn't the case, a good example is Mr Foley's Cask Ale house in Leeds (where I live). They show most matches on unnobtrusive flat screens high on the walls, watch em if you want to, don't if you don't. They also have cracking 'pong' as well as keg beer behind the bar (including new arrival 5.6% Punk IPA).

That said, during the world cup some cracking boozers near me showed the matches, but during the normal season the good ones are few and far between.

Neil, said...

p.s. i've added a link to cooking lager from my 'Beer Geek' blog as you would call it.

Fizzy lout may feature soon....

Cooking Lager said...

Cheers, Neil. Nice blog, I'll add a link to mine.

I agree with you. I saw a bit of the world cup whilst working in Germany. Football screens went up in the most traditional of places, in fact everywhere. A unifier of people rather than a divider of social class.

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The Beer Nut said...

I think you may have confused a diagram in The Ladybird Book of Satellite Broadcasting with how they actually work. A satellite won't cover 50% of the globe. There are handy maps showing the coverage of Astra 2A, 2B and 2D (which carry Sky and FreeSat) here.

There is indeed nothing stopping you from buying a card from a foreign broadcaster and using it in your machine. However, there's also (currently) nothing stopping that broadcaster from limiting delivery to their own country. Order through a German address and -- assuming everything else is compatible and the signal is strong enough -- you're laughing. The rights owner is being ripped off, but neither you nor the broadcaster are breaking the terms of any agreement as far as I'm aware.

Happens all the time here: Sky are obliged to carry RTÉ for homes in the Republic of Ireland. As a result, an ROI viewing card -- even if it's expired -- will give any Sky viewer RTÉ, so people from the North buy second-hand southern ones, or run their sub through a southern address.

And, in my experience, the bandwidth in a 'spoons wouldn't stream piss, never mind live television.

Cooking Lager said...

I wrote the ladybird book, it sold more than any of Pete Browns books. Popular in schools, you see. I based it on the James Bond film Goldeneye and I saw they can see anything occuring in the world, like.

As for free wifi, experiments at Maccy D's, Starbucks & Spoons to follow in a "how crap is free wifi?" post.

Neil, said...

Starbucks wins the Wifi stakes handsdown, unfortunately you will have to drink bad, expensive coffee surrounded by w*****s. A small price to pay for free internet?

Cooking Lager said...

and that's different from sitting in a beardie beer geek 20 cask & world beer dive, how?

Neil, said...

Coffee doesn't have the inebriating effects of a 9% pint of porter though does it...

Curmudgeon said...

"Pubs ought to be quiet places full of old timers sipping away at pints of mild in front of a roaring fire in a grotty old building that has stood since the English Civil War"

Sounds like heaven - where is this place? :-)

There is a world of difference between showing big matches on a high-mounted screen with the sound turned down, and advertising outside that one of your key selling points is "All Football Shown".

Flagon of Ale said...

And here I thought you were an apologist for global corporations and consolidation. Not when it comes to TV, I guess ;)

I like watching the game, but I agree with Curmudgeon that it depends on the circumstances. It sucks to go into a nice quiet place only to have it fill up with screaming sports fans after you've been there for a bit. A quiet pub with a quiet game can be very nice, though.

Cooking Lager said...

@Mudge Pick a page at random from your good pong guide and stick a pin in it, and sit in silence during a game? What middle class gentrified ponce boozers do you hang out it? Scream at the screen!

@Flagon Apologist? It's not about big or small corporations, its about the market working for each participant. I have no issue with mass industrial scale production or Tesco offering me bargains. I would not want them to have a monopoly or operate a cartel, and I don't see why the FA should be able to operate a cartel and carve up one market into regions.

If a company stiffs the British consumer, we are free to buy the product abroad.

Professor PieTin said...

I spent my Christmas and New Year on a Thai beach drinking gallons of margaritas and smoking exotic combustibles whilst the wife and kids did their thing.

But could I listen to Test Match Special on the BBC World Service while firing up another doobie ? Could I bollocks.

The World Service appears to exists just to trot out some Foreign Office-approved propaganda to the Commonwealth rather than broadcast one of the most important events in the sporting calendar to millions of British subjects scattered all over the globe.

They trot out the usual crap about rights issues but basically they're not prepared to fork out enough money to secure worldwide broadcast footage from Murdochvision.

Delightfully, however, there are several completely illegal websites which made it possible for me to sit next to a beach bar, use their free wifi and watch Sky's coverage of the cricket for nothing.

So bollocks to Sky - like those pubs showing Arabic coverage of the footy, there'salways a way round Sky's avarice and the BBC's incompetence.

Curmudgeon said...

"What middle class gentrified ponce boozers do you hang out it?"

As someone who seems to have some familiarity with Stockport, you may have been in the Armoury (one of the most working class boozers I can think of) when the Sky footie is shown in the lounge with the sound turned either off or right down. They serve Carling there, so you might find something to your taste.

Not to mention pretty much any Spoons.

Flagon of Ale said...

I have no issue with mass industrial scale production or Tesco offering me bargains. I would not want them to have a monopoly or operate a cartel, and I don't see why the FA should be able to operate a cartel and carve up one market into regions.

I agree with you in spirit, but in practice, I think the latter is a result of the former. Price competition leads to consolidation which by definition limits choice to the consumer.

As such, I fully support working around the FA's bogus restrictions. I've watched some games streaming on the web from Belgium or some such, but the quality is so terrible, it wasn't worth it.