not cricket / short form

Back in my day, all sport was free to air

Alas, I first became aware of it just as Sky TV started to monopolise sports broadcasting in New Zealand. For most of my sport watching life, those with only free to air channels have had to make do with Sunday motorsport, a roundup show of rugby and the TV news. It is a piddling selection, but that situation is about to change.

A new channel is being launched on the Freeview network, Sommet Sports. The channel will broadcast free sporting coverage, but the most interesting part of this is what they will be broadcasting specifically. Most of their content will be incredibly important to small groups of people, niche sports with passionate but small communities of followers.

Take Australian Football, or Aussie Rules. That is one of the flagship sports of the new channel, and given what a massive business it is across the Tasman that is great news. Much of the promotion of Sommet revolves around coverage of the AFL, a sport that is largely ignored by Sky. The code will get a tremendous boost from being shown free, particularly among younger people who often fall in love with particular sports through discovering new heroes on TV.

Another example of the community focus is their planned coverage of badminton. In their preview video it appeared that they would have some coverage of a sport that has a surprisingly large number of players here. Badminton is almost never shown on TV, perhaps only at the Olympics. However, among the Asian communities in New Zealand it is the highest participation sport in the country. Badminton is relevant to them, but they are ignored by the mainstream network.

And this is the type of area where Sommet must carve out a niche for itself. Sky TV, by virtue of needing the most number of viewers and subscribers, must often schedule lowest common denominator programming. Endless replays of Super 15 games, the same with the NRL and the Premier League, it is all good for ratings and popular. But it does marginalise those who feel they don’t have a connection to those particular sports or leagues.

Sommet must be prepared for a rough few years as they get started, but if they keep their standards high, then they will have a steady and loyal viewership. By providing content not available anywhere else, Sommet will stay relevant. I wouldn’t expect Sky TV will take it lightly, look for them to try and answer the challenge by putting more sporting content on Prime, their FTA channel. The end result will be more access to coverage for sports fans, more choice as to what they want to watch, and more exposure to niche sports. My question is, why did it take so long for someone to think of this?

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