Exciting for governing bodies, a tough break for Sky and BT Sport. That is how most industry insiders see the arrival of Amazon, who will make their debut as a British sports broadcaster next week when they carry live tennis coverage from Queen’s and Birmingham.
“We are just getting started,” said Jay Marine, European head of Amazon Prime Video, on Wednesday during a briefing at a London hotel. Later this summer, the US Open will also appear via Amazon Prime, while from next season the four million subscribers will be able to watch 38 events from the Association of Tennis Professionals tour.
Like many significant sports-broadcasting shifts, this move stemmed from a lack of interest from the established partner. Sky had been screening the US Open since the early 1990s, but during last summer’s rebrand, they set up specialist channels for Formula One and golf while squeezing tennis into the hotchpotch of Sky Sports Arena.
Unimpressed by the broadcaster’s attitude – which may have been influenced by advertising from car manufacturers and golf suppliers – the ATP have thus gambled on the “over-the-top” model, meaning that coverage is not broadcast through an aerial or satellite dish but streamed via the internet. Prime viewers will be able to watch action from any court they choose.
Amazon’s sporting exploration does not stop at tennis. Earlier this month, they secured 20 Premier League matches, including the Boxing Day programme, for three seasons starting in 2019-20.
“Realistically we could have gone for anything,” said Marine, in a comment that will surely send shivers down a few spines. “But it [Boxing Day] was the one that attracted us. That time of year is a huge viewing time. We will show every team so if you are a fan of a Premier League team, you will see them twice, and the kick-offs will be spread out over two or three days. We will learn a lot.”
This still feels like a toe-in-the-water exercise. But Amazon are one of the four leading “FANG” tech giants, alongside Facebook, Netflix and Google. If it wants to jump into the sports-rights market in earnest, it will make quite the splash.
“I think the next couple of years will be interesting,” said sports marketing adviser Tim Crow. “BT Sport [whose chief executive Gavin Patterson was ousted last week after stock prices slumped] are very unlikely to keep spending at the same rate, but Amazon, Facebook and the others are testing the market, both in the UK and elsewhere, to see if they want to play.
“A new era is coming. It’s just that no one knows quite what it will look like.”
Amazon’s inaugural broadcast from Queen’s will be anchored by Catherine Whitaker – who will be known to some Telegraph readers as the co-host of our partner The Tennis Podcast – and Ross Dyer, whose previous work has involved commentating on British football for American networks like ESPN and Fox.
The studio pundits will be Greg Rusedski and Daniela Hantuchova.
“Tennis has a broad and passionate following, it has history and heritage, and all this made it super-appealing for us,” said Marine. “It is not like we have to come in and say ‘Our job is to make sure people care about tennis’. But we want to help grow the audience.