Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Right to Watch
Football, malheuresement, is entertainment, Don Revie be damned. As such, we are expected to pay for it. Fine.
However, the increasingly arbitrary manner by which television rights for football are awarded in Europe from one year to another is costing fans a lot more than their monthly satellite subscription.
Take this little gem from the Guardian a couple days back. Apparently Silvio Berlusconi, supposed champion of neoliberal, free-market values, moved his cabinet to double VAT (value-added tax) on Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia, his direct business competitor.
While I'm certainly no fan of Murdoch, who's on the same footing as Berlusconi in terms of ruthlessness but without the advantage of being prime minister of a large first-world nation, Sky Italia won the rights to Serie A and has been growing steadily in Italy ever since. This year they posted a profit for the first time. So, realizing competition might actually threaten his personal business interests with regard to his Mediaset company, Berlusconi arbitrarily reversed a tax break initially designed to promote more competition. In effect, he's asking Italian Sky subscribers to pay up to protect his own company, at a time when Serie A is struggling to gain an audience outside of Italy, let alone within its own homes.
So what did Sky do in response? They made a direct appeal to viewers through presenter Ilaria D'Amico (and let's just say I find her quite...convincing), explaining how Berlusconi ambushed four million Italian household subscribers at a time of economic crisis.
When you have to sit through a multi-million dollar telecast make an appeal for equal treatment in the market as if they were PBS, when you can't even watch Serie A in the football-mad United Kingdom because of failed negotiations over TV rights, when individual web-streamers are threatened with a barrage of litigation for turning on a webcam, you know things have gone a bit too far.
Methinks Serie A will ultimately take the fall as the market implodes and threatened businessmen everywhere, whether taxman Berlusconi or 'think-of-the-children' Murdoch, suddenly find their inner socialist.