Billionaire Len Blavatnik’s live sports streaming service DAZN, which recently secured TV rights to all Serie A live soccer matches in Italy for the next three seasons, has come under fire across the country after a string of technical outages.
These have now prompted DAZN to offer a one-month refund to subscribers who request it.
The ongoing streaming snags are believed to be caused by Italy’s insufficient broadband infrastructure, which has caused some of the slowest average Internet speeds in Europe. The hiccups have interrupted several matches since Aug. 21 when Serie A, which is Italy’s premier soccer league, first kicked off. The DAZN service “blackouts,” as the Italian press calls them, have prompted protests from the country’s consumer advocacy orgs, as well as a probe from Italy’s media regulator.
In March, DAZN announced a €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion) deal for Serie A rights in partnership with top local telecom Telecom Italia’s TimVision streaming platform, a move that broke pay-TV service Sky Italia’s 20-year hold on Serie A. The coup was dubbed by DAZN as “one of the largest sport streaming deals in history.”
But now, with the echo of protests from incensed sports fans resounding as far as Italy’s parliament, where the issue has been raised, and national communications authority Agcom opening a probe and monitoring DAZN’s pledge to boost its infrastructure, there are questions of whether the disruptive company’s coup — which marked the first time a streamer had nabbed exclusive rights to a major domestic league in its native territory — could backfire.
But the larger question is how much longer this can go on and whether a different type of option for Italy’s Serie A fans may be in the offing.
“Certainly the fault is with Telecom Italia,” says Francois Godard, senior media and telecoms analyst for Enders Analysis, who thinks that the streaming snags are solvable in the long run.
“It’s just that [at present] it doesn’t look good, commercial wise marketing wise,” Godard adds, noting that “when you have technology problems, people don’t rush to buy your product.”
Italian press reports estimate that since its summer launch, subscribers to the DAZN app on the TimVision platform are now less than 600,000, which is considered a slow start given that their initial stated plan is to reach 1.5 million subs on TimVision over the next three years and Italian soccer fans are an already existing base.
According to Godard, there is a realistic prospect that market forces in Italy could eventually force DAZN and Telecom Italia to relinquish their Serie A exclusivity and form a partnership with Sky, which transmits mainly by satellite — a set-up that has proved to be smoother for Italian viewers.
Sky, he claims, “is the obvious partner to DAZN,” with whom up until this season DAZN had a Serie A alliance that had resulted in a total of 1.8 million subs for DAZN, 60% of which were through Sky.
Meanwhile DAZN — which declined to comment for this article — is reportedly in advanced talks to buy BT Sport, the sports television unit of British Telecom through which it would gain premium content including English Premier League soccer, which BT spent billions of pounds on to break Sky’s hold on the sport in the U.K.