TV sport is going to look very different in Australian next summer after a shakeup in broadcast rights as traditional broadcast media tries to fight off the threat from streaming and digital media.

On Friday, Seven Media and Rupert Murdoch-owned Foxtel announced they were paying A$1.2 billion ($1.27b) for the next six years of cricket broadcast rights, ending four decades of cricket broadcasting by the Nine Network.

Murdoch's pay TV channels Fox Sports will broadcast every ball bowled in Australia's matches - test cricket, One Dayers, Twenty20 and the domestic Big Bash League. Channel Seven will broadcast all the home tests - to comply with the anti-siphoning laws preventing important sporting events showing only on pay TV - and the Big Bash League.

The deal means that for the first time, cricket fans will have to pay to watch One Dayers and Twenty20 matches.


As cricket fans absorb that fact and get used to the idea of a summer without familiar Nine Network voices such as Ian Chappell, Bill Lawry and Mark Taylor, the media is wondering if Fox and Seven have paid too much and if the deal will help restore their fortunes.

The recent ball tampering scandal and the resulting loss from the team of popular captain Steve Smith and vice-captain Dave Warner appear to have done little harm to the long-term value of the game, even if it has diminished the game in the eyes of the fans.

The latest deal amounts to about A$200 million a season - up substantially from A$110m a season in the previous five-year deal.

It is a surprising result, particularly given that the Nine Network was probably, at best, only a half-hearted bidder. Last month Nine paid $300m for five years rights to the Australian Open tennis, which both satisfied the network's need for summer sport and reduced its ability to pay for another sport. Ironically, Nine took those broadcast rights from Seven, which was as much the home of tennis as Nine was of cricket.

The high price was in part thanks to the increase in value of the Big Bash League. Cricket Australia practically gave away the rights last time, but with a surge in popularity it is now much more valuable.

More importantly, however, is that sports is seen by TV executives as a sure bet.

The streaming services such as Netflix and Stan which are taking away so much audience and revenue from both free-to-air and pay-TV operators have no interest in sports, so it is one form of unique and desirable content the traditional operators still have to themselves.

Seven Media chief executive Tim Worner explained after buying the rights that adding cricket to the network's Aussie Rules football winter coverage meant Seven now had a year-round audience that it could tout to advertisers.


"It's going to guarantee us audiences for the next five years," Worner said on Friday.

"I can't tell you what Married at First Sight or My Kitchen Rules will be rating in a few years but I do know roughly what Collingwood versus Adelaide will be rating at tonight and I can tell you it will be rating that well, if not better, in five years." The big risk for Seven Media in the deal is that it doesn't have the digital rights, which went to Fox Sports. An increasing number of people prefer to stream content on devices rather than watch traditional TV. In fact, a US study last year found that 47 per cent of 22 to 45 year-olds watch absolutely no content on traditional TV platforms.

Seven might end up with a smaller, older and less valuable audience than it had hoped for.

Weighing against that is the fact that the two most popular forms of cricket - test and Big Bash League - remain on free-to-air TV and this is the big risk for Fox Sports. Will enough cricket tragics be willing to pay to watch One Day and Twenty20 cricket and so keep Foxtel's subscription revenues ticking along? The amount of international cricket being played these days has turned the lesser forms of the game into commoditised products, so how much people would actually pay for them is debatable.

For its part, Cricket Australia admits to being disappointed that so much of the sport will now be locked behind pay TV. "Our preferred [outcome] was an all free-to-air package with a sizeable uplift and for us to go into any other space it needed to be a significant premium for us to get there," Cricket Australia chief executive Jamie Sutherland said at a press conference that didn't have any of the upbeat mood you might expect when announcing a record billion-dollar deal.

This is disingenuous. If anyone could have ensured more cricket would remain on free-to-air, it was Sutherland, but he chose to take the money instead.