On the entertainment side of things, we've already seen content creators launch director-to-the-consumer streaming services like Disney+ and HBO Max.

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Now, one of the world's largest sporting bodies - England's Premier League (EPL) - is planning an inhouse "Netflix-style" service that would see games streamed directly to fans.

Currently, UK Premier League rights are split between Sky UK, BT and Amazon Prime Video, with a different portion of games screening - or streaming - on each platform.

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Internationally, there's a patchwork of lucrative deals with the likes of beIN Sport and, in our neck of the woods, Optus and Spark Sport.

That could all be about to go out the window.

Newly-confirmed Premier League CEO Richard Masters told UK media over the weekend that he plans to sell live-streamed games and on-demand content directly to fans.

Trials of the "Premflix" streaming service, as it has been nick-named, could start as early as 2022, in select test markets overseas, Masters said.

'During the last [rights bidding] process [for the 2019-22 seasons] we spent quite a lot of time and invested a lot of resources in building our expertise and capacity in 'direct-to-consumer'," he added.

(It's also worth noting that the EPL looked to the broadcasting world to replace its long-time boss Richard Scudamore, appointing Discovery Channel deal-maker Susanna Dinnage as its new CEO before her employer ultimately convinced her to stay and she reneged on the appointment. Commercial director Masters ultimately got the role in an internal promotion.)

The "Premflix" technology would let the EPL cut out middle-men, from traditional players like Sky to digital aggregators like Spark Sport - or at least make them rub shoulders with the EPL's own streaming service.

'We considered whether strategically it would be the right time to test a few markets then and decided not to. We were ready last time and we will be ready next time should the opportunity arise. Eventually, the Premier League will move to a mix of direct-to-consumer and [traditional] media rights sales," Masters said.

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The EPL is already in the driving seat, because its own outside broadcasting outfit, Premier League Productions (a joint-venture with IMG), produces all 380 games each season. (Something that Sanzaar, or NZ Rugby, might want to take note of, given Sky recently announced plans to offload its OB unit). A content delivery network like Akamai could be added for global reach.

The entry of BT (British Telecom) into the streaming market dramatically drove up the value of domestic EPL rights (see chart below). The first multi-season rights deal of the Premier League era (for 1992-1997) was worth £191m. The deal for the three seasons from 2016 was worth £5.1 billion.

Graphic / Mail on Sunday
Graphic / Mail on Sunday

Much has been made of things levelling off for domestic rights to the three seasons from 2019, which went to Sky, BT and Amazon for a combined £5b (NZ$10b).

But international rights continued to balloon for the latest contract, rising from £4.2b to £5.2b as the likes of beIN, Optus and Spark tussled for rights in various markets, reflecting the EPL's global appeal.

So the EPL's total rights haul for 2019-22 was £9.2b (or just over £3b per season) - easily a record.

Could a "Premflix" service bring in more?

While there are many bridges to cross, the Mail on Sunday raised the prospect that it could - even if it charged fans just £10 a month (far less than the total £76 a month required at present for the Sky, BT and Amazon subs required to see every game as matches are divvied up).

The paper sees 200 million households worldwide signing up at £10 a month - which would equate to a staggering £24b a year.

For New Zealand viewers, who already enjoy streaming and on-demand coverage of all 380 matches (and various Premier League Productions' preview and highlight shows) each season via Spark Sport, there would be functionally very little difference ... except there would be no need for Spark.

So Spark will be watching the EPL closely.

But it won't be alone. Sky NZ, which still has a lot of European football involving English clubs via its ESPN deal, will be looking nervously at what Disney is doing in the US - where the entertainment giant has bundled three streaming services in its stable, Disney+, Hulu and EPSN+, for just US$12.99 (NZ$20.28) a month.

And more broadly, every streaming aggregator and every pay-TV broadcaster will be watching to see if other sporting bodies jump on the "direct-to-consumer" bandwagon.

Middlemen everywhere could be getting the chop, or at least losing a limb.