How AFL commentator James Brayshaw hinted at Australia's looming TV Streaming War

image - STAN

A somewhat innocent piece of AFL commentary from James Brayshaw last weekend has provided a subtle hint at the looming war over Australian TV’s Streaming future.

With the return of the AFL season last weekend, and THOR actor Chris Hemsworth in attendance for the Western Bulldogs home game. Keen fans were quick to point out something unusual with the broadcast. The SEVEN commentary team, led by James Brayshaw and Luke Darcy were regularly referring to the AFL owned stadium as ‘Docklands’ rather than using its new commercial title ‘MARVEL Stadium’.

It might seem like harmless banter, but in the world of commercial broadcasting, refusing to acknowledge a corporate partner is a very big deal.

So why would SEVEN deliberately breach a commercial broadcast contract with the AFL, and make the seemingly petty decision to refuse to acknowledge MARVEL sponsorship? The answer is the network is worried, very worried.

For those unaware, the MARVEL franchise is now owned by the rapidly expanding entertainment juggernaut DISNEY.

SEVEN was once the home of DISNEY in Australia, shows such as Saturday Disney and Wonderful World of Disney were important parts of the network’s schedule. But that relationship has come to an end in recent years and now DISNEY is looking towards new Aussie partnerships.

In December last year, the NINE owned streaming service STAN surprised many media observers by announcing a massive new content deal with DISNEY which included brands such as Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm.

The STAN/DISNEY partnership comes at a time when DISNEY is preparing to launch worldwide streaming service DISNEY+ by the end of 2019. The company also owned a 60% stake in US streaming service HULU and has recently completed a takeover of FOX which includes a huge library of content including shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. Added to this, DISNEY also owns sports brand ESPN.

As TV viewers continue to abandon free-to-air in favour of online subscription services, it’s now widely believed DISNEY could have streaming platforms DISNEY+, HULU and ESPN+ operating in Australia within the next 3 years.

Many media observers believe NINE is looking to merge STAN into the new DISNEY products, fearful that if they don’t find a big international partner soon, they will soon be crushed in a market full of big spending global competitors including NETFLIX, AMAZON, APPLE and CBS.

DISNEY executives attended this year’s Australian Open Tennis as guests of NINE, and more discussions have continued throughout the year. 

Since taking over the business in 2015, NINE CEO Hugh Marks has made it clear the broadcaster needs to evolve from just being a TV business, to becoming a digital content business across multiple platforms. The recent merger with FAIRFAX was a key part of the strategy, and a new partnership with DISNEY would help see the company move away from its heavy reliance on free-to-air advertising revenue.

So where does all this leave SEVEN? It's understood after a series of angry weekend phone calls with the AFL, commentators will acknowledge MARVEL Stadium sponsorship from this weekend. But the much bigger question remains. With 10 now owned by CBS, and NINE looking towards a future with DISNEY, what deals can SEVEN secure to ensure it survives in the land of streaming.