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Telstra denies TV Now delayed NRL deal

A massive multi-million dollar deal for Australian rugby league broadcasting rights was not hindered by the copyright court battle with Optus, according to Telstra.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor
Telstra's Rick Ellis and David Thodey with ARLC's John Grant and Shane Mattiske (Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet)

Telstra and the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) today signed a five-year rights deal for the broadcasting of live matches on mobiles and tablets for close to AU$180 million.

The negotiations for the rights had been taking place since last year and, at the time, Optus had pre-emptively taken the National Rugby League (NRL) to court seeking to prove that its TV cloud-recording application TV Now was not a breach of the NRL's copyright. The app allowed iPhone users to play live broadcast content within two minutes of it going to air. Telstra became a party to the case on the NRL's side because of the negotiations over broadcasting rights.

Optus ultimately lost the case and had subsequently shut down the TV Now app and, at the time, Telstra welcomed the ruling and what it would mean for broadcasting rights in the digital space.

Today, Telstra and the ARLC wouldn't disclose the value of the new deal, but said that it was worth double the 2007 agreement, which was reportedly worth AU$90 million, putting the deal at around AU$180 million and close to the value of the agreement Telstra had signed with the Australian Football League (AFL) for its mobile broadcast rights.

Under the new agreement, Telstra will have the rights to broadcast the matches to mobiles and tablets through the NRL app, with naming rights for the NRL Premiership and Sunday Football. Telstra will also operate the NRL and team sites, the NRL app, the NRL fantasy teams app, and additional content surrounding the matches.

"There's more rights than what we were getting before, but there is the ability to present the data, that content, in different ways," Telstra CEO David Thodey said at a press conference in Sydney today.

Thodey today admitted that negotiations had taken longer than expected, but denied that it was as a result of the TV Now case.

"It had nothing to do with Optus TV [Now] at all. We just decided that it was about how we make the best investment," he said.

But the case had clearly weighed heavily in the minds of both the NRL and Telstra. In its submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission's review of copyright law, Telstra said that the court ruling was positive in protecting intellectual property rights, and in the NRL's submission, it said that any exception to the Copyright Act that would allow TV Now would come at a "significant financial detriment of the NRL" and it would be an "exploitation" of the NRL's rights.

By opening up the content to all telcos in the agreement with Telstra, the NRL has essentially bypassed the need for customers to use a TV Now-like service to watch matches live on their mobiles.

Rick Ellis, Telstra's group managing director of media, said that the negotiations changed from Telstra being a contractor to become a partner with the NRL, and then opening up the mobile broadcasting to everyone, not just Telstra customers, came from that.

"We are taking the service to the whole of the Australian market, so we don't really care — well, we do care, we care a lot; you get the best experience in the Telstra environment — but the objective of the NRL is to maximise the access to their great content, and that's what we'll be facilitating," he said.

Thodey said that it was a big move for Telstra to make the content available to everyone.

"It was a big strategic decision to make the content available to any mobile user, but we will continue to differentiate it on the Telstra network, obviously, and make it a richer experience. But people can still get access to that content, so the potential customer base is much higher."

As part of the deal, the NRL will also be setting up its own media team to produce written and video content for NRL.com and the apps. It follows similar moves by the AFL to have a team of writers it employs directly to write about the sport.

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