All of the Socceroos matches are on SBS.
All of the Socceroos matches are on SBS.

Optus drops World Cup bombshell

OPTUS has dramatically struck a deal with SBS to allow the 2018 Wold Cup to remain on free to air TV until the end of the group stage of the tournament.

Optus chief executive Allen Lew announced the broadcasting decision via a phone conference with reporters this afternoon.

Lew confirmed SBS would broadcast every match in the group stages until July 9, however a decision has not yet been made as to the two quarter-final matches Optus has the exclusive rights to.

Optus also has exclusive rights to two round-of-16 matches which SBS will not be able to broadcast.

Optus has also announced a massive move to win back favour with Aussie World Cup fans by removing the $15 pay wall which restricted Optus Sports content.

Optus has made a decision to leave its app and sport streaming services free and open to everyone in Australia for the remainder of the World Cup and through to August 31.

The telco says Australians who have already paid for the service will be receiving full refunds.

That move would allow Australian sport streamers to also get the opening few weeks of the 2018-19 English Premier League season free through Optus.

Lew declared Optus' ability to stream all six matches "without incident" on Monday night and Tuesday night has given him "absolute confidence" that Optus will be able to stream the most important matches of the tournament without any buffering issues.

Optus CEO Allen Lew addresses the media at The Commonwealth Games
Optus CEO Allen Lew addresses the media at The Commonwealth Games

The under-fire telco agreed earlier this week to let SBS broadcast four extra matches over Monday and Tuesday night after its streaming service suffered from technical issues across the first four days of the tournament, causing fury among customers who paid $15 to watch all 64 matches.

A deal between SBS and Optus allowed the publicly-funded network to broadcast 25 games, but that increased to 29 matches after Optus announced its decision to allow SBS to screen every World Cup match for a 48 hour period as the Telco moved to fix its technical problems.

The faulty Optus streaming service prompted Optus chief executive Allen Lew to apologise "unreservedly to all Australians" on Sunday, but there were further issues that night.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"I have spoken with the Optus CEO, Allen Lew. He assures me he is giving the World Cup streaming problems his personal attention and he believes it will be fixed this evening," Mr Turnbull tweeted on Monday.

While Optus execs projected confidence during the past 48 hour period, assuring the public (and the Prime Minister) it would fix the problems plaguing its network, its decision to confirm it would take back control seemingly came down to the wire for the beleaguered telco.

Speaking to early on Wednesday afternoon, Optus Vice President for Public Affairs, Andrew Sheridan, was unable to say if everything was on track to reclaim the exclusive broadcast rights, suggesting the company had not made a final decision at the time.

Despite a small number of users still reporting issues trying to watch the World Cup games on the Optus Sports stream on Tuesday night, Mr Sheridan noted that the network had performed better than the weekend period which saw fans direct a torrent of online abuse at the telco.

SBS originally onsold the World Cup broadcast rights to Optus Sport, with Fairfax Media reporting that deal was worth approximately $8 million.

Buying up the rights to the English Premier League (EPL) a couple years ago and following it up with taking on the World Cup was a big gamble for Optus and represented a massive shift in Australia's media landscape.

The streaming quality of its EPL coverage was also criticised when it first launched in 2016 with some users complaining about picture quality, buffering issues and annoyed by a slight delay.

But despite the hefty price tag, the move has been largely good for the telco. Securing the EPL rights (which Optus recently locked in until 2022) is considered one of the main reasons it won 384,000 new mobile customers last fiscal year, which ended in March.

Unlike the EPL though, the World Cup coverage was made available to non Optus customers on a variety of platforms, with some customers no doubt engaging with the telco for the first time.

"This was a way of bringing new customers into the brand … but you've got to ask yourself now what does it do to those customers," RMIT University's Professor Con Stavros who specialises in sports marketing and communication told earlier this week.

"I can't imagine anyone who hasn't been unsettled by this."

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