|The future of Nationwide games on the internet in the UK looks bleak after another round of job cuts at the league's website provider. |
Last week news of a fresh round of redundancies at Premium TV (PTV), the joint venture between the Football League and the cable giant NTL, sparked renewed fears among Nationwide clubs, already suffering from the £132m hole left by the collapse of ITV Digital. If Premium collapses the first, second and third division clubs stand to lose a further £35m.
Mike Bateson, chairman of third division mid-tablers Torquay United: 'I'm sure there is a value to the whole web of the site, it's whether it can produce enough income to sustain Premium TV and whether NTL will continue to subsidise it. There the waters are a little bit muddy. It could continue for 10 years or be closed down by the summer.'
PTV says news of its demise is greatly exaggerated. John Nagle, Football League communications director admits that the venture has 'not been an overnight success,' but claims it 'would be wrong to suggest that PTV is about to collapse because it is not. There are 27,000 subscribers to zones that are beginning to deliver revenue, which is all too rare in the internet world. What exclusive subscription zones have shown is that there are people willing to pay for premium content at the football league level.'
Reading's media manager Andy West says the club's site gets about 60,000 visits a month, but will not reveal how many visitors are paying subscribers. However he claims that despite the slower than expected take-up of broadband, there will always be a demand for internet football. 'The beauty of the web is that you can see the action at any time you want, especially if you don't live in the local TV area or you don't have Sky. For many overseas fans it's the only way they can see any of the games.'
Whatever the long-term prognosis for PTV, the fortunes of Nationwide football on the net look bleak. The lack of subscribers is caused mostly to the achingly slow provision of broadband across the UK. Until the majority of the population get access to something other than a tiny modem Internet football isnít going to get anywhere.