Optus’ World Cup ‘nuclear option’
FOR a third night in a row on Sunday night, many Australian football fans were unable to watch the biggest sporting event in the world because the Optus Sports online stream was again plagued with issues as viewers reported dropouts, frequent freezes and playback errors.
Once again, social media was flooded with irate fans as many called for the beleaguered telco to hand back customers' money.
A chorus of critics including former Socceroo Robbie Slater, Karl Stefanovic and ABC sports journalist Richard Hinds called on Optus to relinquish the exclusive rights and allow SBS to broadcast all the games if the telco couldn't deliver on its promises.
"That chorus is the heart of the problem for Optus," said Con Stavros, Associate Professor in Marketing at RMIT University, who specialises in sports marketing and communication.
In what continues to be a controversial move, SBS sold off the major rights for the tournament to Optus. Relinquishing them over network issues would be catastrophic for the telco.
"I think that would be a very difficult decision for them to take," Stavros said.
"That's really the nuclear option for them.
"People are just basically saying if you guys can't do it, give it to someone else who can. That's enormous pressure on them. They would be very reluctant to do that," he said.
In a move that is sure to ratchet up the pressure on Optus, SBS chief executive Michael Ebeid said the broadcaster is willing to step in if things don't improve.
"I think if Optus continues to have problems then we might have a conversation about how we can help them further about putting those games on our channels," Ebeid said on Monday.
"We're obviously able and willing to do that."
Mr Ebeid said the clock was ticking, giving the telco no more than 48 hours to resolve the problem.
"Maybe even less, maybe even 24 hours, I think they'll need to take a good, hard look at where they're at in terms of fixing the problem," he said.
While fans lodge complaints and crow online about organising a class action civil suit, it's clear the telco needs to do something drastic if the problems persist.
"When it comes to technology, we've all learned to build in a bit of good will, it doesn't always work all the time," Stavros said.
"But the ongoing frustration among customers is doing potentially irrevocable harm to the telco's standing.
"When it becomes repetitive, that's when the damage can really develop for a brand."
Buying up the rights to the English Premier League 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. But unless Optus can fix the streaming issues, it could backfire on the company.
"This was a way of bringing new customers into the brand, they made the very sensible decision of making it available to everyone … but you've got to ask yourself now what does it do to those customers? I can't imagine anyone who hasn't been unsettled by this." Stavros said.
Streaming live sports is much more challenging than streaming a movie on Netflix, he pointed out. "But having said that, it's not like they got the rights yesterday.
"They need to fix it and fix it quickly."
On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed in, saying Optus CEO Allen Lew had assured him the streaming issue was a top priority and that he believed the telco would have it fixed by this evening.
Optus declined to answer if it would reimburse customers or if it would consider allowing SBS to broadcast more games if problems persist. Instead, a spokesperson provided a generic statement to inquiries.
"We apologise to those customers affected and reassure them our team is working around the clock to ensure that we are delivering an excellent broadcast service to all Optus Sport viewers regardless of the platform they are using to enjoy the tournament," the company said.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is reminding consumers they are entitled to request at least a partial refund if they've been unable to watch games.
"This has been an incredibly disappointing and frustrating experience for soccer fans who opted for the Optus service," a spokesperson told news.com.au.
"We understand that Optus is working on fixing the problem as soon as possible, but in the meantime consumers should expect to be compensated for a service that didn't work as expected.
"If they haven't already done so they should contact Optus with details of their experience and ask for at least a partial refund of their monthly charge."
Many viewers watching via the Optus' streaming device, Fetch TV, reported not having issues while watching the games.
Many others who used their Optus Sports login details via the SBS World Game app also said they had a seamless viewing experience.
On Saturday night, Optus began responding to complaints on social media by telling people to use the SBS app to access the content.
The only problem is unless you're happy to watch it on a smaller device like a phone or tablet, you will need a streaming platform like Apple TV to watch the games via the app on a TV.
Despite the temporary work around, fans were still left unhappy.
"When you're being told that this is the work around at midnight or one o'clock in the morning, I think it's asking too much of their subscriber base," Stavros said.