The Korea Herald


Streaming services gradually dominate sports broadcasts amid mixed reactions from fans

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : June 22, 2024 - 16:01

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Poster for Poster for "Coupang Play Series," featuring Tottenham Hotspur vs. Bayern München (Coupang Play)

Korean streaming services are increasingly securing exclusive rights to sports broadcasts to expand their viewer base. While fans acknowledge that this enhances the quality of the viewing experience, the shift from free to paid access is generating widespread criticism.

Starting in May, Tving, which secured exclusive online broadcasting rights for the Korea Baseball Organization, began offering KBO-related broadcasts exclusively to its subscribers.

Tving is also set to exclusively live-broadcast the popular soccer tournaments Euro 2024 and 2024 Copa America, which take place from June 14 to July 14 and June 20 to July 14, respectively.

Coupang Play is now the sole broadcaster of several popular overseas soccer leagues, including Germany's Bundesliga for the 2024-25 season and Spain's La Liga for the 2023-24 season, for the next five years.

In addition to acquiring exclusive online rights to broadcast K League matches, the streaming service is also offering fan-centered services such as "Coupang Play Series," which annually holds matches between prestigious overseas clubs in Korea and "Coupang Play Pick," which offers a preview show of the games with celebrities, game footage captured by 17 cameras, as well as a post-match review show.

Korean sports fans say they see numerous benefits in the growing trend of streaming services taking the lead in broadcasting sports games.

"Unlike SpoTV, streaming service sports broadcasts leverage a greater number of cameras and even drones to enhance the quality of the viewing experience," said Oh Jin-ho, a 25-year-old sports fan living in Gyeonggi Province. SpoTV is the largest TV network in Korea specializing in sports broadcasts.

"Also, being able to watch the games without being confined to a specific time or place is very convenient," he added.

Fans added that streaming services organize fan events, a practice not typically undertaken by TV networks.

"Streaming platforms arrange exclusive matches, such as the highly anticipated August game between Bayern Munchen and Tottenham Hotspur, organized by Coupang Play. Events customized to fans' preferences like these were not available when sports games were broadcast on TV," said Lee Nam-won, a 24-year-old sports fan living in Seoul.

"People are saying they made a good decision signing up for Coupang Play just to watch this game -- where Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, formerly an inseparable duo at Tottenham, face off against each other. Streaming service operators know what the Korean fans want to see," he said.

However, survey results released in May by the Korea Press Foundation showed that 77.9 percent of respondents held a negative view toward paid sports streaming.

The survey, which gathered responses from 1,000 participants between April 17 and 21, indicated that the primary concern regarding paid streaming services centered around subscription costs, with approximately 79.5 percent of respondents deeming the fees inappropriate.

Currently, the monthly subscription cost for Coupang Play is 7,890 won ($5.71) per month, while Tving starts at 5,500 won per month.

"Previously, games were freely accessible on Naver and KakaoTalk. However, we now have to pay to access once free content. That alone is enough to raise intense backlash from sports fans," said Oh.

In contrast, industry officials argue that the shift toward paid subscriptions for watching sports games is inevitable.

"Paid broadcasting is a common practice globally. Also, in the case of K-League content, paying a reasonable fee for broadcasts will help elevate its value," said a streaming service official on the condition of anonymity.