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Premier League finally makes YouTube move, but with curtailed content

England’s Premier League has launched an official channel on YouTube, having previously decided against setting up a collective presence on the Google-owned video sharing website.

The YouTube.com/PremierLeague channel has gone live ahead of the start of the 2019-20 season this Friday.

However, the service will be focused on showcasing revamped archive videos, plus feature and community content from the league’s 20 clubs, as opposed to match highlights.

In adding the channel, the Premier League has managed to carve out rights that will be deemed acceptable by stakeholders, protecting media rights-holders and the member clubs who have been able to monetise their digital audiences directly.

The Premier League said that the channel will “host a range of exclusive and unique videos reflecting the exciting and competitive nature of the competition,” including archive footage presented in “new and compelling ways, providing thrilling highlights of the key players and matches in Premier League history.”

Despite the launch of YouTube channels several seasons ago by rival leagues among Europe’s ‘big 5,’ the Premier League has previously resisted the temptation to set up a similar offering, seeking to avoid any risk of cannibalising its domestic and international media rights deals.

The English top tier has very much adopted a strict policy of driving value from fully protecting the exclusivity of such deals, taking the approach that it was the role of broadcasters and clubs to push out content via social media.

Indeed, the Premier League’s reluctance to embrace a league platform on YouTube allowed its member clubs to establish sizeable audiences for their own channels on the popular video sharing platform. Premier League rules stipulate that clubs can share content on their owned and operated digital platforms from midnight of the day of each game and across social and third-party platforms from 72 hours after the final whistle.

There has also been an uneasy relationship between the Premier League and YouTube in the past, with the league having launched a copyright infringement class action against the Google-owned platform in 2007. The action, which was lodged in conjunction with other rights-holders, was dropped in 2013.

YouTube, which has for some time talked publicly about its desire to bring an official Premier League channel onto its platform, was in the past regarded as a potential bidder for rights to the English top flight, albeit any interest never translated into a sizeable offer.

Despite the restrictions on match content available, the introduction of the YouTube channel will allow the Premier League to learn more about user data, its fanbase in different regions and how they interact with the content.

The channel has already attracted 104,000 subscribers in the 24 hours since its launch was announced.

The Premier League’s move is being viewed as evidence of a growing acknowledgement that the league needs to increasingly act a single entity. This is particularly with a view to further increasing its footprint in emerging markets or retaining its leadership internationally against the likes of LaLiga, which has been very active in terms of its collective digital offering.

Rival European leagues have all opted to showcase match highlights (to a varying degree) on their YouTube channels, and with holdbacks on when the content can go live. In other sports, rights-holders such as the NFL offer free 10-minute match highlights on their YouTube channel.

LaLiga, which launched its YouTube channel seven years ago and has amassed 4.28m subscribers, offers post-game highlights of all games from the Spanish top flight. The Bundesliga channel, which went live six years ago and now has 1.53m subscribers, offers highlights of selected games only.

The Ligue 1 and Serie A channels, which have 1.29m and 2.78m subscribers respectively, also show short match highlights on a delayed basis.

It was reported last month that Sky, the UK pay-TV broadcaster paying £1.19bn (€1.29bn/$1.44bn) per season for its live Premier League rights, was looking to offer free three-minute highlights on YouTube shortly after games had finished. Sky already offers short in-play clips free of charge on social media outlets.