By Georgia Comensoli and James Fitzpatrick
Soccer left on the bench in Australian World Cup broadcast failure
It’s considered the biggest sporting event in the world but for those lucky enough to live down under, this year’s World Cup coverage has been disappointing.
Due to funding cuts, the Soccer World Cup’s usual broadcasters, SBS, were unable to cover all games. Optus jumped in, securing exclusive rights to air many of the games via their mobile app ‘Optus Sport’.
Late last week, thousands of Australians tuned in to watch the first round of the competition. Within moments of the stream, many experienced serious issues and were presented with a screen displaying the words “playback error”.
This issue didn’t just occur for the first game, it continued over the first weekend. It’s become such a debacle that sports commentators, sporting heroes and fans alike had even called on the government to step in.
One twitter user joked “seeing Optus fail nightly is hilarious”.
Another explained “While the rest of the world is enjoying the World Cup on free-to-air, Australian fans are being told to pay money to watch games…. @OptusSport doesn’t know how to broadcast”.
After three consecutive nights of lack lustre service, major commercial TV breakfast shows including the Today Show and Sunrise both commented on the situation.
One journalist urged the telco to move on and allow SBS to broadcast the entire world cup IF Optus couldn’t get their act together pronto.
Responses to individual customer complaints have not been well received. Text services to individual clients are used through a seemingly pre-loaded automated system. The first response is “Thanks for your update”. If you respond again like a usual text message conversation, you’ll receive the same response.
Some users have felt so abandoned that they resorted to threatening legal action through this automated text service. Optus only then acknowledges that there was an issue and that “[they] are working on this issue to be rectified”.
Allen Lew CEO of the telco on Sunday guaranteed the problems would be resolved, apologising to customers.
“We can do better. We will do better.” Allen Lew, via Optus' Twitter page.
Optus claims the result of the disruption was due to the high demand on the system and they hadn’t anticipated that amount of interest in the live coverage.
This suggests both poor planning and a lack of foresight; the soccer World Cup is well-known as the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world with an estimated 3.2 billion people tuning in to watch the last World Cup in 2014.
This is also not the first time Optus Sport experienced streaming faults. They’ve experienced similar faults with their broadcast of the English Premier League for over 10 months.
Fear not though… Malcolm is here to save the day: During an interview three days into the crisis, Malcolm Turnbull said he had personally spoken to Lew, and that it had his personal attention.
The effect on soccer in Australia
Soccer or as it is known in Europe, Football, is still a developing sport in Australia. It has yet to reach the legendary status widely seen across other die-hard countries. This year, an unprecedented amount of existing and prospective Australian soccer fans will be (attempting) to tune in to the World Cup.
For Soccer to reach the level of spectatorship likened to rugby or AFL, enabling viewers to watch sport live and free (or at a low cost) is crucial. As such, these streaming issues will be concerning key stakeholders such as the Football Federation Australia (FFA), the national governing body of soccer.
How should Optus respond?
Because there has been widespread outrage, denial of a paid service, and a history of similar issues, it’s going to be difficult for Optus Sport to re-build their brand and reputation – much of the damage has already been done.
Whilst Optus are busy finding a reliable fix, a deal has been struck with SBS to air all games for the next 48 hours. This is a good temporary solution (whether or not Optus were forced into it) as it lessens the incident’s on-going impact on the customer.
As SBS came in to save the day, we recommend supporting them, rather than criticising them. The tweet below which pulls up SBS for a typo is only going to compound the damage to your brand (and has since been redacted):
Meanwhile, customers are demanding a refund; and we don’t think Optus will have any option but to pay some form of compensation.
Whether or not they choose to compensate customers, they should seriously consider taking full responsibility and publicly acknowledging their shortcomings and poor foresight. There may not be any other way to diffuse the current sentiment held against them.
As with any incident, the key will be regular and consistent communication with all affected customers and stakeholders – reassuring them and updating them on the progress of the fix. Because of the level of outrage, this communication may have to be more than relying on an automated social media bot. Affected customers will want to know that their voice and issue is being heard by a real-human.
If Optus are to secure future sports broadcasting deals, they will have to go above and beyond in demonstrating they are prepared to handle any level of audience.