AFL Live's 7-inch streaming puts Foxtel first, fans second

A byzantine division of streaming rights has limited the AFL Live app to a 7-inch screen for live matches, with "big screen" rights still owned by Foxtel and Channel Seven.

Adam Trafford/AFL Media, Getty Images

If you're an AFL Live subscriber, get used to the small screen. Due to a careful division of rights between Seven, Foxtel and Telstra, AFL Live app users are limited to a screen size of 7 inches for every live match, even if they're streaming on a larger device.

As the 2017 season kicked off with a Collingwood vs. Essendon practice match on Thursday night, irate fans took to Twitter to vent. Photos started to pour in of the game streaming on tablet screens of a small image surrounded by a black border.

The AFL responded to its fans, some of whom assumed the sizable black borders were a technical fault, by confirming that the live-streamed picture size was capped at 7 inches due to the new broadcast agreement which will run from 2017 to 2022.

The six-year, AU$2.5 billion deal brokered in 2015 divided the broadcast rights between Foxtel, Channel Seven and Telstra. Under the deal, Channel Seven has HD free-to-air broadcast rights, Foxtel holds TV broadcast rights for every match and Telstra retains rights for all hand-held devices, IPTV and the club digital network.

"With the AFL and NRL we have the exclusive standalone mobile rights, which enables us to have a screen size of 7 inches up to a total screen size of 12 inches, so basically on the iPad Pro. Obviously the big screen rights are with Foxtel and Fox Sports," said Joe Pollard, Telstra's group executive and chief marketing officer, in a briefing earlier this week.

The problem was in the fine print.

From the AFL Live app's terms of service:

Telstra's agreement with the AFL restricts the display of live match videos to the a [sic] 7 inch screen size. Match highlights and match replays are available for viewing in full screen size 12 hours after the match conclusion.

While Telstra, and by extension the AFL app, can broadcast in up to 12 inches, the app was limited to 7 inches for any live broadcast. That 12-inch screen size comes into play 12 hours after the live broadcast for on-demand content and replays. The AFL Live app is free to Telstra customers, but it'll otherwise run subscribers at least AU$4.99 for a weekly pass.

A Telstra spokesperson confirmed that "live match video on mobiles and tablets will be a maximum of seven inches diagonally. There is no restriction on the image size for match replays and highlights 12 hours after the match conclusion. For the 2017 season, Telstra mobile customers get free premium access to watch every AFL game live and data-free. Image sizes appearing on mobiles and tablets is included in the terms of use on the AFL live official app."

The iOS app has also blocked Airplay mirroring, so there's no streaming from your iPad to TV for the big-screen experience, which would put it firmly under the purview of Foxtel, who hold "big-screen" broadcast rights. This season's matches will also be available for stream on Foxtel's Go and Play apps with no screen size restrictions.

The division of rights draws firm lines between mobile and traditional broadcast, with Seven and Foxtel clinging to the rights to show games on your TV. With Telstra recently pushing its mobile sport offerings and Foxtel's tumultuous time with sport rights in 2016, the squeeze is on.

Though, there was a certain ingenuity at work in some homes:

AFL did not respond to request for comment.

Updated at 3:05 p.m.: to include Telstra statement.

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