SBS to air all World Cup games for 48 hours after Optus streaming screw up

The telco says SBS will provide a "fail-safe backup" while it gets its act together.

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Brazil v Switzerland: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Optus kicks an own goal on World Cup streaming.


Optus has announced that SBS will simulcast 48 hours' worth of World Cup games on free-to-air TV while it tests its network and tries to fix problems with its app that left fans unable to stream games over the weekend. 

SBS will broadcast a total of six games from Monday night until Wednesday morning on its free-to-air channels -- games that would have otherwise only been available through the Optus Sports app. 

Optus CEO Allen Lew has called the simulcast a "fail-safe backup."

The telco was forced into the mea culpa after fans vented their rage over the weekend, claiming problems with the app left them with error messages and dropouts during World Cup games. The issue raged on Twitter and even attracted comment from the Prime Minister during a press conference on Monday. 

Optus bought the streaming rights to the 2018 World Cup off SBS, taking roughly half the games away from legacy rights holder and putting them behind its own paywalled app. SBS previously aired all games on free-to-air TV and through its free streaming app. Now, SBS only has the rights to Socceroos games, finals and a select "game of the day" -- Australians must access the remaining games by paying AU$15 a month for the Optus Sports app (equating to AU$30 for the length of the World Cup). 

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But now Optus is saying it "should have been able to anticipate the demand a lot better."

Speaking on a media call on Monday night, Lew said fixing the experience for Optus Sports users was the company's "top priority."

"We have a dedicated team working around the clock to address the technical issues," he said. "The quality of experience [on streaming] is limited by factors such as the device, the network, the Wi-Fi and other things. We are working on some of these to make sure that the vast majority of Australians will be able to enjoy a good viewership of the game, regardless of where they are."

But Optus' problems may still not be over in two days' time.

Lew admitted that there may still be "particular devices in particular locations where streaming cannot be guaranteed." He noted that after two days of "robust" testing, Optus would clearly outline which users may not be able to stream games. 

Lew was tight lipped on the subject of refunds. Optus says it will have more to say on Wednesday once testing is completed and the simulcast period is over. 

It's a bad look for the telco, which is spending big as it tries to position itself as a serious media player, tech company and communications provider all in one. Despite paying a significant (albeit undisclosed) sum to buy the rights off SBS, Optus has been forced to hand some of the games back to the legacy broadcaster as it gets its streaming act together. 

First published June 18, 6:32 p.m. AEST.

Update, June 18, 7:08 p.m.: Adds additional comment from Optus CEO.

Update, June 20, 5.20 p.m.: Optus announced it will now let users stream the entire World Cup for free, with SBS to simulcast all group round games until June 29 on free-to-air TV. Read the full details here.

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