Paying for Waves

Update: Since this article was first published the ASP has announced new broadcasting deals with YouTube, ESPN (in the US) and Facebook. Despite this there is still very little known about whether or not ZoSea and the ASP will introduce pay-per-view next year. 

Paying for Waves: The changing nature of surf media

Paying for Waves: The changing nature of surf media

In 2014 the ASP World Tour will experience its first year under the ownership of the company ZoSea, yet there has been little revealed about the way it will broadcast surf contests.

ZoSea promises to transition to a system of “centralized broadcast, centralized management [and] centralized sponsorship”, according to CEO of the company, Paul Speaker.

We have been informed that the surfers will be getting paid more and the cost of licensing an event will reduce from $3 million to $1 million. This aims to renew the faith of sponsors who were looking to pull off the wave of contest surfing, such as Quiksilver and Billabong. Essentially, competition surfing is becoming a more serious business with a mainstream focus. While we have heard some information about the changing corporate structure of the ASP, little to no information has been released about the fan’s experience. So, what does this actually mean for you?

“The ASP will be more fan-centric,” said Speaker. “The structure of the tours, the production of broadcasts and everything in-between will be geared towards enhancing the fans’ experience.”

We have not been given much more than this ceaseless repetition of the pseudo-word ‘fan-centric’. Speaker has also ruled out the concept of pay-per-view surfing, for now.

“[ZoSea have] no plans for that at present … we feel it would be a stop sign for people who might otherwise be interested,” said Speaker.

Yet, former CEO of the ASP Brodie Carr estimates that ZoSea’s desire to take over all licensing agreements, event ownership and operations will cost the company upwards of $25 million per annum. In order to profit after spending this huge amount of money, ZoSea hopes that brands outside of surfing will jump on board. If this falls through, however, experts claim that the consumer is the most likely client to make up the cost.

The indication is also that ZoSea are aiming to spruce up surfing’s broadcast system by moving away from the sport’s current ‘bro-cast’ arrangement (a term which Speaker has been overheard using).  Carr interprets this as ZoSea attempting to create “consistent web teams and production, global broadcast deals and partnerships”.

“[ZoSea will introduce] something similar to the way major leagues are run now with full production suites, teams punching out great web clips [and] graphics,” said Carr. “Damn I wish I had this at my disposal in my reign.”

Is it possible, however, to supply great broadcasting while allowing consumers access to it for free?

“There will be some free-view but the top-notch stuff is going to be pay-per-view,” said Carr, who is adamant in his belief that pay-per-view is imminent. “We will see [the] blogosphere blow-up, but if you are getting gold then you should hand over a little silver.”

It is seemingly inevitable that at some point we are going to have to hand over our hard-earned in order to access the surf content that we know and love. But how much is surfing actually worth to you? Unless you live in Coolangatta, Torquay or Margaret River then you probably won’t be able to go down to the local pub to watch World Tour contests as you would with most other pay-per-view sports.

So what sort of pay-per-view model would ZoSea provide? Yearly event subscriptions? Event-by-event payments? Heat-by-heat payments?

If pay-per-view is not directly brought in, ownership rights are likely to be bought in a similar way to the AFL and NRL in Australia, according to Carr. Given that surfing is a niche market we are not likely to see free-to-air stations invest in the sport and a Foxtel channel such as Fuel TV may buy the rights. This is surely not a better result for the consumer than pay-per-view, given high price of a Foxtel subscription. I bet we are all pretty pleased that we got to watch Kelly Slater’s career for free.

The shifting global media-scape means that it is highly likely that the best surf content will not be free in the near future, according to industry experts. We are seeing this currently take shape in both mainstream and surf media. After years of relentlessly refusing to charge for online content, Fairfax media were obliged to enforce a pay-wall system in March of this year. In the surf world we have also seen the introduction of systems such as Surfline Premium and CoastalWatch Plus. The overarching predicament is as follows:

Is good, low-cost surf content better than a plethora of free tripe?

Media analysts such as Joseph Lasica have pointed out the ‘decoupling’ of journalism and advertising. He describes how the rise of the internet has meant that advertising no longer needs good journalism but good journalism does need advertising to sustain it.

“As readers peel away from newspapers and traditional publications in favour of blogs, niche publications, Internet TV and other alternative media, the cost of this disruption is evident for all to see,” said Lasica. “[There is] less in-depth reporting, less investigative journalism, less serious public discourse and fewer foreign news bureaus.”

“In [newspapers’] place [we are seeing] a media distraction machine offering fact-free cubbyholes of comfort to a seriously under-informed nation careening from one national calamity after another,” said the former journalist Lasica. He predicts that we will see more low-quality articles in order to provide advertising space.

With the right business model however, Lasica believes that journalism may prosper. If people are willing to pay for good content then this is what they will receive.

Equally, if the journalism industry is not being floated by advertising and instead being paid for by the consumer, then writers would not be controlled by the agendas of advertisers. Marxist theorists such as Herman and Chomsky point to the fact that advertisers are the key stakeholders in defining what can be discussed in the media. With a decreased reliance on advertisers, Herman and Chomsky imagine that media will importantly be able to be more critical of companies which may have previously set the agenda. In essence, the scholars postulate that the media would be more independent and of a higher quality if consumers paid a little more and restricted the role of advertisers.

Evidently the surf industry is enveloped in a time of systematic overhaul and it is time that we start to think about what surf media really means to us.

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