Italy's Serie A could award its 2021-24 broadcasting rights tomorrow to either Sky or DAZN (backed by TIM) for a fee significantly down on the previous cycle.

Either outcome looks good for Sky: increasing coverage at a lower fee, or pivoting to aggregation as DAZN will need to access Sky’s subscriber base.

DAZN and its ally TIM are also shifting strategy, but with weak rationale. The Italian auction reinforces our expectation of a drop in Premier League fees in the imminent British tender.

Despite linear TV viewing benefiting from recent lockdowns, across 2020 it still declined among younger audiences. Online video habits have solidified, most notably for adults in their 30s and 40s.

As a result, traditional broadcasters are more vulnerable now than ever before. Long term, we forecast their audiences to fall further than previously expected—down to 61% of all video viewing in 2027 from 72% today—as streaming platforms make ever-deeper inroads.

Given linear TV’s reliance on older cohorts, plus an ageing UK population, we predict that two-thirds of traditional broadcasters’ viewing in 2027 will come from over-55s, with less than 13% from under-35s.

The value of certain sports rights can be appraised through three major metrics: the ability to command viewing/engagement, the ability to drive subscriptions incremental to other rights, and the propensity of those subscribers to provide the rights holder with additional revenues.

In this report we examine these three metrics in order to gain an understanding of the tensions in the market, along with the reasons as to why there is competition (or not) for certain rights.

Unsurprisingly, outside of a few primary sports rights, there are an abundance of secondary rights which find it difficult to display their value over others. Their value relies just as heavily on whether rights holders are committing to, or retreating from, major rights.

The Italian football league launched its tender for its 2021-24 broadcasting rights, to be held on 26 January. An ill-conceived Competition Authority ruling barring Sky from buying exclusive rights undermines the licence’s value for Sky.

Serie A has set very high reserve prices, but if bidders do not meet them, two other options kick in: a sale to an ‘independent intermediary’ or appointment of a partner to launch a ‘league’s channel’—both of which look unrealistic. The process may end up in private negotiations with broadcasters.

Having no direct competitor, Sky looks likely to keep coverage of most games, but at a lower price than now. DAZN may well renew its current deal and we do not exclude Amazon stepping in.

By integrating Amazon's content, Sky tightens up its ecosystem. We now estimate that no more than 5% of Sky users have subscriptions to services that are not carried by Sky Q, excluding Now TV

The agreement may be a first step in closer co-operation, but Sky will be cautious to value the benefits and costs. Amazon's width of business makes it different from others it has made deals with

Sky is on its way to transform the relationship it has with content suppliers from a relatively simple wholesale model to something it now calls aggregation: this appears intrinsically more complex

In the UK, carriage on Sky Q will give the new service the opportunity to prove its worth to viewers. Without integration with the UK's biggest pay-TV platform, growing scale is difficult for nascent DTC services.

Elsewhere in Europe, Discovery seeks to bundle too. Unlike the US, where the company has a single model—basic cable—in Europe it operates both free-to-air and pay channels, and it also owns Eurosport.

Ultimate success will come down to whether Discovery's "real life content" is essential and defensible. Generally there is little evidence of people taking services that are not broad, while the barriers to entry for competitors wishing to commission "real life content" are lower than other genres.

The plunge in the UK economy in Q2 2020 due to the pandemic-induced lockdown reduced advertising expenditure by close to one-third, recovering in Q3.

Impaired mobility of consumers dramatically reduced expenditure on print and out-of-home media, which are reliant on footfall, alongside cinema, whose theatres have been shuttered on and off all year.

The paradigm shift in consumer expenditure to ecommerce in 2020, which will moderate in 2021 as mobility partly returns, boosted online display while search was flat due to impeded travel plans.

Sky appears to have weathered the COVID-19 crisis, revealing an encouraging turnaround in its Q3 operating results, with revenue growth flat overall as each stream saw significant improvement from Q2.

Rights costs from a condensed sporting schedule began to hit EBITDA, which remains guided to fall by 60% across H2, with most of the impact in Q4. This was anticipated long ago, and Sky’s ambition remains to double 2020’s EBITDA “over the next several years”.

Having disclosed contrasting performances between its markets, Sky now appears more clearly committed to replicating its UK success in both Italy and Germany, with tangible plans in place to streamline costs and rebalance content expenditure—namely by “resetting” its spend on sports rights.