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Cricket caught in online blackout as Nine kicks off live streaming

Aussies can watch Channel 9 live via 9Now, but existing rights deals mean cricket is off the menu for now.

It's been a long time coming but Australia's free-to-air television broadcasters are finally embracing online simulcasts, streaming their broadcast channels live via their catch up TV services. Nine is the latest to get on board, streaming its primary channel via 9Now – rebranded from 9Jumpin – with plans to add GEM, GO and LIFE further down the track.

Nine's new live streaming service doesn't include the cricket due to existing online rights deals.
Nine's new live streaming service doesn't include the cricket due to existing online rights deals. Photo: Getty Images

The live stream kicked off on Thursday as a "soft launch" ahead of an official announcement, which is expected from Nine next week. The stream is available via desktop browsers as well as Apple and Android gadgets, with plans to embrace Smart TVs, set-top boxes and games consoles. You need to register with an email address to watch Nine's stream, which runs about 60 seconds behind the live broadcast (unlike the ABC and Seven's live streams which are only on a 30-second delay).

As with most online simulcasts, Nine is hampered by existing streaming rights deals for high-profile sporting events. Nine has confirmed that Friday night's Australia v India T20 cricket match at the MCG will not be streamed online via 9Now, as Optus has signed a three-year agreement to be Cricket Australia's streaming partner. Nine says it is "still in negotiations" to include the cricket in its online simulcast.

We're still waiting to see whether rights blackouts will affect Nine's other sports coverage, but the network has little choice but to play by the rules. Rival network Seven is in a similar situation, negotiating to include this year's AFL matches in its live simulcasts when Telstra owns the streaming AFL rights. Mobile providers are pushing hard to snap up sports rights, with Optus grabbing the English Premiere League last year.

The TV networks are unlikely to mount a legal challenge to add sport to their online simulcasts, especially after a court battle saw the AFL force the closure of Optus' TV Now service, even though this cloud-based Personal Video Recorder was seemingly protected by the same ruling that permits you to time-shift television at home.

It's a frustrating situation for both broadcasters and viewers, highlighting the fragmented nature of Australia's broadcast rights – where online rights are hived off to be sold separately so the sporting codes can double-dip. It's not just free-to-air, Foxtel's streaming subscribers also face sporting blackouts due to complicated rights deals which can deny them one match per round simply because they're watching online.

The next round of Australian sport broadcast deals is several years away, so we're likely to be stuck with haphazard online coverage blackouts for some time. Unified rights deals would make life easier for broadcasters and viewers, but keeping the rights fragmented is more lucrative for the sporting codes – even though it can leave fans in the dark.

Are you keen to watch live sport online? Do you manage to beat the blackouts?