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OS independence under threat - how much do you care?

Someone asked recently about the promised redesign of the OS, which we all accept is now looking rather dated. The reality is that we look like being forced down a road we do not want to travel, so rather than present this as a done deal here is the situation we face.

The strong and consensus view within the club is that we want to maintain an independent site. Other than attendance at matches, it is the main point of contact for fans. It is the principle way the club communicates and it acts as our shop window. And who in the high street would deliberately set out to have a shop window that looked like all the others?

We have never seen it and don’t see it now as just another piece of inventory to sell off to the highest bidder. It is a vital part of our identity.

On the other side of the equation is Football League Interactive, a subsidiary of the Football League, which operates about 80 websites, including the sites of all other FL clubs – barring Leeds United and recent arrivals in the League from either end.

There are good reasons for this dominance and they are financial. By bringing all those clubs together, FLi is able to make an attractive pitch to advertisers and share the revenue according to size of club. More significantly, from our point of view, the League controls the rights to live action – commentary and video – and licences it in such a way that it is very difficult to escape the financial logic of handing over your website.

Two years ago, in response to the demand from fans for commentary, the club entered into a deal with FLi that enables us to stream commentary (provided by us) and match highlights (provided by them). No other club has such an arrangement outside of an FLi website and to get them to agree to this we had to accept terms that are overwhelmingly in their favour. They get the vast majority of the revenue Charlton fans pay. The contract is up and they have made clear that the terms of an extension are non-negotiable.

If we give up the independence of our site we get a more equitable share of this revenue, plus a a cut of the advertising, plus a share of the syndication money the League gets from selling the internet video rights on, for example to the BBC, based on the number of Player subscribers we have. At the moment we get a flat rate of the syndication based on League One status, although our website traffic is healthy and hasn’t fallen since we were relegated from the PL.

We would no longer have to pay hosting or design costs, although they don’t offer a shop or tickets interface and these would remain under our control.

Against this, our site would look like the other FLi sites. Our staff would still maintain the club specific content, but we would have less control of how it looks, our messages would have less prominence and there are restrictions on the ways we can prioritise our own commercial activities, for example with splash pages. In addition, the contract ties us to this arrangement until 2017. This is also non-negotiable.

There is nobody at Charlton who want to wants to go down this route, but our research suggests it is worth a minimum of £50k extra a season to do so. Given that we are faced with making people redundant to save much less than this, we have build a credible alternative financial model if we are to avoid it. That is going to need the active support of fans to achieve. Hence this post and the question - do enough of you care sufficiently to help us fund the alternative?

We have plans in place to rebuild the existing site now in a much updated and improved form and continue to host it independently, but that is a cost. The only secure way of offsetting that and matching the income stream from FLi is through subscriptions, but it would make little sense in view of the values we attach to the site to put it behind a paywall. The subscriptions need to be attached to premium content. Again the League will take a significant (but much lower) share of the income just to allow us the rights to include this live action and we would have to obtain our own match footage and edit it.

We believe the main driver of subscriptions was match commentary rather than match pictures, not least because these are also available in limited form via the BBC site.

Are we correct about this? Again, you can tell us. The simplest option would be to offer a premium content service with no commentary or match action as the League cannot demand a cut of that, but even if we offer two packages and exclude premium content from one they are likely to demand a cut of both through the terms of their licence.

Whichever route we go we are likely to focus on adding more non-match video content in order to encourage subscriptions, but to take the independent route we probably need more like 2,000 subscribers than the existing 1,200. And to stay independent we might have to push the price up, probably to £4 or £5 a month. Bear in mind also that all payments include VAT and we will incur additional hosting and bandwidth costs if we run our own premium content service.

We do have some ideas around advertising and sponsorship, but experience suggests they should be discounted for the purposes of the current calculation.

In the end, the board will have to make a decision with finance in mind. They have consistently supported our resistance to the FLI route in the past and recognise the importance of preserving our identity, but cannot be expected to do so regardless of cost.

There will be people out there who are as passionate as those of us at the club are about this, but how many of you are there?

What we didn’t want to do is end up presenting a fait accompli without canvassing opinion. Unfortunately, and whatever we might like to be different, this is the financial reality of the club’s situation and we have to deal with it.
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Comments

  • Personally while I would much rather keep an independent site I don't subscribe to the pay for service now and wouldn't in the foreseable future.

    £5 pm wouldn't put me off but not personally interested in the commentary and can see the goals on BBC.

    I will say that the guys on the OS do a great job and it would be a real shame to have to go down the FLi route but financially it seems to be what we have to do.
  • CHGCHG
    edited June 2010
    [cite]Posted By: Henry Irving[/cite]Personally while I would much rather keep an independent site I don't subscribe to the pay for service now and wouldn't in the foreseable future.

    £5 pm wouldn't put me off but not personally interested in the commentary and can see the goals on BBC.

    I will say that the guys on the OS do a great job and it would be a real shame to have to go down the FLi route but financially it seems to be what we have to do.

    Agree, I will pay that amount just for the sake of keeping it independant. I do not listen to match commentry and not fussed about match highlights, as previously mentioned, they are on the BBC.
  • What Henry says.

    *faints*
  • I pay the monthly fee but only rarely listen to the away commentaries, a lot of our games are on the radio anyway. The match highlights are ok but are usually on the bbc website and I prefer the 'choice' videos which are free.
  • dont use it since discovering CL, but I might have to if I am banned for upsetting people
  • I hate the FL sites, but I don't subscribe to commentary etc,. I have been using the OS since before it was the OS and love the idea that it retains its own identity and emphasises Charlton's own uniqueness,but that said would I really miss it, probably not. If it meant one person keeping their job then it would be worth changing.

    I think if we can use the traffic that the site generates to create revenue and not necessarily related directly to Charlton but through affilate links and other advertising links then thats great but if we can't and it is a draw on the clubs resources thenit may well ahve to be another sacrifice we have to make, it would be a real shame though.
  • I don't subscribe at the moment. I doubt that I will in the future and definetly not while we are taking our live comentary from the BBC, who seem happy to use CAFC as a training ground for comentaters who have little ability and even less afinity with our club.

    I don't particularly care if the OS loses it's identity, in fact while people at the club like you continue to maintain links with the unofficial sites the OS can become as starchy and conformist as every other site as long as CAFC get the money.

    P.S. I would subscribe without hesitation if you could get Mark Mansfield to do the comentaries ( or maybe even someone who cared for CAFC).
  • [cite]Posted By: Henry Irving[/cite]Personally while I would much rather keep an independent site I don't subscribe to the pay for service now and wouldn't in the foreseable future.

    £5 pm wouldn't put me off but not personally interested in the commentary and can see the goals on BBC.

    I will say that the guys on the OS do a great job and it would be a real shame to have to go down the FLi route but financially it seems to be what we have to do.


    What Henry says. Only use the official site for ticket info etc, would never pay a monthly subscription as I go to most the games. I think reluctantly we have to go down the FLi route. Also, if we stay in the doldrums any subscribers to begin with, may not renew in future years :-(
  • Not sure if I read this right and if this option is available - but If it saved money I'd be happy for all the pay stuff to be hived off, maintaining a news, fixture, shop, season ticket site separatey from but with links to the FLI site
  • [cite]Posted By: Kap10[/cite]I think if we can use the traffic that the site generates to create revenue and not necessarily related directly to Charlton but through affilate links and other advertising links then thats great but if we can't and it is a draw on the clubs resources thenit may well ahve to be another sacrifice we have to make, it would be a real shame though.

    Would be interested in seeing the stats - sure the digital ad companies would be interested if there were enough visitors.
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  • No, the club could only maintain separate transaction-based sites. If we started putting editorial content on these FLi would come after us for diverting traffic away from the ads on the OS.

    Interesting feedback on which I would comment as follows - 1) " I don't use it now that there is Charlton Life" - our stats don't support that as being generally true, although we acknowledge the popularity and value of this site. In any case, this is a problem of itself if we want to earn income from the OS based on traffic as we need to ensure that it is the first port of call. Making the OS less attractive works against this.

    2) Commentary - the problem is cost. We have to provide commentary, we have been able to get it free from the BBC; we would look to drive up subscriptions through new online formats like the old Sunday radio show and regular video magazine programmes available as part of the subscription. We may have to get the commentary elsewhere anyway.

    3) "I prefer Choice's videos and they are free" - if filmed inside the ground they are in breach of FL rules and whatever our view on this the FL view will be to prevent them being provided on the current basis. They can easily do this. You therefore can't assume that they will continue indefinitely as a free offer.

    4) "People like you can communicate through sites likes this" - people like me may not be around until 2017 and even if they are it's very possible that new owners of the club would take a more traditional view of communication, especially if it is seen as a diversion from the OS. I see it as complementary and reflecting the relationship our club should have with fans, and the present hierarchy understands that, but there is an argument that we should never respond to anything on here for purely commercial reasons.
  • What would happen to Your Views?
  • Would the OS Twitter page stay?

    I tend to look at that and then go through to a link to the OS if it is of interest. No doubt that is one of its purposes.

    On "" I don't use it now that there is Charlton Life", that is much more likely to be a view on CL as obviously on CL users are going to read this discussion on CL. Views from those who only use the OS could well be different.
  • Razil, that'd be duplication of effort (and expense) and I doubt the board would go for it.
  • [cite]Posted By: LenGlover[/cite]What would happen to Your Views?

    I'd pay money to see that chopped but only if Admin promised not to let the nutters on here.
  • [cite]Posted By: SE10Addick[/cite]
    [cite]Posted By: Kap10[/cite]I think if we can use the traffic that the site generates to create revenue and not necessarily related directly to Charlton but through affilate links and other advertising links then thats great but if we can't and it is a draw on the clubs resources thenit may well ahve to be another sacrifice we have to make, it would be a real shame though.

    Would be interested in seeing the stats - sure the digital ad companies would be interested if there were enough visitors.

    Roughly speaking 150,000 unique visitors a month, half a million visits. We've discussed this many times with third parties, but the discussions never go anywhere.
  • [cite]Posted By: Henry Irving[/cite]Would the OS Twitter page stay?

    I tend to look at that and then go through to a link to the OS if it is of interest. No doubt that is one of its purposes.

    On "" I don't use it now that there is Charlton Life", that is much more likely to be a view on CL as obviously on CL users are going to read this discussion on CL. Views from those who only use the OS could well be different.

    There's an issue around Twitter too, but only during matches I think. Take the point about the CL audience having a skewed view. The intention is to consult via the official site too, but we felt we needed to do that with a firm proposal and we might get feedback on here first that would help us shape that.
  • ......"Against this, our site would look like the other FLi sites. Our staff would still maintain the club specific content, but we would have less control of how it looks, our messages would have less prominence and there are restrictions on the ways we can prioritise our own commercial activities, for example with splash pages. In addition, the contract ties us to this arrangement until 2017. This is also non-negotiable."......

    Is this a polite way of saying (some of) our website team would go because FLi would do it their way with their people?
  • Whilst I like the fact that our OS doesn't look like all the others and I would like it to stay that way, I have never paid for the premium service and cannot see me ever doing that unless my numbers come up.

    In fact, I really objected to the idea that I should pay for exclusive content, feeling that paying for a season ticket, away games and cup games was enough of my income spent on CAFC. It seemed "money-grabbing" and I felt offended by it. Obviously, I do not understand the financial constraints under which the club is operating.
  • [cite]Posted By: LenGlover[/cite]......"Against this, our site would look like the other FLi sites. Our staff would still maintain the club specific content, but we would have less control of how it looks, our messages would have less prominence and there are restrictions on the ways we can prioritise our own commercial activities, for example with splash pages. In addition, the contract ties us to this arrangement until 2017. This is also non-negotiable."......

    Is this a polite way of saying (some of) our website team would go because FLi would do it their way with their people?

    No. Staffing would be more secure with FLi, because of the guaranteed income. The problem is that FLI sites have to have common architecture in order to carry generic content and they use some of the slots to promote themselves and their advertisers. So for example we can only put up so many splash pages over a year as they take the rest to promote other things, albeit that earns us a revenue split of itself. And if, for example, we have a big story it is more difficult to give it prominence because their sites don't display news in the same way. You may find that the site wants to sell you a computer game rather than give extra prominence to, say, the club being sold.
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  • I, like many, have visited the site almost every day and often 3-4 times a day and it has been a part of my daily rituals for a decade now - get into work, turn on PC, check the OS and BBC gossip column before logging in to CL and then my workday begins.

    I'd like cafc.co.uk to remain independent and free to enter even if the content is massively reduced and Your Views and the strange deluded clique that use it could be the first to go.

    I'd be gutted to see the current simple and clear format change to the cluttered and overlycommercial FL shell and I probably wouldn't use it much if at all if the club went down that route. I completely understand the financial reasons for doing it yet to sign away until 2017 would be a big shame.

    It's hard to put a price on the OS as an individual user. I subscribed to Player and didnt really use it much because the quality was so poor and I recently cancelled it.

    Unless the new OS was completely revamped and modernised, more interactive, used higher quality audio and video feeds and had more exclusive content then I'd be happy to subscribe for it for £4-5 pm but it would have to offer much more than it currently does. Sunday night show sounds like a good idea.
  • I only subscribe for the away commentary. If the price was £5 a month and I got to hear the games I would cough up.

    Comments from CL members who support other clubs and so may have a view would be good to hear.......
  • [cite]Posted By: Airman Brown[/cite]
    [cite]Posted By: LenGlover[/cite]......"Against this, our site would look like the other FLi sites. Our staff would still maintain the club specific content, but we would have less control of how it looks, our messages would have less prominence and there are restrictions on the ways we can prioritise our own commercial activities, for example with splash pages. In addition, the contract ties us to this arrangement until 2017. This is also non-negotiable."......

    Is this a polite way of saying (some of) our website team would go because FLi would do it their way with their people?

    No. Staffing would be more secure with FLi, because of the guaranteed income. The problem is that FLI sites have to have common architecture in order to carry generic content and they use some of the slots to promote themselves and their advertisers. So for example we can only put up so many splash pages over a year as they take the rest to promote other things, albeit that earns us a revenue split of itself. And if, for example, we have a big story it is more difficult to give it prominence because their sites don't display news in the same way. You may find that the site wants to sell you a computer game rather than give extra prominence to, say, the club being sold.

    The club's being sold? Takeover!!! ;0)
  • I'm very interested in keeping the OS independent. I don't have much time right now to put my views down, but will later this evening. What kind of timeline are these decisions to be made?

    Thanks Airman for putting this out to the community.
  • [cite]Posted By: LoOkOuT[/cite]I'm very interested in keeping the OS independent. I don't have much time right now to put my views down, but will later this evening. What kind of timeline are these decisions to be made?

    Thanks Airman for putting this out to the community.

    We'd need to demonstrate the likelihood of a viable alternative model by the end of the month, I think.
    [cite]Posted By: Saga Lout[/cite]In fact, I really objected to the idea that I should pay for exclusive content, feeling that paying for a season ticket, away games and cup games was enough of my income spent on CAFC. It seemed "money-grabbing" and I felt offended by it. Obviously, I do not understand the financial constraints under which the club is operating.

    We are not allowed by the League to provide that content outside a subscription model.
  • Would a partnership with the Feesh bloke or similar be a way around it?

    They get advertising we keep our independence.
  • I used to use the OS all the time, but I have to confess that I rarely look at it these days.

    Due to the large number of alternatives, and the clubs insistance (quite rightly) to only announcing something when it's a done deal, the only thing the OS is really useful for now, in my view, is ticket information.

    If we are talking about £50k a year then I don't see how the club can keep the current sutructure, I don't see how an independent site can be worth that.

    Also, I'm with Saga Lout, if I'm going to all the home games, and a few away, I don't see how the club can justify asking me to pay more for exclusive content. What content can there be that a season ticket holder is not allowed to see? Let's not forget that we already pay £3 per game for exclusive content in the program - much of which is available elsewhere for free.

    I think it might be time for us to accept that we are a third division club with, let's face it, little chance of getting promoted, and we should start behaving like one, and have the same web site as all the other clubs.
  • I think we should keep the site as it is, I personally don't see where the improvements need to be made, it doesn't look like it needs updating either for the sake of it. IMO it's a £50k a year loss but for the stats, maybe that is a justification. If the site was made premium or converted to an FLi site then I expect that amount of traffic would drop significantly.

    Wouldn't we have to pay for one of these FLi sites anyway? I'd rather the club ran their own site and got all of the money, if we do have to go down a part-subscription route. Also I wonder if pricing it at £1 a month, but for all content other than ticket information, would significantly increase the numbers that would pay to use the OS.
  • In a nutshell: I subscribe to Charlton TV solely for the commentary. Maintaining an independent OS is good, but I could understand if it was replaced for financial reasons. Getting rid of 'your views' would be a silver lining!
  • with all the will on here to save money for the club, and potentially resources available from the techies on here, as someone mentioned this could be sponsorship/speculative - perhaps if there were those that could spare some such resources, who could help provide the infrastructure that FLI provides at similar cost. Potentially then could make money if not simply match the price reduction, although I a bit confused whether we have to pay them at all for content. Also dependent on finding such resources, sadly I'm not in a position to help currently
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Roland Out!