SBS will broadcast all World Cup games until the end of next week as Optus refunds customers over its streaming debacle

Robert Cianflone/Getty ImagesHow it feels…
  • SBS will now broadcast all group round matches.
  • Optus will offer refunds to anyone who signed up for a $15 subscription to watch the World Cup.
  • The telco is also making Optus Sport free until August 31.

SBS will broadcast World Cup matches on free-to-air TV until the end of the group stage on June 29, and Optus will offer refunds to people who paid $15 to subscribe to its exclusive service as the fallout from the telco’s disastrous foray into exclusive broadcasting right continues.

Problems with streaming the opening games on the weekend on smartphones or tablets that led to crashes, connection problems and other issues produced a barrage of complaints from people who’d paid $15 to watch the games. Even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull intervened on the issue, contacting Optus CEO Allen Lew, who apologised and gave SBS simulcast games for 48 hours from Monday.

Today Lew said he “deeply regretted” what had happened and “as a gesture of goodwill for Australian fans” was also offering the games on SBS.

“Over the last 48 hours, we have introduced a range of measures to address the technical issues experienced by some Optus Sport viewers,” he said.

“Since Monday, Optus has delivered the last six matches without issue. This has provided the confidence we needed to reassure the Australian public that we have addressed these issues and that our efforts have worked.”

The telco is making Optus Sport free until August 31.

Optus initially said the demand volume “was much greater than we had anticipated” and while Lew said today that he was confident the telco had fixed the initial problems, the company appears to be offering a major mea culpa in giving away the rest of the group matches for free and refunding customers.

SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid said his organisation “looks forward to continuing to simulcast the games, together with Optus over the next 10 days.”

“The FIFA World Cup is the absolute pinnacle of football, a sport that Australians are deeply passionate about,” he said.

SBS had the rights to screen all Australian matches – the Socceroos play Denmark tomorrow night – plus some group clashes as well as the finals on free-to-air TV and then screen an extra four games over the last 48 hours as part of a back-up plan.

While it had broadcast the entire World Cup in the past, SBS decided it couldn’t afford the whole tournament and sub-licenced the exclusive rights to Optus, which earlier this year renewed its deal for the exclusive Australian rights to the English Premier League (EPL) until 2022.

The issue has turned into a major political fight in Canberra, with Labor attempting to blame funding cuts by the Turnbull government for SBS not taking on the whole tournament, a claim rejected by the Coalition, which pointed to a deal in which SBS is will broadcast some EPL games in return.

While the consumer watchdog the ACCC was believed to be investigating what happened, the offer by Optus to refund its customers will go some way to mitigating the backlash the telco has experienced this week, but will cost it dearly.

Any customer who purchased or does purchase an Optus Sport subscription for the World Cup will be provided a refund.

Lew said thousands of customers continue to sign up to Optus Sport.

“We are confident in our capabilities and are ready to back our product. We want Australians to be able to experience the content we have on offer,” he said.

“I have conviction in our content strategy and Optus will not waiver from our pursuit of this strategy.”

Lew said the company will focus in the short-term on restoring trust with customers it disappointed.

“We appreciate customers have given us another go and invite those to tune in for tonight’s games,” he said.

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