One of the things I find myself wondering every time the Edinburgh Fringe Festival comes round is; if an event of that size and stature is on the "fringe" of something, what the hell is the main event?
Edinburgh International Festival has been running since 1947 as a world class cultural event aimed at bringing together audiences and artists from around the world. Yet from the very beginning it has been a victim of freebie imitations. Each year as the festival prepares to line up a host of renowned acts from across the World hordes of people eschew Usher Hall and the International Conference Centre to see performing street artists, buskers and pub events on the fringe of the primary shows. In all, there were 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues at the Edinburgh Fringe last year making it the largest ever arts festival in the world. At that rate, who cares about the main event?
Sky Sports is currently facing a similar dilemma. It is one of the biggest providers of free sports media in the market with an industry-leading website and app that airs free-to-view sports footage, social channels and, up until recently, an unrivalled news centre offering 24 hours news and expert analysis on game days. But as sports fans rush to their free services demand for their 'paid-for' product is waning. BskyB shelled out a record amount for Premier League rights this year but figures for early season viewing recently revealed that ratings for live Premier League matches on Sky Sports are down by a fifth.
This could be down to a number of short-term blips and long-term trends, but it is clear that Sky Sports are realising the perils of parting in the lobby. At a recent conference, Simon Ormiston, who has worked on Sky Sports News for more than 15 years, explained that their content offering is like a big party, with the auxiliary elements such as news services, social feeds and apps like a glamorous gate there to lure in the "golden goose" that is live TV subscriptions. Once you're in, you're a member and have access to the biggest fixtures and the biggest names in sport.
But here's the rub. What if the welcome party has just became the 'thing'? Research shows most people's viewing habits are now more about on-demand, bite-size content than strict live programming or the rigmarole of a TV schedule. People are happy with highlights, which they can get for free, or live updates, which are also readily available.
The big issue for Sky, as the panel pointed out at the conference, is how to run these elements without canabalising their paid TV offering, and it's an issue the media industry is having in general. There has never been such an insatiable demand for media but such a reluctance to pay for it. If you are (still) reading this, you are reading it for free. If you logged onto the Daily Mail, Mirror, The Sun or The Guardian today you did it for free, and if you engaged with any sort of media content on social channels you also did it for free, yet put a paywall up and people will simply go elsewhere.
Across the board the media has organised a big party at the gates. Trouble is, nobody is coming in.