Cahair O'Kane: We're not ready for GAAGO, and it isn't ready for us

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

GAAGO has come under fire, and that will increase after they announced exclusive rights to Kerry v Mayo and Galway v Tyrone.
GAAGO has come under fire, and that will increase after they announced exclusive rights to Kerry v Mayo and Galway v Tyrone. GAAGO has come under fire, and that will increase after they announced exclusive rights to Kerry v Mayo and Galway v Tyrone.

IT would have been very easy for RTE to throw a sheet over the mirror rather than allow Donal Óg Cusack and Jackie Tyrrell to peer into it on Sunday night. 

Given that the Cork-Tipperary game in particular turned out to be a classic that hadn’t been widely available to television viewers, they could have taken more time to dissect the nuts and bolts of it. 

Instead they gave their pundits a platform for some introspection. 

You don’t see that very often, anywhere. Usually the last person to blame for anything is the one in the mirror.   

When GAAGO was an ugly duckling, it seemed there was a beautiful swan within. 

In times of Covid, it provided outstanding service. Virtually the whole National League, across all four divisions, was available to either stream live or watch back on demand. 

The big championship games were still carved up for TV between RTÉ and Sky but the vast majority were available for online customers to watch back at any time. 

For the eight years that it existed, there was vocal opposition to the Sky deal. 

Some were no less vehemently against it at the end than they had been in the beginning. 

BBC making a play for greater access harmed Sky’s position. 

There was nowhere left for Sky to go. They got thrown whatever was on a Saturday evening, a couple of decent qualifiers, their share of All-Ireland quarter-finals and a whole lot fewer subscriptions than they would have wanted because of the rise of dodgy boxes. 

£50-odd a month or £100 a year (allegedly)? Legal shmegal. 

Paywalls are proven to be damaging to the visibility of sport, and if left long enough, the sport itself. 

Cricket, rugby, Premier League, Champions League, you name it, they’ve all taken the envelope and said to hell with the eyeballs. 

Where they differ is that none of them have given the kind of precedence to a streaming service that the GAA have to GAAGO. 

Amazon Prime has less than 10 per cent of live Premier League games shown this season. 

Prime get 20. BT Sport have 53 and Sky show over 140. 

It is pretty much an experiment. See how it runs a few Wednesday nights a year. 

How fast the pictures can be transmitted through the internet compared to a standard television signal is the big issue in the world of instantaneous information. 

If the goal is 10 seconds late on your screen, chances are you’ll already know from your simultaneous scrolling that it's been scored. 

GAAGO will show a total of 38 exclusive championship games from 2023 until 2018. 

RTÉ television will show 31 plus the Joe McDonagh cup final, both Tailteann cup semi-finals and final. 

That means GAAGO is showing 52 per cent of what is being shown live for the next five years. 

The subscription element of GAAGO is one thing. 

Paywalls are not good for the GAA and they’re not good for supporters. 

But when I purchased the Early Bird deal away back when it was announced, it cost €59 for the year. That’s less than €2 a game, compared to the €13 people are now paying to buy access to individual games. 

As subscriptions go, it wasn’t wholly unreasonable. I'm still against the idea but it doesn't feel like a fleecing either. 

The bigger problem here is that nobody is quite ready for streaming to take over. 

Ireland as a country isn’t ready for it. While 96 per cent of homes have access to fixed broadband, in the border (77 per cent) and midland (79 per cent) regions that figure drops way down. 

There are plans to develop and improve it, but we’re not there yet. The cables, like everything else, get rolled out from Dublin and can take a long time to reach Sligo or Donegal. 

The platform itself can be clunky. I’m as tech savvy as any other 34-year-old, but just for a trial on Sunday night, I tried to cast a replay of Antrim-Kilkenny to my TV. There was no cast button in sight. 

Football and especially hurling are not games to be consumed whole on a mobile phone. 

Aside from the visibility, there's also the communal aspect of people in a room being able to watch it together on a TV screen. 

Even if it had worked, in terms of live games, casting is not available on all TV sets and isn't all that handy to do is some cases. It usually comes with a further built-in time delay in transmitting the picture from phone to TV. 

The coverage from the games they’ve done coverage from has seemed good, with Paddy Andrews, Marc Ó Sé and Michael Murphy a fairly strong team for Derry-Monaghan, to lend an example. 

Mike Finnerty and Dave McIntyre are excellent commentators, as Grainne McElwain is a host. 

But they’ve also had games with no build-up or pitchside analysis. 

And that’s grand when it’s an alternative. When it’s the place you go to for the games that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to see on your terrestrial TV station. 

It’s not grand for a broadcaster with exclusivity on more than half of the games every summer. 

On Saturday 20 May, GAAGO will show Kerry v Mayo and then Galway v Tyrone. 

Those are not only the two big ties of that weekend, but probably the two biggest ties of the entire round robin series. 

Hurling has been here for a few weeks already.  

The blowback ought be loud. 

Like most things, this kind of slipped beneath the radar. It was as if Sky are gone, Hallelujah, who cares what happens now. 

The Sky deal was many things but one thing you couldn’t accuse them of was a bad package. Even the biggest begrudger would admit they did analysis well. 

You either had Sky or you didn’t. If you had it, you had it on your TV. 

A streaming platform, by its nature, will run a number of seconds behind. In a fast-paced, high-scoring sport like hurling, seconds can be a long time. 

An email from GAAGO to customers last week conceded that there were some “teething issues” on their opening weekend. 

More worryingly, it told recipients that they were having issues with payment through Android phones and that they should purchase via “the website instead”. 

Given that around 52 per cent of phone users in Ireland use Android, it’s the kind of glitch that tells you this thing isn't at the level it needs to be at to occupy the position it now holds. 

GAAGO will be a great service in time. It was brilliant during Covid, and as an alternative option for secondary games that might not have squeezed their way into the TV schedule, it would have been invaluable. 

But it's a massive error on the GAA's part to have made it a primary broadcaster and to have given it so many games of such significance at this point in its existence. 

In his annual report, Tom Ryan said that the big advantage was that GAAGO “will give us complete flexibility and control over match selection, scheduling and how we promote our games”. 

The other big advantage might be some flexibility in the contracts. It’s not a multi-billion pound foreign entity they’ve signed up with. It’s part-owned by the GAA and RTÉ. 

You would think in the circumstances, where it’s the same vested parties from both sides of it, there has to be some wiggle-room. 

Streaming is the future. Eventually it will all go that way. 

But it's not the present, least of all for the GAA. 

This is a move for years down the line, once the technology is tightened up and readily available to virtually everyone in the country, and when bigger sporting organisations have shown how to lead their broadcast package with it. 

GAAGO isn't ready for us, and we’re not ready for it.