It was a long time coming, but BSkyB finally announced a launch date for its online, pay-as-you-go TV service. It will be available in the UK from tomorrow, July 17.

As we noted earlier today, Now TV poses a huge threat to the likes of LoveFilm and Netflix, with its fairly extensive collection of movies available either on a per-play basis starting at £0.99, or through an affordable-but-not-cheap £15 unlimited monthly pass. Sky’s venture into the subscription-free on-demand movies space is a no-brainer really, given that competition is really starting to heat up here.

But it’s worth focusing on the other big elephant in the room. Sky Sports is arriving on Now TV later this year, which means that the lucrative English Premier League and Champions’ League will be opened up to anyone with an Internet connection. No contracts, no long term commitment…nothing.

In addition to the football, this means you’ll also be able to tap England Test cricket, Heineken Cup rugby, ATP tennis and the golf Masters from Augusta. This is a massive move for BSkyB and could ultimately transform the way we consume sport in the UK.

While it was already known that Now TV would include the English Premier League, there hasn’t been too much of a song-and-dance made about it thus far. But in Sky’s launch announcement today, reading it again in black-and-white really hit home the impact this service could have on TV sport consumption in the UK.

The casual fan

Football is the most watched sport in many parts of the world, and the UK is no different. But there are varying levels of fandom – from the dyed-in-the-wool season ticket holders, all the way down to the glory-hunting cup final attendees.

BSkyB has been beaming live football to TVs around the UK since the inception of the English Premier League in the early nineties. Over the past two decades, a new kind of football culture has been born, with many fans priced out of attending live matches and forced instead to catch their footballing fix in the local pub.

Given that we do love a small tipple here in the UK, there will always be a demand for pubs to fork out for the pricier ‘public’ Sky Sports licence. People do enjoy watching their favorite team in a lively atmosphere, after all.

But for casual fans who just want to watch a game of football without having to head to the pub, Now TV offers a perfect alternative.

While the actual pricing of Sky Sports on Now TV has yet to be revealed, I would imagine a standard English Premier League match would maybe cost somewhere in the region of £10. Even if this is a little short of the mark, it will still work out less expensive when you factor in what you end up spending in the pub. And if fans club together to pay for a match at home, well, it could work out very cheap.

Longer term, when more people have connected TVs, set-top boxes or simply an HDMI cable to hook their laptop to their TV, this could really transform the sports TV landscape in the UK. It may be too early to say that this will threaten the existence of the football/pub culture across the country, but I’m sure landlords will be watching this development with interest.

The committed fan

Watching football in the pub isn’t just for casual fans of course – plenty of people either can’t afford it, or won’t commit to a home Sky subscription. But the thing is, plenty of people do.

Sky Sports is such a lucrative product for BSkyB. I’d hazard a guess and say that a large proportion of Sky subscribers are in it purely for sports. I’d even go as far to extend that to football only. Can you imagine if BSkyB ever lost the rights for the English Premier League? It would lose a large chunk of its subscribers over night (or, as soon as their contracts expired).

With work commitments, families and life generally getting in the way, I also reckon a lot of people only watch a fraction of the footballing schedule available to them at home. With Now TV, this is a massive carrot on a stick for fans to not renew their contract, and simply pay for games that they do have the time to watch.

Granted, over the course of a season, you will almost certainly save money with a Sky Sports subscription if you watch every game. But if you only manage to watch one or two games a week due to other commitments, you will likely be better off just paying per match.

The future of football

It’s thought that there are currently 13m people in the UK without a subscription TV service, so BSkyB is targeting a large market here. However, I can’t help but think it will also lose a large swathe of its current subscribers when Sky Sports eventually lands on Now TV. All those fans who, season-after-season, decide to keep their subscription just for those handful of big sporting events throughout the year, will likely jump ship.

Now TV really could transform how we consume football in the UK. I’d also imagine that sales of YouView, Roku, Xbox, PS3, iPads and all the rest will jump sharply as a result of this new service.

All this leaves me with one lingering question though. The movies-on-demand services makes perfect sense for BSkyB, but I don’t really see that it needed to offer a pay-per-view service for football. Yes, the demand for it is certainly there, but from its own perspective, the money it makes from pubs and private subscriptions must be phenomenal compared to what it could lose from opening its walled football garden.

That said, there is a sizable market for picking and choosing which games you watch, so any losses it does incur could well be recouped – and more – through Now TV.

However it pans out for Sky, the ability to pick and choose which football matches you watch will be welcomed by fans across the country. Of course, the value of the service will all depend on how much Sky decides to charge for individual matches, but it could change the way we consume sport forever.