THE AFL could be the first major Australian sporting body to sell footage of matches directly to fans via high-speed broadband after its chief executive hinted that talks between the sport and the NBN had already begun.
A new distribution system that uses multicasting technology will begin next month on the national broadband network, according to NBN Co's head of product development and industry relations, Jim Hassell.
The new television-like service will pave the way for new entrants to rival pay TV, free to air and video-on-demand services such as ABC's iView.
On Friday, Andrew Demetriou told The Age that his chief operating officer, Gill McLachlan, ''may'' have already held discussions about the new multicasting technology with officials from NBN Co.
A spokesman for the AFL did not deny it had spoken to NBN Co, but refused to discuss the matter. However, the football code has already shown its interest in the NBN's capacity to fundamentally reconfigure the economics of sport and traditional media.
In 2011 Demetriou told academic website The Conversation the AFL ''may decide with the advent of the NBN to sell direct to the consumer. We might control our content more … and not deal with as many third parties.''
Last year, the AFL set up its own media unit, which now has 105 staff, including 22 journalists, that distribute print and digital content directly to fans.
It is in the first year of a $1.2 billion, four-year exclusive rights deal. The Seven network is paying about $475 million for free-to-air television rights, Foxtel about $625 million for pay TV rights and Telstra an estimated $153 million for fixed and mobile internet rights.
A spokesman for the National Rugby League, which is finalising a new rights deal, said it had not met NBN Co to discuss multicasting at this stage.
The director of policy and corporate affairs at Foxtel, Bruce Meagher, said he expected major sports groups to keep selling broadcast rights.
''Why would someone who is a sports body suddenly want to turn themselves into a media company? You would have to seriously question whether it is a smart move,'' Mr Meagher said.
''That has been speculated on a lot. Nobody has actually done it yet anywhere in the world. There would be a very, very difficult transition to get over in order to achieve that … We will absolutely look to exclusive [sport] deals where we can and that is an area where we can use our size and creative abilities to create distinctive products.''
However, multicasting could sprout new niche markets for sports and cultural events that are not screened today. The Australian Ballet confirmed last week it was looking at opportunities to sell digital subscriptions for high-definition streams of live performances.
Multicasting uses less capacity than video on demand.