Two seasons ago, when Aston Villa first dropped into the Championship, options for following the club were somewhat thin. If you lived in the area, you could of course follow matches, but for international supporters, that’s not an option — instead, we got to choose between trying to find some bloke’s Periscope stream from the stands or listening to the AVTV audio-only broadcast, trying to really decipher how Villa played from only the commentator’s words.
When the EFL allowed clubs to offer non-televised matches to international supporters last season, it was a nice step forward, as pretty much all of Villa’s 46 Championship matches would be available for us to watch, and truly, when it works, AVTV is a lovely service to have, as long as you’re willing to forget about how much it costs.
But throughout its time with live video streaming, AVTV has had issues come and go — and over this season’s two matches, there have been plenty of problems that have rendered the feed unwatchable.
Last weekend against Wigan Athletic, international supporters lost the broadcast for around 10 minutes — instead of seeing the on-pitch action, viewers were treated to the classic color bars. Luckily, Steve Bruce’s tactics obliged and nothing big seemed to happen during this time, but supporters were denied the opportunity to watch the product they’d paid for. This issue was nothing new for AVTV, either — there have been plenty of matches over the last 12 months where the video hasn’t been available at the start of the match.
Some supporters noticed audio sync issues against Wigan, too, which is also nothing new for the platform — but those were magnified this Saturday against Ipswich Town, where AVTV’s audio issues made the match unwatchable. The audio stream was 5-10 seconds ahead of the video the entire match, which is the worst problem to have. Have a look at this clip of Jonathan Kodjia’s goal, where the result is spoiled well before you actually see the ball hit the back of the net:
The result was that you either had to watch the match on mute or you were effectively treating the stream like an audio stream when you paid a premium to get a video stream instead.
To be fair to the club, they’ve said repeatedly in replies to users (from @AVFCSupport) that the issue Saturday is something that needs worked out with the EFL — Villa aren’t controlling the broadcast for away matches — but that (a) doesn’t excuse that users aren’t getting what they paid for and (b) doesn’t explain why last weekend’s issues occurred.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be as big of a problem if AVTV wasn’t so damn expensive, particularly in comparison to other streaming options. For international supporters who don’t have access to the “International Plus” plan (which is most of us), AVTV costs £110 for the season or £13 per month — $140 for the whole campaign once you apply the exchange rate (which doesn’t include the foreign transaction fees we get hit with by our credit card companies). That’s an absurd price, particularly when you consider that only around 25 of Villa’s league matches are likely to be available on AVTV, meaning that users will expect to pay more than $5 per match.
Compare it to ESPN+, the platform on which U.S.-based fans can watch televised EFL fixtures, where Villa will be found the other 20 or so times this season. That service costs $5 a month, which is $50 over the course of the year, already making it a much better deal per match than AVTV (~$2.50 per Villa match). But ESPN+ has multiple other advantages that make AVTV look like even more of a rip-off — (a) it has a slew of other sports programming, from other Championship matches to Serie A on the football side to American college sports, NHL and MLB programming, and (b) it actually works.
It’s not just ESPN+ where AVTV loses out, though, as the platform lags so far behind other sports offerings in per-contest value. NBA League Pass, which gives you access to the vast majority of the league’s 1,230 games, costs $200 — only $60 more than Villa’s offering, but providing access to more than 1,000 extra contests. NHL Gamecenter Live gives users around the same number of contests as League Pass, but costs $169, only $29 more than Villa’s season-long offering. And AVTV looks particularly foolish to us American supporters in comparison to Major League Baseball’s MLB.tv offering, which for $116 ($24 less than AVTV) gives users access to nearly all of the 2,430 major league games. Eleven Sports are new on the scene and can offer multiple leagues and multiple games for a small cost (£5.99 per month). The NFL Gamepass, when it works, offers almost all NFL games, with a massive injection of documentaries and pre-match content for what amounts to the near-enough the same price as AVTV.
And, again, all of these platforms actually work — not to mention, they typically provide multiple camera angles and color commentary, too.
Now, to be fair, Villa’s season-long package follows the same pricing structure of the EFL’s iFollow platform, but that doesn’t mean international supporters aren’t being ripped off. The price is already exorbitant to begin with, and becomes more problematic when it doesn’t actually work. Until AVTV can iron out their issues, and provide international Villa fans with the content they’ve paid an arm and a leg for, the club need to make things right by supporters and refund them an appropriate share of the cost they’ve paid so far.