The Test produced by Amazon Prime was heralded as a huge success by audiences and critics for its fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Australian cricket team. The production was handed an all-access pass to film the trials and tribulations of the outfit over a calendar year, which included the 2019 World Cup and Ashes series in England.
New coach Justin Langer was an open book on his thoughts and feelings regarding his side, albeit there were few guarded moments. It was an important exercise for Australian cricket to repair the image of the team and the nation following the ball- tampering scandal of 2018. Langer was a breath of fresh air in his approach, ensuring that his team played within the rules but maintained the classic Aussie aggressive approach.
There were elements that were perhaps airbrushed over – especially regarding the return of Steve Smith and David Warner from their respective suspensions. Both players had their reputations tarnished by the scandal, and although attempts were made to humanise the duo, the attention would have perhaps been more useful elsewhere.
Once again Amazon did a fine job of producing the series as they proved in their previous outings with the All Blacks, along with Manchester City, Tottenham and Leeds United. It raises the question of whether they could produce further documentaries, or perhaps even become a permanent broadcast partner to the game for the Ashes or major tournaments.
Could Amazon Branch Out?
The company has already made significant strides to become part of the Premier League’s broadcasting package. Amazon paid £90m for a slither of the 380 fixtures per season, gaining only 20 in total, although they secured premium timeslots during the festive period. Depending on their viewing figures, they could be tempted to take on Sky Sports and BT Sport for a larger slice of the pie, but it will be difficult to wrestle away further games without a monumental investment.
Amazon have shown their capabilities to control a section of a sports market after penning a deal to broadcast tennis. They signed a five-year deal worth £40m to broadcast the US Open from 2018 for UK and Irish viewers, while they built upon that success by adding 37 ATP Tour events to their service. Amazon must have been encouraged by the audience engagement to continue to invest in the sport.
There could be a gap in the market in cricket, notably for Cricket Australia, who are involved in a dispute with their broadcasters. Channel Seven are reportedly on the verge of backing out of their agreed contract. They had signed a seven-year deal worth up to £248m, but have misgivings over receiving value for money. With the Ashes on the horizon and the popularity of The Test behind them, Amazon could have the opportunity to swoop in.
They already have a good relationship with Cricket Australia – its whether they are willing to commit the resources to acquire the package. There are strong audiences for cricket in Australia, especially if they are able to include a deal for the Big Bash along with international fixtures. An average of 2.2 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2017 Ashes Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Those are the sort of figures Amazon would relish as a starting point and have the ability to enhance.
Will Further Documentaries Entice Others?
Australia is one of the biggest cricket markets in the world, but they still lag behind England and India in terms of the power of their television deals. The BCCI earned £1.98 billion for the Indian Premier League from Star Sports from 2018 to 2022, while Sky Sports and the BBC paid out roughly £1.1b for coverage of the national and domestic games in England on a five-year deal. Both the BCCI and the ECB were extremely well-compensated, and it will no doubt fund their programmes for a long time.
However, they are also extremely ambitious. The two organisations will have watched The Test and will have noted the positive reception it received from fans worldwide. It remains to be seen whether England or India will be next in the queue to attempt to feature. England’s tour of Australia would be a fascinating spectacle for such a documentary. The Three Lions have struggled immensely on their travels down under in their last two trips, but their recent form suggests it could be a closer series next time around.
Joe Root’s men are backed at 11/4 with Betway as of 7th October for the series; therefore, there is good value to be had on England a year before the battle for the urn begins. The Test highlighted those battles on the park – none more so than the ferocious spell of bowling from Jofra Archer against Smith. It resulted in outstanding theatre at the time and even more so to see Smith’s team-mates in the dressing room concerned over his wellbeing after the fact.
The emotion in the dressing room was a selling point of the documentary. Langer’s reaction after Ben Stokes engineered the impossible to guide England to victory at Headingley was priceless television – kicking over a bin and then replacing the contents that had spilled on to the floor. The documentary certainly made household names out of cricketers, and the ECB could be keen to follow suit to get their next generation of talent in the public eye.
It will be extremely interesting to see if one of the other big guns of international cricket follows the Australian example, which could be a stepping stone to greater things for the publicity of the game.