World Cup 2014 Will Be the Biggest OTT Event Yet

-All Matches Will Be Live Streamed
-When Will OTT Services Acquire Exclusive Sports Rights?

FIFA’s World Cup, which begins next week, will be the most live-streamed event in the history of the Internet.

Sports fans are increasingly turning to their connected devices to catch live streams. The trend of digital sports coverage began in earnest during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, dubbed the world’s first digital Olympics, and have only progressed in both scope and viewers reached.

Sports programming is now an online phenomenon. Fans turn to the Internet for updates, coverage and game highlights more so now than ever before.

The World Cup plays a unique role in this evolution as it is poised to take advantage of a culmination of widespread device penetration, a new focus on multi-screen coverage that simply didn’t exist four years ago, and a suite of broadcasters that are eager to offer content online – not to mention new consumer behaviors around consuming content that have emerged since the last FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Live Streaming Stats 
The World Cup will see record-breaking numbers of viewers live streaming the matches all around the world, and it’s no exaggeration that millions of viewers will experience the World Cup via digital media.

-85% of soccer fans in the UK will be watching at least some of the matches online, according to research released by Exterion Media. It estimates half of viewers will watch some of the coverage on their mobile phones, and 40% will use tablets. In the survey it conducted, 38% of respondents said they plan to check scores on the TV, while 67% said they plan to keep up with scores on the Internet. “For the first time, internet and mobile are going to play key roles in how we digest news and follow coverage of the World Cup,” the company said.

Peer1 Hosting estimates 13 million Britons will watch the matches online this year. A quarter of British viewers will be using social media to talk about the games, and a third of World Cup Fans will be purchasing merchandise online. Its advice to online businesses: “It’s vital to ensure that your infrastructure can handle the increase in traffic.”

-Over 54% of respondents to a survey conducted by YuMe in the US said they plan to watch the tournament online. Forty-six percent of respondents agreed that being able to watch the tournament on multiple (Internet-connected) devices is important to them. A third of respondents said they plan to stream matches on their computers, 22% plan to watch the games on their tablets, 13% plan to stream the games to connected TVs and 11% will watch matches on smartphones.

-The live streaming trend is similar in other countries around the world. For example, 48% of respondents to a survey in Singapore – where the FIFA matches will occur early in the morning – said they plan to live stream the games.

The 2010 World Cup was at the time the largest Internet sports event ever held. By today’s standards those online audiences were very small. The tournament clocked in 26 million hours of viewing online in the US, according to research by GigaOm.

Akamai delivered 1.5Tbps over its networks, and measured 1.6 million concurrent viewers on its networks at peak times. Akamai was serving traffic for 24 broadcasters worldwide!

ESPN counted 7.4 million unique viewers during the tournament. Its World Cup app was downloaded 2.5 million times – a paltry number compared to today’s figures.

The world has changed quite a bit since the last World Cup. Case in point: FIFA launched a few months ago its first second screen app. The app was released ahead of the 2014 World Cup but seems overdue, as so much in terms of sports and second screen apps has changed since the last World Cup in 2010. The app will span over 200 national leagues and competitions, and will include live coverage, news, rankings, photos, clips and, of course, social media integration.

Imagine how many more smartphones and tablets around the world there are today, compared to 2010. Here’s an idea of that growth: BGR estimates around 17 million tablets were sold in 2010 globally; in 2013, that number was closer to 195 million. Not surprisingly, FIFA expects the app to become the most downloaded sports app of all time.

Digital Coverage Reaches Fever Pitch
The trend in sports programming, which has become more pronounced this year, is that more sports is available online each year, and more viewers access it online each year. That is especially true for matches and tournaments such as the World Cup that have global appeal and whose TV scheduling is subject to time zone constraints.

The scope of digital coverage of the tournament surpasses that seen in 2012 at the London Olympics, or even earlier this year at the Sochi Olympics. Here’s a look at the broad scope of live streaming slated for this year’s global tent pole:

-ESPN will offer every single match of the FIFA World Cup tournament online for live streaming. ESPN has called its planned coverage of the World Cup “its most ambitious multiplatform coverage to date.”

All 64 matches will be live streamed on the WATCH ESPN apps on smartphones, tablets and PCs, available only to pay TV subscribers. “There’s no greater opportunity to connect fans globally across ESPN digital media than now,” said John Kosner, EVP of digital and print media at ESPN.

The ESPN3 Surround platform, which offers fans a live streaming feed of matches with different camera angles, which is meant to serve as a companion service to the traditional broadcast of a game.

Univision will live stream the World Cup tournament’s first 56 matches in full on its TV Everywhere platform to all viewers. The most exciting last eight matches of the tournament will be available only to authenticated pay TV providers. Univision debuted its sports app earlier this year, in time for the LigaMX matches. It said it will offer the service free to all users before requiring viewers to authenticate their pay TV subscriptions because Univision doesn’t want to scare off viewers with the cumbersome authentication process.

BBC is offering what it called “the first 24/7 World Cup,” and will offer audiences “enhanced live coverage, every single goal, expert analysis, breaking news, exclusive online content and interactive features – all available across any device, at any time.” The entirety of the tournament will be available to live stream across the BBC Sport apps and on the Website.

ITV will be offering 34 games throughout the tournament for live streaming, as well as highlights, statistics and analysis for all 64 games.

-French broadcaster BeIn Sports has launched a special OTT service for World Cup coverage. The subscription service, called BeIn Sports Connect, will offer 350 hours of programming in addition to all 64 matches, and will cost €12 ($16) per month.

Sony Entertainment has also created an online destination for the FIFA matches, called LIV Sports. The service is targeted at Indian viewers, with the help of Multi Screen Media. “The idea was to create a premier digital sports entertainment destination where we will offer quality content which is mass inclusive and not designed to cater only to ardent sports fans,” MSM’s CEO NP Singh, said. “We have attempted to redefine the way sporting content is presented and consumed.”

The service, which claims to be “India’s official mobile and Internet broadcaster for the World Cup,” will offer live streaming of matches, coverage, analysis and stats of the World Cup. Sony will expand the service to include sports programming from NBA, UFC, and tennis and cricket matches in the coming months.

OTT Services Eye Sports Rights 
It is only a matter of time before OTT services and online operators begin aggressively pursuing sports programming rights around the world.

In fact, this process has already begun. For the first time ever, an OTT service almost became the primary rights holder for the tournament in the UK. Broadband provider BT was allowed to bid on the World Cup rights for its online sports video service, BT Sport, though the company chose not to pursue the option. Instead, the OTT service, will offer a dozen “friendly” matches of the tournament to its subscribers, along with a handful of related programming.

To be clear, if it had acquired those rights, it would have been required to provide some of the content to TV sets via digital terrestrial broadcasts. But the larger point here is that, for the first time, World Cup rights could have gone to an operator that primarily delivers its video services over broadband. BT Sport has acquired a number of high profile sports rights over the past year, such as the Champions League and Europa League, which it delivers to subscribers online. BSkyB also offers an OTT sports service, called Sky Sport, that live streams sports matches to viewers for a monthly or daily subscription fee…

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