With the World Cup ready to begin on Friday, fans around the world are hoping their nation is good enough to make it out of group play and into the knockout stage. (Note to FIFA: thanks for putting the US in the same group as the Czech Republic and Italy.) In the past, the only way to watch the cornucopia of football was to plop down in front of the TV in your house or at the local pub—unless you scored tickets to a match. This time around, viewing options abound.
The BBC has announced plans to stream coverage of all matches broadcast on the network to residents of the UK. They are not the only ones making matches available to football fans with broadband. In Canada, Rogers will stream selected matches while in the US, ESPN will offer some of the contests online via its ESPN360 service. There will no doubt be an uptick in traffic due to the matches being streamed (along with the inevitable P2P traffic of capped games), but is it something to be alarmed about?
Not hardly. In the US, interest in the World Cup (and soccer in general) is a mere shadow of what it is in other parts of the world. Ditto Canada. Even in European nations with the infrastructure in place to deliver streamed content to broadband subscribers, the demands on the backbone should be minimal. The only ones that may have cause for concern are IT managers whose corporate networks are suddenly deluged with video traffic once a crucial match kicks off. Even then, it should be a relatively trivial matter for a company to clamp down on video streaming if it puts too much of a burden on the network.
On the other hand, FIFA (the governing body for world football) is very uptight about the possibility of unauthorized streaming. Late last week, popular blog BoingBoing was sent a warning from a large international law firm informing them of dire consequences should they engage in any "unauthorized streaming and downloading of FIFA World Cup matches." Naturally, FIFA could alleviate the problem by making the matches widely available via broadband. Given the entertainment industry’s track record at figuring out the whole Internet thing, I don’t see that happening before the next World Cup at the earliest.
What about mobile networks? This will be the first World Cup where fans will be able to watch matches—or at least highlights—on a portable device like a cell phone. A number of European cellular providers will be offering highlight packages to customers, and some are attempting to lure customers with free highlights. Given the relative newness of mobile video technology, demand is likely to be low—this time around.
By the beginning of the next decade, some analysts believe there will be upwards of 210 million mobile TV subscribers worldwide. If that’s the case, watching sporting events on a cell phone or other portable device while riding the train home from work will be more commonplace.
Here in the US, I’ve got my choice of English-language coverage on ESPN and ABC, the German feed on Setanta Sports (which is the only place for rugby in the US), and Spanish language action on Univision. I’ll probably watch most of the matches on ESPN and ABC, trying to change channels to Univision so I can catch Andreas Cantor yell "¡Gooooooolllllllllll!" when someone puts the ball in the net. How do you plan on keeping up with the World Cup? Watch the matches on TV in the comfort of your living room or the corner pub? Or will you be on the forefront of technology, surreptitiously watching streamed broadcasts in the office or catching match highlights on your cell phone? No matter what your choice, you’ll have plenty of company.