Earlier this year, for the first time, You Tube carried a sports event live around the world. Around 50 million people tuned in/logged on to live coverage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) with You Tube carrying all 60 games live.
Sure, ESPN has carried live games on its website for a while as do owners like MLB if games are not being televised live (although there are a lot of baseball games in a season) but the IPL example was simultaneous broadcast and webcast through a recognised web only ‘caster.
Paying good money for the rights to sports coverage is a well trodden path. It is arguably sports coverage alone which drove the speed of penetration for pay-TV channel Sky in the UK. They not only bought exclusive rights to key sports, notably the EPL and key international fixtures, but then hugely extended the number of games they televised, widening the appeal of pay-TV to more sports fans.
It is for this reason that the Federal Government introduced the anti-siphoning list to ensure that key sports events remain ‘available free of charge to all Australians’.
Interestingly, I don’t know if webcasting live sports in Australia would fall foul of the anti-siphoning laws? I am guessing not as this law was designed to retain free to air access to key sports, which arguably You Tube or any other webcaster could provide. This list is pretty extensive and includes 12 sports categories from the Olympic Games through AFL and NRL games to the FIFA World Cup.
But what of the reach and appeal to the sports fan and equally importantly to the advertiser? With increasing access to broadband technology and ‘internet TV’ which delivers IP content direct to a TV, I think as consumers we’re part way there already. According to UM’s Wave4, nearly 80% of Australian web users have already watched video content online, so it feels like a fairly small step to live content.
From an advertising perspective, the web also offers a wide range of potential advantages. Messaging can be targeted better with interaction and dialogue much more readily encouraged. Most interesting of all might be content integration and dynamic ‘in game’ messaging.
Ultimately how we watch sport will be commercially driven – who pays the most for the rights to broadcast or webcast any given sport based on their predicted returns (although that strategy didn’t work so well for Setanta in Europe!).
With that in mind, the IPL sold 10 year TV broadcast rights for US$1.2 billion and the single year ‘webcast license’ to You Tube for US$10 million – quite a gap to close!