Content, strategy and creating value in a digital world

Football vs porn – which way the digital future?

So England’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine this weekend won’t be broadcast on any TV channel, but rather (oh my!) online via a pay-per-view broadcast.

Such has been the Luddite anguish in certain parts of the media, you’d think someone had suggested broadcasting it as text-only commentary via Twitter feed, (though mental note: a 140 character limit on Motty might be worth investigating).

But it’s not as though pay-per-view is anything new. What’s the difference between charging people to watch a boxing match on Sky Box Office (as has been the norm for years now) and charging people to watch a football game over the internet?

OK, a couple of things.

Firstly, it’s the shape of the box it’s being watched on that seems to be bothering most people.

I’ve lost count of the number of columnists referring to people as having to “cluster around a laptop” to watch the game.

Here was me thinking that since iPlayer and youtube are now accepted parts of the mainstream, the concept of watching tv on a slightly different-shaped screen wouldn’t really be an issue.

But it turns out that the act of watching a game of football requires a TV. One big enough to watch from a couch witha bunch of mates and a large bowl of Doritos.

And that’s quite interesting. Because it’s the ‘live-ness’ of a football game that makes it such compelling viewing. The fact that no-one amongst the millions watching can know the result.

It’s OK as a solo experience. It’s much, much better as a shared experience. And it’s hard to have a shared experience around a screen that has to be balanced on your lap.

So could this mark a step change in convergeance? Is this the moment that people realise “online” doesn’t have to mean “computer”. Will we now see a realisation of the benefits of an internet-enabled TV?

Project Canvas would do the job – turning your TV into an internet-connected device will make pay-per-view internet broadcasts just like any other channel.

The other major issue is connection speed and broadband penetration.

The fact is that the network won’t be able to handle more than a certain number of subscribers for the Ukraine game (I’ve heard the number 1 million bandied about).

And more worrying for football fans outside of the major hubs is the fact that a live game is only great when it’s just that: live. So if your broadband speed is not up to the job of streaming live video, you’re better off opting for the radio commentary.

In the past, arguments around universal broadband access have centred around the obligations of national government and delivery of essential services. Is it too much to expect that if more important games become internet-only broadcasts, we could hasten the tipping point at which national or commercial providers really beef up broadband access and speed?

It used to be that it was either pornography or the miltary that drove innovation. Perhaps now we’re witnessing the start of how the nation’s love affair with the beautiful game could bring us closer to a fully converged digital future.


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