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Next weekend sees a big test in the ongoing debate over whether people will pay for premium content on the internet, when the World Cup qualifier between Ukraine and England in Dnipropetrovsk next Saturday. The match is due to be shown in the UK live over the internet only following the collapse of Setanta during the summer. The late television channel had been due to show the match live, but after the company collapsed during the summer they sold the rights to a rights company called Kentaro who, having attempted to sell the rights on to other British broadcasters, have entered into a partnership with a company called Perform with a view to screening the match live on the internet.
The full details are due to be announced at a press conference tomorrow, but it seems likely that a number of websites (including at least some from the national newspapers) will be showing the match on a pay per view basis for a charge of £4.99. The match, of course, is not as critical as it might of been since England beat Croatia at Wembley last month to secure their place in the finals of next year’s World Cup. However, there is a certain proportion of the population who would watch to see if England can win all ten of their qualifying matches and there are others who will just watch every England match, no matter what the situation. Ultimately, though, there is no question that this is the most significant match at least in the history of English football to be broadcast in this way.
What is doubly significant about this is that, at present, there will not be any highlights shown on the television either. At present, the only way that anyone will be able to watch this match will be on a computer – there’s nothing in the schedules for a highlights package on the television either at the time of writing either. Predictably, Kentaro aren’t mentioning their overwhelming urge to earn a shilling or two out of it all. Philipp Grothe, CEO of the Kentaro Group said, “We have spoken to every traditional UK broadcaster and currently have no offer on the table. We therefore feel the internet delivers the most viable option to deliver an important England game directly to the fans”. Is this really the “most viable option to deliver an important England game directly to the fans”?
The answer to this, at present, is obviously no. Sixty-three per cent of UK households currently have broadband access, and it is debatable whether all of these would be able to deliver the speed required for streaming video. Some might argue that this brings the match into more homes than showing the match on a pay per view television, but it cuts out what is for many a standard way of watching football on the television – watching it in the pub. Unless, that is, pubs are going to start hooking up to illegal satellite feeds or plugging their laptops into television sets. Removing the communal aspect from watching the match may well decimate the audience. Many will feel that if they have to watch it at home, squinting at a box on their web browser, it might not be worth the effort of watching it at all, although there may be some with the technical wherewithal (and, at a practical level, the leads) to be able to hook their computers up to the television, but how many will go to that trouble remains open to question.
Also, as many of you will be doubtless aware, those illegal feeds of matches over the internet still exist. The other key question that Kentaro have to answer is the small issue of what their service will offer that the free and illegal streams of the match can’t, other than the possibility of going offline because of smart work by teams of lawyers. They certainly can’t afford any technical glitches – problems with the feed dropping would seem to be the most likely cause for issues – but will they be able to guarantee the quality of the feed and that, should there be any problems with it, how quickly will they be able to set those issues straight?
The problem with this plan seems to be that there will be nothing in place to provide a back-up on the television, although Kentaro might yet come up with an agreement with someone to show highlights of the match on the television later on in the evening. If this match had been an important one for England, it remains likely that the match would have been picked up by one of the major television broadcasters, but in the current atmosphere of austerity within the broadcasting industry it is hardly surprising that Kentaro have not been able to find a company that will pay a premium rate for a match that doesn’t ultimately matter that much to England. There is certainly a place for more matches to be streamed over the internet, but whether this is the right way to do it remains open to question.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
I think this is a sad day for the football fan.
Not because it is the first internet only broadcast, not because it will trickle into peoples homes and onto screens that can, at very best, be seen by no more than two people who will, hopefully, have brushed their teeth and cleaned their ears as they huddle together watching a staccato live feed.
Not because it is another dollar exit from our wallets, but because no terrestrial or satellite company can be bothered to do something for the fan that just wants to watch their country play football, regardless of its importance.
It has the smack of inverted censorship: ‘We don’t think you need to watch this as it isn’t that important, so you won’t and you can’t watch the highlights either’
The last European Championship pulled in an average 4m viewers per game with some of the games breaking 7M so I don’t see how that equates to more viewers and England weren’t even there. It is made all the more fascinating when you realise that Kentaro are ‘capping’ the server traffic to 1 million takers
It is an ominous development but as an experiment it is very interesting. I haven’t a clue if it will work and won’t be signing in to my BetFred account to test the water, I’ll wait for the numbers on Monday morning.
Far from being football on the internet and no where else Saturday has a rich program of matches in the football league and the non-league levels and Bradford City v Crewe is where I will be. Notts County aside I can not think of one club playing on Saturday who would not be a far better use of a football fans money and if you are a Blackburn fan thinking of paying for this then get yourself down to Accrington instead and take those mates from down the pub with you and enjoy good football rather than be at the mercy of an internet stream.
I dont like what is happening but I also think that it is the future for the way sports and TV will be shown, This summer I watched The Ashes on a PC at work through Sky Player(so the commentry was brilliant something you dont have with this england game) and thought it was excellent coverage. Granted it was being shown on TV too but I wasnt able to watch a TV whilst at work. Weather we like it or not this looks like it could be the way we watch TV in the future. My other thought is what would it do about TV money and rights to games? What I have seen so far from watching sports online has been positive but I am unsure if they have it right with the England game.
I agree with Michael,
If the internet replaces the Pub, at the very least, I think you will see a fan black lash that could manifest itself at the gates. I hope it does because nothing beats the rush on the Stand, not television, not the pub nor the internet.
I know. I was a kid, sitting on top of my Dad’s Ford Standard as literally thousands upon thousands of Rangers supporters descended on Firhill to hump the proud and magnificent Partick Thistle by an unspecified amount with an unspecified number of minutes remaining on the clock, but by gum it was a feeling not lost on that five year old forty six years later!
Sad day for football – cant believe i cant even watch my national team play, its a bloody disgrace, i hope it fails and u all burn. Pure Bullsh*t!!!!!!!!
I already hate watching football highlights on the Internet because of those annoying adverts that they play before each match! Also, you can imagine that the pictures will be jumpy too – I don’t think that this will catch on, because it’s so much better watching football matches on TV, rather than the Internet.
I have to say I’m surprised by the luddite attitude from some observers. While I agree that where possible all International matches should be available free to air to the nation in question, I think this relatively unimportant (but competeive) fixture is a great way to test out the technology for a live match.
I think a lot of people are equating the quality with what they see when they try to stream the Premier League from Justin.tv. Don;t forget that hundreds of thousands of people can stream HD content from the BBC at one time without a stutter, so the tech is definitely there to make a rich viewing experience.
I’m also surprised by the comments about huddling round a laptop to watch a 14″ screen. Surely with the amount of internet enabled devices out there which connect to HD television sets it can’t only be a technological elite who can watch internet provided content in just as much comfort as they can traditional television. I think it likely a lot more people can do this than realise they can, and it takes events like these for people to open up to the potential of the expensive boxes piled up around their brand new HDTV. Porbably every one of the laptops referred to has an output which can plug into an HDMI socket with little expertise required.
I think it’s important to remember we’re probably only 5-10 years from all content being delivered to our homes over data connections rather than radio waves (getting more likely by the day as BT announce more fiber to the home, and the Broadband Tax gets pushed through before the next election), and getting the tech and presentation right in matches like this is vital so that when the 2018 world cup is broadcast, we can all lap up live 1080p coverage via iPlayer from the comfort of our sofas, for nothing.
[…] England game against Ukraine is only on the internet. Pitch Invasion and Twohundredpercent share their thoughts on it. I think it’s an interesting development, but I’m not yet […]