If you read our post on the subject earlier on in the week, you may have noted that the price of watching this weekend’s World Cup qualifier between Ukraine and England was listed as £4.99. As hopes of a last minute highlights package fade fast with rights holders Kentaro stating that they feel that the coverage should be “all about the internet”, it is worth pointing out to potential viewers that this price has already been raised to £9.99 (as of midnight last night), and that it will be hiked up again to £11.99 at midnight tonight.
Kentaro has confirmed that there will be a ceiling limit of one million subscriptions for the match, but some analysts are already questioning whether the infrastructure is in place for this to happen without widespread technical glitches. Streaming video at a high quality bit-rate remains one of the internet’s holy grails, since it requires the company sending the transmission to have sufficient bandwidth in place and the user to have a good enough broadband connection to be able to stream the match without buffering.
Theoretically, viewers could receive what are effectively High Definition pictures and rigging a laptop up to an LCD television isn’t difficult, but in the event of high demand picture quality may have to be sacrificed to ensure that all that have paid can watch it and, as it is a live event, there is no room for error. Because large numbers of people will be watching simultaneously, the truth of the matter is that no-one knows how smoothly and seamlessly things will run and they won’t do until very shortly before kick-off at the earliest.
Technical issues aside, there is the small matter of the cost. If £4.99 seemed a little on the steep side, then £9.99 is utterly unreasonable and £11.99 borders upon being extortionate. Of course, the argument against this goes that it is a matter of supply and demand, but no-one knows exactly what the demand for this match will be, and claims that everybody that has paid for the match will be able to see every single second of it without any problems seem somewhat far-fetched. The Terms & Conditions have this to say on the matter:
If you fail to receive and view a substantial element of the Match due to any failure by the Content Provider to provide access to the Site for reasons within the Content Provider’s control, the Content Provider will acting reasonably refund such proportion of the Payment made by you as it decides is fair in the circumstances.
By this, the Content Provider is saying that they will only be offering refunds for reasons for failure to provide access that are beyond their control. So, if your less than net savvy and you make a mess of it, that’s your fault. Moreover, if there is a problem at all, the proportion of a refund offered will be their choice. Well, we shall have to see what happens in the event that large numbers of people are unable to access it. There are no guarantees that anything will go wrong, but there are plenty of different reasons why they could – more so than with a television broadcast.
So, then, what are your alternatives if you really need your weekly live football fix? Well, it’s a radical solution, but you could take in a live match. A full list of fixtures can be found here: there is a programme of matches in League One and League Two, but there is also a full round of non-league matches, including the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, in which includes matches between Dartford & Chelmsford City, a Buckinghamshire derby between Aylesbury FC (not to be confused with Aylesbury United) & Chesham United, and a Kent derby between Dover Athletic and Welling United.
The weather may yet interject, but for the £11.99 that it would cost to take your chances with the feed for a match which is only really relevant to Ukrainians and England completists, you could get entry to a match and most likely have enough money over for a pint afterwards. For those of us that are unable to get to matches of any sort this weekend, there is still some football on the television. The BBC’s red button plays host to the matches between Japan & Scotland and Finland & Wales, while the critical qualifier between Germany & Russia is on ESPN and, for those that are prepared to stay up late enough, the match between Argentina & Peru starts at eleven at night on Sky Sports.
Any of these options may be considered preferable to the match between Ukraine and England being watched in an internet browser, and some of them would be preferable to Ukraine and England under any circumstances. And herein lies the biggest problem with this match. There is a place for the streaming of football on the internet. The medium would seem to be particularly well suited to smaller clubs and smaller matches. England matches, though, are (for better for worse) event football, part of the social fabric, and if a mass audience is not there for it, it is stripped of its context. Regardless of the result tomorrow, the match between Ukraine and England is almost certainly going to be remembered as the match that many people were excluded from.