Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Wednesday, 28 April 2010 09:54 UK

Sport and new media play to win

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Emile Heskey and Yevhen Khacheridi
The Ukraine v England game was shown on internet only

The days when sport could only be watched on one of a handful of terrestrial television channels have long gone.

Nowadays, the technology and means available for delivering sport to different sections of society is continuing to rapidly grow.

The list of possible outlets for sport is seemingly endless: high definition and 3D television, IPTV, mobile phones, Youtube, web streaming, digital radio, iPlayer, games consoles, and social networking sites.

It is a modern world where a sport or tournament can have a website up and running within a matter of days, ready to take subscriptions to watch the action.

However, despite the raft of new media innovations over the past decade, sport has struggled to work out how to make the best use of this ever-changing landscape.

"There is ever-more diversification of sport into new media," says David Kerr, director of sports TV channel and website Eurosport.

"But it is like the Grand National horse race - you have to back six horses to have a better chance of winning."

'Interesting debate'

The mood of constant change in this field was examined at the recent Sport and New Media Conference in Manchester.

It seems that for every sport, sporting event or governing body, there is a different approach or innovation.

Recently we have seen the Indian Premier League stream its cricket games live on Youtube, while another challenge to the way action is disseminated came last October when England's World Cup game in Ukraine was shown live on an internet stream only.

That came after terrestrial broadcasters declined the chance to show the game as it was a "dead rubber" with England already qualified for the World Cup.

The IPL has created a channel on Youtube
The IPL move with Youtube challenged traditional means of consumption

"I am certain if it had been a 'live' game for qualifying purposes then a terrerestrial broadcaster would have stepped in," says Andrew Croker, of Perform, which broadcast the game.

"But as well as being a first of its kind, it also brought about a very interesting debate on the future of television and whether there will be more internet broadcasts."

Perform's sales model meant that the earlier before kick off that fans bought the viewing package the cheaper it was.

About 500,000 people watched the live stream.

This sale of the visual rights on an internet basis only was highly unusual in that most live rights are now sold on a "platform neutral" basis - with mobile, internet and TV rights all sold together in the same package.

'Multiplatform approach'

As the rights-holder to a number of major sporting events, including the Olympics and Formula One, the BBC is in a position to maximise this development.

"Audiences appreciate our multiplatform approach to covering sport," says Ben Gallop, head of BBC Sport Interactive.

The big catalyst for mobile use is live events, so it may well be we have a mobile sports boom as England play in the World Cup this summer
Alistair Hill, Comscore

"At the moment we are looking to maximise our [online] video space, but it is not only about this."

Among other potential innovations, he points to moves to develop an open internet-connected TV platform, the increasing use of games consoles to access the BBC's iPlayer, and moves towards showing more sport on 3D television.

However, all these new platforms for watching sport are useless without that most essential of ingredients - live events.

A woman watches a Sony 3D TV
Growth in 3D technology could see more sport shown using the format

Alistair Hill is an analyst at Comscore, an internet marketing research firm which "measures the digital world".

And, when it comes to the use of mobile phones to access sport content, over the past five years he has seen major spikes in usage when there are major events - particularly in football - such as cup finals or the World Cup.

Conversely, use dies away in years when there are no major football tournament, such as in 2009.

"The big catalyst for mobile use is live events, so it may well be we have a mobile sports boom as England play in the World Cup this summer," Mr Hill says.

The emergence of smartphones has also given the viewing of live action on mobiles a huge boost, with a discernable upward curve in Comsport's data around the time that Apple's iPhone was introduced.

"I can now happily watch large chunks of a major European football match on a smartphone, something that I would not really have considered very much before," says Kevin Roberts, group editor at SportBusiness Group.


Meanwhile, there is much else going on in the sport and new media world, with sports stars such as Jenson Button looking to circumvent the traditional media by setting up Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.

The BBC covers the Test Match between England and New Zealand at the Oval in 1949
Broadcasters are no longer limited in the way they package up sport

And issues remain, such as how to beat internet piracy, or which is the best way for minority sports to secure wider coverage while monetising their events.

Should broadcasters charge fans to watch, or should they allow viewing for for free and secure revenues through sponsorship of the action instead?

This is a sector that is changing enormously. The only safe assumption to make is that people are eager to watch more live sport, particularly football, whenever they can.

Yet the ultimate method, or methods, of watching sport in years to come is still in doubt, even after a decade of huge innovation.

So perhaps Ciaran Quinn of Deltatre, a media services provider for Fifa and Uefa among others, has the best advice for those in the business of creating, selling, and broadcasting new sports content.

"Experiment, do it early, and make sure you are not limited to just one platform going forward," he says.

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