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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Putting the ball in the net
Arsenal
Arsenal reportedly considering charging 13 per quarter
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Premiership football clubs will soon be broadcasting entire league games on websites and via their own TV channels.

Top clubs such as Liverpool and Middlesbrough are taking advantage of new rules governing the re-broadcast of Premier League games to give fans greater access to match footage.

The domestic web audience for the broadcasts is likely to be small, but many fans overseas do have access to broadband net connections and are eager to watch matches they would otherwise only read about.

But the ambitions of the top clubs may come to nothing as a study shows that most of their websites are sluggish, and take far too long to serve up basic information let alone video streams.

Football focus

This year sees a big change to the rights Premier League football clubs have to TV footage of their matches. Before now the broadcast rights have rested solely with TV companies.

"The rights to show matches that the clubs are involved in revert to the club after an exclusive period of time," said a spokesman for the FA Premier League.

Celtic football club badge
Celtic One of the first to put its matches on the web
For games that take place on Saturday or Sunday the exclusive period runs out at midnight on the following Monday. For games on week nights the exclusive period expires at midnight the same day.

The change has led to many of the 20 Premier League clubs signing deals to start rebroadcasting entire games or highlights via their own websites.

The few clubs that run their own TV channels, such as Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Manchester United could soon be reshowing games shortly after they were first aired.

Before now football clubs have been limited to showing post-match and archive material on websites, now many are planning to use the footage to cash in on their fans' almost insatiable desire to see their team in action.

Paying and playing

Arsenal are reportedly planning to charge 13 per quarter to view goals, highlights and key footage. Charges for similar schemes by Manchester United and Liverpool have yet to be revealed.

A spokesman for Middlesbrough FC, which has run its own TV channel with the help of NTL since 1998, said it will levy a small charge every month to give fans access to six hours of programming every night which will include league matches, interviews, and other exclusive material.

Michael Owen and the UEFA cup
Liverpool's Michael Owen lifts the UEFA cup
This week Liverpool unveiled a deal with web broadcasting company Servecast to develop material for up to seven channels showing matches, audio and video news interviews, Premiership specials and access to archive material from the last 40 years.

Eoin Brophy from Servecast said the UK audience for high quality video broadcasts via the web is small, but there are many other countries where many more fans have access to highspeed connections.

He said many of top British clubs have huge overseas followings and broadcasting via the web is a good way of reaching these far-flung fans.

"If you live in Asia or Japan and do not have access to TV coverage this is great because its completely location and time independent," he said. Almost 30,000 overseas fans tuned in to a recent webcast of a Liverpool friendly match said Mr Brophy.

In May Celtic, another Servecast signing, became the first British club to broadcast TV quality footage of a game across the internet. The match was the Tommy Boyd testimonial against Manchester United.

Response times

Response times
Derby County - 343.8 seconds
Arsenal - 45.3 seconds
Middlesbrough - 33.9 seconds
Manchester United - 12.2 seconds
Liverpool - 11.9 seconds
Chelsea - 1.1 seconds
But even before top clubs start experimenting with video broadcasts many have much more to do to get basic information to their fans.

A study carried out over the first weekend of the Premiership season by net testing company Segue Systems revealed that only three of the websites of the 20 Premier League teams managed to serve up information in a reasonable time.

Research has established that consumers will wait up to eight seconds for a website to appear onscreen once they have typed the address into their browser. Any longer and they give up and go elsewhere.

Segue queried the sites every 10 minutes to see how well they were coping with the peaks and troughs of traffic over the opening weekend.

Only the pages of Ipswich, Chelsea and Sunderland had finished loading in under eight seconds. Most of the rest took far longer, and Derby County took a shocking six minutes to appear.

See also:

02 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Net gains for a net games
11 Apr 01 | Business
Premier clubs to net 1bn
05 Jul 01 | Business
Is football going mobile?
19 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
Weakest Link trounces Premiership
22 Jul 98 | Entertainment
Premiership rejects pay-per-view claim
16 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Game, net and match
26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
World Cup TV 'will be free'
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