Howzat for a landmark in live streamed video?

Last week saw the announcement in the press of the Indian Premier League’s plan to stream the whole of the 2010 tournament live via YouTube. As many commentators have noted over the past week, this calls into question the whole notion of TV rights. With the focus of entertainment shifting more and more towards online video (recent statistics in the UK prove that services like iPlayer are showing no signs of slowing their popularity), how long will it be before we see more of these type of deals being agreed?

This announcement will probably not raise too many eyebrows in Europe. Cricket is popular in England, yes, but only when England are taking part. The absence of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen from this year’s IPL means there is little focus on the tournament in the mainstream media. But what would happen if a similar deal was announced for something much more coveted by the masses? For example, the clamour has always been to make the Ashes free to air again. What could be more open to view than a tournament streamed online?

The main benefit of streaming online is obvious – the ability for advertising to pervade the consciousness on an ongoing basis (banner ads, in-game advertising), rather than being restricted to 30 second ad breaks. This is particularly useful during football (soccer, for any US readers), where the game does not have the same natural breaks as other sports. The issue of quality is no longer an issue either, with YouTube able to host content in Full HD 1080p. More and more TVs now come with widgets and internet video capability, so mass participation can be achieved without everyone having to crowd round a small computer screen. You can watch YouTube anywhere and everywhere; lunchtime kick offs and major differences in time zones become less of an issue.

Measuring consumption on YouTube (and other online video platforms) is easier too. Do broadcasters really know how many people are ACTUALLY watching their flagship sports coverage? Google and YouTube know at a glance. What kinds of people are watching? If you’re a registered user, Google and YouTube know all about you and your habits (for better or worse, but that’s another debate for another day). Plus, we all know the pattern that the adoption of new ideas takes – get the sports fans and the music fans in first (the live stream of U2’s gig on YouTube received 10 million views last year). Everyone’s talking about online video this year.

However, as with most landmarks and advances in online and social media, it is unlikely that there will be an instant spate of these deals being agreed in the short term. What normally happens is there is a wait and see mentality. Let’s see if this pilot programme works out; if it falls flat, everyone will say ‘well, it was never going to work was it?’ If it takes off, well then the sky’s the limit. Many people already use illegal streams to watch English Premier League games not shown on Sky and ESPN. Niche sports only covered in passing by major broadcasters could be given a new lease of life through a YouTube stream. Broadcast rights negotiations are going to be much more interesting in future. How many other companies have competed against the power of Google and come out victorious?

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