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A record World Cup, in more ways than one

While millions of fans around the world glued themselves to their TV sets for the 2008 FIFA World Cup, many also enjoyed the live action from Russia via mobile streaming

BY SHAWN LIEW

While England eventually failed in a valiant attempt to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Three Lions’ — as the England football team is known — performance in the semi-finals thrilled UK audiences, keeping them glued to their screens.

The BBC reported a record-breaking 66.8 million total match requests (live and on-demand) on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport.

England’s quarter-final triumph over Sweden also became the BBC’s highest online-viewed live programme ever with 3.8 million live requests on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport.

If audiences are now increasingly consuming live sports content streamed over the Internet, then there must be genuine concern that there will be even less resistance to more generic content.

In the UK, regulatory authority Ofcom has announced that, for the first time, the number of subscriptions to streaming services such as Netflix has overtaken those to traditional pay-TV.

Should broadcasters and pay-TV operators be duly concerned?

They should, in the sense that this is yet another indication of the shift in viewing habits; they should, in the sense that the likes of Netflix are offering content at an affordable price that appeals to audiences, whose mobile devices offer image resolution of such quality that the relative smaller screen size of their devices becomes negligible.

Yet, all is not lost. According to Eurodata, 171 million viewers in 20 territories around the world watched the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final.

Yassine Berhoun, sports director at Eurodata TV Worldwide, said: “This clearly shows once again that even in the age of mobile devices and non-linear viewing, major sports events are the only show capable of gathering such large audiences in front of a TV set.”

There is also the not insignificant fact that it is also impossible to expect all broadcast TV content to be consumed over the Internet — current Internet infrastructures will simply collapse over the burden.

And while emerging compression technologies such as AV1 will allow increasingly higher resolution content to be streamed over the Internet, the appeal of watching major live events over the TV set remains strong.

The fear for broadcasters and pay-TV operators perhaps, is that they are fighting a losing battle against the likes of Netflix where the generic entertainment content genre is concerned. And with Amazon having recently stepped into the live sports streaming genre with the acquisition of rights to stream certain matches of the English Premier League, the stakes have never been higher.

Traditional linear TV still has an important role to play in society. Whether this diminishes over time, or indeed, gain more clout, will depend largely on how broadcasters and pay-TV operators re-think their strategies of reaching out to their audiences, and how they strengthen their content appeal.

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