Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 9:36 AM ET|Posted by Will RichmondThe final ESPN3.com and UnivisionFutbol.com streaming viewership numbers for the FIFA World Cup provide the latest evidence that sports are the shining star of the online video world for both free and paid viewing. Here's some sample data for recent free online sporting events:
FIFA World Cup: ESPN3.com (7.4 million unique viewers, 15.7 million hours viewed), UnivisionFutbol.com (10 million hours viewed)
2010 NCAA March Madness: CBSSports.com (8.3 million unique visits to MMOD video player, 11.7 million hours of video and audio)
2009-2010 Sunday Night Football: NBCSports.com (2.2 million unique visits, 1M hours viewed, 29 minutes of average tune-in time)
2008 Beijing Summer Olympics: NBCOlympics.com (70 million video streams, 10 million hours viewed, 27 minutes of average tune-in time)
Online users are clearly becoming accustomed to watching sports online for free. In addition to these free events, premium services like MLB.tv, NBA League Pass and NHL Center Ice all continue gaining subscribers. ESPN3, the broadband network that ISPs subscribe to and consumers get for no additional charge, is now available in 50 million U.S. homes. These subscription services become even more valuable with connected devices that make TV-based viewing a reality.
Sports are the ideal genre for both online and mobile video viewing because fans are passionate and are strongly motivated to follow their teams and favorite players. The increased convenience of online viewing is especially important for watching during the work day (for example in MMOD and World Cup early rounds). Also, unlike entertainment, which can be time-shifted with little downside, sports are all about live viewing. You also can't underestimate the importance of both fantasy leagues and wagering as motivators to following sports online. And for events like the Olympics where there are multiple simultaneous streaming events, the viewer's choice benefit is key.
Sports are important to the online video industry because they are continually moving the technical bar higher (e.g. encoding, live delivery, HD, devices, formats, ad insertion, etc.). Sports are the proving ground for all kinds of online video technology to work at scale. These benefits flow to other genres as their audiences and technical demands increase.
I expect that more big time sports will find their way online going forward (major tournament golf is what I'm waiting for). Another key trend will be mobile viewing. As I've said previously, the large, hi-resolution screens of smartphones like the Evo, Droid X and iPhone 4 guarantee that more video will be consumed and that watching sports on the go will become a common activity. For sports fans, online and mobile viewing is a huge win.
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