In a surreal moment, the respected media analyst and futurologist Rio Ferdinand has linked the fact that the England-Ukraine match is going to be online pay-per-view to the recent claim that internet advertising has ‘overtaken’ TV advertising:
“I read that online advertising has taken over from TV”, he apparently said, “so that tells you something about where it’s going in terms of the digital world…So I’m sure it’ll be the way forward and in the future it’ll probably be the reality. I think it’s a good way to gauge how many people are interested.”
If ever the IAB’s claims needed a dose of credibility, surely this is it.
But Rio is not alone, unlike how he sometimes finds himself in the box. Among others, Marketing took a deep breath and declared ‘England game heralds future of sport on web’.
On the flipside is this from Janine Gibson, Guardian.co.uk editor, who disagrees it is a prophetic moment and explained why The Guardian declined the offer to screen the match:
“You had to sign up to an enormous amount of editorial endorsement and promotion for something that we weren’t convinced was of particular value to our users and would feel like a fake endorsement of a one-off match. This isn’t heralding the beginning of a new dawn; it’ll never happen again and it feels slightly opportunistic.”
She obviously needs to have a chat with Rio.
But over and above all this is the fact that the match being delivered by the internet might be interesting and contentious now, but once TV sets are fully broadband enabled it won’t really matter. Viewers won’t care how it is getting to their screens. It is all TV and they will hopefully have the experience they want.
It is unsurprising that England football fans are in uproar over the fact that the match is being screened via an online TV service and not on broadcast TV. They can still see it if they want to, but not the way they’d like to.
Amid all the fuss, we should remember that the game was originally contracted to appear on broadcast TV (with Setanta) and, if it had been an important game with something at stake, it probably still would be. I can’t see a match England actually need to win or a World Cup Final going online only pay-per-view – although maybe a new series of Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups would be ok. It is a fairly unique set of circumstances that have lead us here.
The fan forums I’ve looked at are less concerned with the idea of paying to watch it, though, than they are with a delivery system that means they can’t watch it in the pub or on the big screen in the living room and have to crowd round their laptops or watch it individually instead.
They demand the shared experience that only TV can give them. But having failed to agree rights with a broadcast TV company, it is understandable (or maybe greedy) that the agency responsible for this match – Kentaro – looked for an alternative buyer. The end result might not be as good as broadcast TV but it is better than nothing. Still, that is scant consolation for fans.
The fact that newspapers are so keen to become broadcasters – with the Times and Sun being among those who will show the match – is really interesting but not new. They already have various bits of video content on their websites, but this football match is one of the few pieces of roughly ‘must-have’ TV content they can get access to. TV broadcasters show appointment to view programming all day every day and newspapers clearly would like a piece of the action.
I suppose the main concern for fans that do choose to pay to watch the match is how well the UK’s internet pipes will handle demand. The fact that the number of viewers has been capped at one million worryingly shows how unprepared the UK broadband infrastructure is for major transmission of big events. It needs upgrading, as Digital Britain pointed out, and TV companies are as anxious as anybody to get an additional digital network to digital broadcasting. How is it going to cope when the majority of people are watching TV in HD, or with the other resource-hungry innovations like 3D coming along?