After spending more than a few minutes sampling CBS’s free live Internet streaming of video from both the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament and the Masters golf tourney, it’s clear that more live sports coverage will be a popular staple of web TV going forward.
With any luck, it won’t all be put behind a pay-per-view window, though the lure of squeezing out some extra bucks from what used to just be unwatched camera shots has to be strong. My point (my plea?) is that there is no better commercial, no better advertisement for a big, live, sporting event than the event itself. Want me to watch the final (heavily sponsored) round of a golf tournament? What better way than to tee up some of the early rounds as a preview, online?
(and why not make some daily highlights stuff embeddable, too, so we don’t have to scrounge unauthorized clips of Tiger whacking a tree from YouTube?)
Some sports and events will lend themselves more to online consumption than others — basketball tournaments and golf seem to work well because there are many different competitors, and (on the broadcast side of things) only one screen to watch. Online gives you the ability to pick and choose, giving the broadcaster a wider range of audience without sinking in additional resources outside of a flexible web site design.
Also, any event that takes place during normal workday hours qualifies, for obvious reasons — I’m guessing few employers would look kindly on a midday TV break on a company couch, but that fewer still would object too strongly to brief glimpes of scores and action in a corner of your monitor. Events like Wimbledon, the Olympics, the Tour de France come to mind here — sports with devoted, potentially large yet scattered audiences who could take advantage of an Internet connection and their ever-present laptop to tune in when the games are on. MLB.TV is already showing signs of how successful this idea can be (it gets $79 a year from Om, among others).
My early betting line says the 2008 Olympics in Beijing could and should be the biggest-ever Internet-viewed sporting event (for American audiences), simply because most of the action will take place at hours not synchronized to prime time.
And while big broadcasters with professional crews already in place may dominate the Internet sports scene in the early going, there’s no reason that low-budget or no-budget events can’t find their way to online broadcasts soon, if some of the promises of personal P2P streaming technology come to pass. As Jackson has noted, some devotees are jumping through serious technical hoops to watch some probably less-than-legal P2P streams of live events. High time for the events themselves to make it easy, legit, and live.