The Future of Football Broadcasting Lies Online?

Did you know that last week three out of the four FA Cup fifth-round replays were broadcast live – not on the TV but on the internet.

And also that the games were not broadcast illegally by foreign sites such as iraqigoals.com but by the FA’s official website and by ITV.com (who I happen to work for).

While many of us who work online would like to think that this heralds the start of something big, the actual reasons behind last Wednesday’s events are much more mundane – The FA have been showing games on their site all season following the collapse of Setanta, while ITV were showing Inter Milan v Chelsea on the same night and couldn’t persuade any of the FA Cup teams to play on Tuesday or Thursday.

That said there are many people who believe the future of football broadcasting lies online.

A story in the Daily Mail last week claimed that the Premier League have decided to set up their own TV operation to service the overseas market and in future could look to go it alone in the domestic market as well. If this were the case there’s no doubt they would look to screen games online using a pay-per-view model.

The FA are also thought to be thinking along the same lines especially following the success of this season’s Cup matches. New chief executive Ian Watmore is known to be a big fan of new media and could decide to go down a new route if the FA fail to attract big offers for the next round of their TV rights. Although this issue is slightly clouded after the FA sold the rights previously held by Setanta to ESPN who begin their FA Cup coverage next season.

And even newspapers could have a stake in a new online future after the relative success of last October’s experiment when England’s World Cup qualifier in Ukraine was broadcast live on a number of national newspaper sites.

It’s clear the technical problems which have previously hampered such plans  have now been pretty much solved with online streams offering decent, if not brilliant, picture quality while issues around buffering are not as common as they were.

But for online streaming really to take off, the likes of Sky, ESPN and ITV would have to be persuaded of the economic benefits of moving some of their games exclusively onto the web and at the moment the arguments just don’t exist.

But that’s not to say they never will.

At the moment it’s possible to watch all ITV games live on their website, while you can also watch Sky games live if you’ve bought certain subscription packages so it’s clear that the broadcasters have not completely ruled the web out of the equation.

But, personally, I believe it could be the top clubs who could be the drivers of change although not necessarily in a positive way.

The Premier League may have it faults but its collective bargaining policy where all the league’s teams benefit from TV money is one area where it can be admired.

However I often wonder how much longer the big clubs will tolerate this for, especially given the precarious financial position many find themselves in.

While Manchester United and Chelsea have full-fledged TV channels many other clubs offer smaller online versions on their websites which, with a bit of investment, could be transformed into the broadcasting platforms needed to show live games.

It is coming, but we may have to wait some time before Chelsea v Manchester United is live on your PC.

About author

Mark Segal
Mark Segal 7 posts

Mark is a journalist and online editor at ITV.com with over 10 years experience working for national media outlets. Recently wrote for FC Business Magazine on twitter in sport. You can follow him on @segalmark

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