With games airing live on cell phones and computers, the World
Cup will get more online coverage than any major sporting event
yet. Watching highlights the next day on TV or YouTube will
suddenly seem a downright ancient way to keep up with the
When the soccer tournament begins Friday, footy fans can follow
the action from an array of mobile and Web applications and share
in triumph and heartbreak across social media.
Walt Disney Co. networks ESPN and ABC, which are broadcasting
the games in the U.S., will stream 54 games live on the newly
launched ESPN3.com, formerly ESPN360. The games are free to those
in the U.S. who get their Internet from a service provider
affiliated with ESPN, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and many
others. The 10 games that will air live on ABC won’t be available
on ESPN3.com, but all 64 matches in the Cup will be available live
on mobile devices to customers whose plans include TV on their
Univision Communications has the Spanish-language broadcasting
rights in the U.S., and it, too, will have games available on
Univision.com and Univision Movil.
The digital coverage will be an especially important component
for the World Cup because U.S. audiences will be watching many of
the games – all being played in South Africa – during the day,
possibly on their computers at work.
Comparing the digital experiences of the 2010 World Cup to the
2006 World Cup, John Kosner, senior vice president and general
manager of ESPN Digital Media, said, “Things have changed
“This is going to be the biggest and most powerful
demonstration of this, and it’s just the start,” Kosner said.
“It’s the play book, it’s the blueprint for what’s coming.”
NBC’s online coverage of the last Winter Olympics – also an
international, daytime event – was extensive, drawing 45 million
video streams. Traffic to NBCOlympics.com more than tripled from
the 2006 Winter Games, with 45.7 million total visits compared to
13.3 million in 2006. That happened even though NBC held a lot of
the footage for its prime-time broadcasts. ESPN expects worldwide
online traffic for the World Cup to double or triple that of
The World Cup, a mixture of global and niche audiences – where
some games mean much more to citizens of Honduras, for example – is
particularly suited to the Internet. ESPN3.com, for example, will
have the option to watch some games in either Portuguese, Arabic,
German, Japanese or Korean.
The actual games are only part of the experience. Many media
outlets have launched mobile applications, most of which feature
live scores, news updates and some integration with Facebook or
Twitter. Among them are apps from Fox Soccer Channel, The
Associated Press, Goal.com, Mundial and many others.
ESPN has several, including an ESPN Radio app that gives live
play-by-play audio. Turner Sports’ SportsNow app promises direct
linking to Facebook and Twitter to facilitate “trash-talk directly
from the app.”
Online interest in the World Cup has been building. The
elaborate Nike World Cup commercial directed by Alejandro Gonzalez
Inarritu has been watched by more than 13 million on YouTube since
debuting on May 17.
For the past year, Akamai Technologies Inc., which delivers
about 20 percent of the world’s Internet traffic, has been building
its capability in anticipation of the World Cup. It expects traffic
to be two or three times as heavy as what was measured during
President Barack Obama’s inauguration – thus far, the high point
for traffic volume at about 1 terabit, or 1 trillion bits of data,
per second. (Higher-quality video is also a major factor in
“It could well be another watershed event in terms of people
understanding what is now possible to do with video online,”
Akamai Chief Scientist Tom Leighton said. “This will draw a lot of
people at once and that will cause people to be aware en masse
that, hey, you can do some very cool things with video online that
you can’t even do with broadcast right now.”
The World Cup is also shaping up to be a benchmark in the
evolution of mobile TV, which is common in South Korea, growing in
the rest of Asia, Africa and South America, but nascent in the U.S.
and Europe. ESPN has partnered with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, FLO
TV and MobiTV to bring games to cell phones.
Any surge in bandwidth for live video could test those networks,
which are already clogged. Just last week, AT&T announced that
to ease congestion on its network, it would no longer offer
unlimited Internet data plans for new smart-phone customers.
ESPN’s Kosner acknowledged that those with live TV on their
mobile phones are still a “relatively small audience,” but
predicted that the World Cup will be “a galvanizing event” for
Of course, technology is also being used for more quirky
If you hurry, you can catch the final ticks to the World Cup
Countdown app, which has simply been counting down to kickoff in
South Africa since last year.
The Drinksin Footy Pubs 2010 app lets U.K. fans know the nearest
pubs carrying the games. LiveSoccerTV.com, similarly, offers
“soccer friendly” bars in the U.S.
Technology truly meets soccer enthusiasm in South Korea, where a
World Cup iPhone app from KT Corp. includes a “glow stick mode”
that lights up the screen with fluorescent colors when the phone is
shaken – perfect for exuberant waving in South Africa or anywhere
near a screen playing the games.
That still leaves one, essential question: Where’s Becks?
Fear not. David Beckham, the dashing British wingman, has signed
on with Yahoo Inc. as its “global football ambassador.” Along
with its extensive Cup coverage (which includes a toolbar just for
updates and scores), Yahoo will offer a Beckham channel to share
the midfielder’s thoughts on the Cup.
Associated Press Writer Sangwon Yoon in Seoul, South Korea,
contributed to this report.
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