Rory Cellan-Jones

The Big Broadband match: A poor result?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 12 Oct 09, 11:54 GMT

On Saturday evening I found myself watching about ten minutes of online football - for which I'd paid around a pound a minute - before rushing out to take a child to see the film Up.

a football matchI have to say that Pixar's latest animation masterpiece was much better value than the football - and a lot more fun. But how was it for you?

Last week, I said the match could provide a significant test of the state of Broadband Britain - but in the event, poor online "attendance" meant that it wasn't quite as serious an examination as it might have been. But let's see what answers we got to the four questions I posed.

Question 1: Can our infrastructure take it?

The internet did not buckle on Saturday. Perhaps that was because there were fewer people looking to stream it than anticipated, but ISPs seemed to cope fine with the extra Saturday evening traffic. Virgin Media says its network saw a 9.9% average uplift in traffic between 5pm and 7pm compared to the previous Saturday - what it describes as "a mere blip on the radar".

Question 2: Are we fast enough?

Um, that depends. I watched my ten minutes using a fast cable connection and it worked pretty well. But how many people were put off even trying to log on because they tested their connections and found the experience unsatisfactory? And, whatever speed you have at home, football streamed to a laptop just doesn't provide the picture quality that you expect from today's television - in standard definition, let alone in HD.

Question 3: Will we pay?

Kentaro and Perform, the two businesses behind the online operation, talked beforehand of as many as a million people paying to stream this game. Now all they will say is that the total watching amounted to fewer than half a million, and that includes people who paid to see it in cinemas and the troops who saw it via the British Forces Broadcasting Service, which was allowed to screen it for free.

So we're not very clear as to how many people paid for the online experience - and how many of those shelled out £11.99, the match-day price. Not that many, at a guess - but more than might have done so if they'd known that the highlights would be shown on BBC One after a last-minute deal announced after the game was over.

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Question 4: Will we find another way?

Oh, definitely. Sheer outrage at the idea that you'd have to pay for a mediocre viewing experience led many to seek another way. I've received reports of pubs plugging in laptops to projectors - but far more examples of "alternative" ways of finding the match online. From Chinese streams, to, to Ustream, it seems that the world's peer-to-peer communities set about "sharing" this game with enthusiasm. I conducted an online vox pop, asking people how they'd watched the game and got back these answers:

" - there were about 4 streams available."
"A site called myp2p aggregates the places it was being streamed. I used tvants to watch it (altho Chinese commentry)"
"Bet365 were showing it on their website for free, if you had an account."
"watched it via sopcast on"
"dodgy Albanian sports channel" in a pub on a polish TV feed with slightly out of synch r5 commentary over it"
"saw a link pasted on facebook, twas that easy!"
"several pubs in Bristol had laptops connected to big screens was free except for drinks"
"By pressing the red button. Japan v Scotland. Only one game I cared about. Sorry. That wasn't helpful was it?"

Er, no - but I think we get the picture - plenty of people who were interested in the England game found ways of avoiding the official and rather expensive route.

My conclusion? Our internet infrastructure may be just about ready for online football - but the audience certainly isn't - at least not if it has to pay for the pleasure.


  • Comment number 1.

    I thought this sounds like the sort of idea Rupert Murdoch would come up with as part of his "getting to grips with that internet thingy". I think it followed on directly from his "I need to find a way to get people to pay to read The Sun online" thinkinkg sessions.

  • Comment number 2.

    Considering the cost of a month's worth of Sky Sports, compared to two hour's worth of video streaming, makes this a no-brainer.

    Sky may be many things but their football coverage is second to none.

    I think the dissatisfaction amongst fans stems from the fact that we all pay for the BBC, a lot of us pay for Sky Sports, and yet here we were faced with another bill on top of both of those, just for the priviledge of watching our home nation's game.

    Online streaming will be the future if there is no subscription fee, with broadcasters taking money from advertisers instead, but even then they still won't corner the market unless they can get the coverage itself on a par with the Sky/BBC experience (I don't count ITV's coverage as that is invariably laughable).

    There's always been a kind of unspoken consensus that home nation's games should be easily available to view, which means they should be on terrestrial TV (BBC/ITV) or Sky. Saturday's experience, so far as I can tell, has only served to strengthen that consensus.

  • Comment number 3.

    I believe the technical term for this little idea is a fail. Possibly a good idea in theory but did they really expect everyone who would watch it in a pub to pay up and watch it online?

    The only time I ever watch football is in the pub and thats just for the atmosphere, so I was quite happy that one of my locals in bristol was showing it for free!

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Would more people have paid if the game actually mattered? Probably

    But.. would a TV station have bought the game in that case? Definately

    This won't be the future until poeple have internet-connected TVs so that they can enjoy the experience "as if it was on TV". when that time arrives (and it could be internet-connected set top boxes or other) it will be much more routine to watch TV streamed over the internet anyway, I would imagine.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think it's all about peace of mind. I'd quite like to have watched it, I was working on the PC at the time so to have that running on my other screen would have been good.

    I didn't pay (and therefore didn't watch) because if it didn't work, I'd never get my money back. The number of parties involved in delivery of the content is so many that if it went wrong, I'd have no way of getting a refund: could have been the stream at fault, could be my ISP, could be my phone line outside the house, my phone line inside the house, my router, or my PC, some of which are supported by me, some are services I pay for but there is no single source of responsibility. So if I pay £11.99 and it doesn't work - what do I do?

    There's no peace of mind - I think for paid services to be viable, you need a form of guaranteed delivery, which means a client application that can report "viewed reciepts" back to the supplier and only charge at the end of the item.

  • Comment number 7.

    I don't even pay for sports channels, preferring to watch my football for free in the pub if it's not being shown on terrestrial TV (which should be the case for all national team games - that is all Scotland matches shown on BBC Scotland and all English games shown in England). So the chances of getting me to stump up money for online streaming are somewhere between "slim" and "none". I imagine I'm not the only person.

    You only have to go into a pub on an international matchday to realise how most people like to watch their football - on a big screen, surrounded by fellow supporters. It's the next best thing to being in the stadium itself. Even if broadband capacity was increased enough to allow TV signal-quality online streaming, you've still got the very real possibility of a pub having its connection interrupted just as that last-minute winner is about to go in, leaving a pub full of seething, half-drunk punters, baying for someone's blood.

    I dare say TV will be completely delivered via the internet someday, but football will surely be the last thing to make that move.

  • Comment number 8.

    Live Streaming will always be difficult to do for millions, there is a reason that satellite TV still exists in countries where broadband speeds could support a decent bit rate.

    The stream at its high bit rate, was probably around half that of a Freeview stream to settop box. BBC HD tends to run at around 10 to 15Mbps on satellite services, so good quality is possible over the speeds some are getting to the home. HD is still well below the quality the footage was recorded in though (1.6Gbps would probably give you a raw HD feed)

    Many people I've known who are into their football are happy enough with radio coverage, aka Radio 5 Live.

  • Comment number 9.

    Seems like the 'let's give people less and charge them for it' idea didn't work. Is anyone really surprised?

  • Comment number 10.

    The real problem is that folks expectations were so low, so few peope tried.

    Did the net hold up?

    It delivered circa 300k streams plus all the pirate streams in its best endeavours way. It did what it has been designed to do but failed to deliver a good user experience, something impossible with a 800Kbps stream for this type of event.

    Are we fast enough?

    The UK internet has not been engineered to deliver a live TV experience. It is just speed, its an end to end user experience.

    Will we pay?

    The great news or indeed bad news is that peoples expectations (low) means they did not try to watch the game.

    We are already paying, (for TV fixed/mobile/internet access) and we are paying for a connection we do not have control over.

    These are all digital services which can be delivered on a properly configured data transport fabric. Regulatory definitions tie us to old stove pipe networks. There are no incentives to invest, only milk us for call conveyance charges.

    Will we find another way?

    The broadcast networks exist for this purpose. If we need our data connectivity to support live broadcasts, then we need a very significant upgrade which equates to the billions the gov takes in spectrum fees.

    Digital Britain exposed. Very much so, so exposed very few people went to the trouble of testing it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Because I support a football club overseas the Internet is the only way to watch my football matches, so I would happily pay a small fee to watch those games online, providing they are at a better quality than those on the links that are mentioned on the blog which I already use.

    If I was anywhere near the stadium I would pay to attend, so not a big deal if I have to pay to watch it.

    But of course I wouldn't choose to watch a game online if I could watch it on TV.

  • Comment number 12.

    nice promotion of illegal streaming sites there. I have to question why Rory paid for the match if he was going to the cinema. There was never any doubt this would be 'poorly attended' due to the nature of the game being a non-event, and as someone else posted had it been a must win game someone would have bid enough to show it on tv. The main viewers would have been pubs showing the game rather than shilling out to watch it on their own.

  • Comment number 13.

    Your comment: 'My conclusion? Our internet infrastructure may be just about ready for online football - but the audience certainly isn't - at least not if it has to pay for the pleasure.'
    I totally disagree with this closing remark on your post. It is wrong to say our infrastructure is 'just about' ready for mass IPtv streaming. People like you with good connections may be able to do it, but most of the country can't. Only people on cable or sat next to exchanges have a good enough connection, and even they would fall off if too many people tried to stream live content at the same time. You can't generalise in the way you did in that paragraph just because you have cable at your house. Most of us struggle to load pages let alone watch video. The audience would pay if they thought it was worth it or if there wasn't a cheaper or better alternative. You managed to insult a lot of people with that comment too!..

  • Comment number 14.

    I believe that when Microsoft Windows 7 operating system is available around November 2009, that UK television will be reachable on line.

    Is it possible that sport (including football) will be part of that? Although motor racing Grand Prix is available free to air, it is about as regular as international football matches and possibly as popular.

    If one type of international sport is available, for free, why not another? Is it just lack of will on behalf of the promoters of football?

  • Comment number 15.

    When large numbers of people want to watch the same thing at the same time - Broadcasting over the airwaves (incl. satellite) is the only way to go. The internet is a wasted resource to send multiple copies of an identical data stream at the same time - it is simply not an efficient way to carry the information... (This is also what is wrong with viewing TV on mobile phones - the architecture is not a good match for the application and that is that. No ifs, and no buts. - This is not the only reason that it went down like a lead balloon!)

  • Comment number 16.

    The internet is a wasted resource to send multiple copies of an identical data stream at the same time

    And this is why the BBC have been running multicast trials for about five years now:

  • Comment number 17.

    I listened to the match (and what a waste of time that was) on Radio 5 Live streamed to my work PC by the good old BBC. The stream was constantly being interupted by garbled noise (Graham Taylor) and often blittered itself unintelligiable. But I got the gist of it. England were dire.

    If the BBC is incapable of streaming radio adequately then it's not suprising that it's correspondants are worried at the thought of the competition managing intelligable live tv!

  • Comment number 18.

    I am glad there was not a huge take-up for this match. Sadly though this was only because it was a minor game. Had it been a major game it would have had a different outcome, in terms of how many people subscribed to it.

    But the fact still remains that what has been available to watch on TV, albeit with a minor tax, sorry licence fee, should remain so and we the public should not allow companies to dictate to us any different, it's bad enough that many programmes are only available on Sky let alone being only available on the internet.

    Sadly though I fear that when such programs become internet only and probably not available via the usual TV methods very few will stand up and say "this is not on!" much like people have no qualms about paying a Sky subscription on top of their TV tax...

  • Comment number 19.

    My conclusion? Our internet infrastructure may be just about ready for online football - but the audience certainly isn't - at least not if it has to pay for the pleasure.

    I have to disagree

    People are definitely ready to have stuff given to them over the internet(hence the populartity of the p2p community), the corporations are the ones who aren't ready.

    It is exactly the same situation that we are facing with music and films.

  • Comment number 20.

    The time has come for people round the world to demand a fundamental change to intelectual property and copyright laws.

    If I hire some violent thugs, set-up a road block and charge people to pass through it, then I'm creating employment, helping the economy, possibly paying some taxes, but there is no reason why there should be laws to protect me.

    Now on the internet, if one person has a file or live stream and he wants to pass it to a friend or neighbour free or charge, he should be allowed. It is so noble to share.

    On the other hand if someone owns a copyright then I can understand how he would like to abuse his monopoly position and extort money from the public. He would like to have laws to protect his monopoly and block sharing, but should we let him...

    Time to think again about IP laws...

  • Comment number 21.

    Post 20 (pnelnik) seems to be suggesting that anyone who has IP rights should, er, *not* have IP rights and should be prepared to let everyone have free access to material that they have worked to produce, and probably spent money on in the process.

    Perhaps you could demonstrate your commitment to this principle by posting your Sort Code, Account Number and PIN for us all to access. Oh and your credit card number while you're at it.

    No; thought not.

  • Comment number 22.

    If online viewing is going to work then broadcasters need to follow the example set by the iPlayer on the PS3. Granted, it isn't live, but from the comfort of my sofa I am able to access the BBC iPlayer service on my television as opposed to a computer monitor. The picture is of a high quality and I have never encountered any problems. I think games consoles and media centre computers (connected to the television) are the way of the future for watching live online content.


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