June 14, 2010

Will U.S. fans shell out cash for World Cup mobile TV?

As the first round of the World Cup progresses, it's providing an interesting petri dish on how U.S. fans consume the game.

Aside from the mainstay of watching the tournament on ESPN (and ABC), there are three main planks of the network’s strategy that bear watching.

First and foremost is whether U.S. fans will pay to watch on their cell phones. ESPN is breaking ground by offering live match coverage on mobile.

But are fans here willing to pay the price? Are they that devoted to the game, or the fortunes of the U.S. squad?

It will be interesting to see the adoption rate. Even on a global scale, mobile TV may not really flourish for this event. In the rest of the world, countries all but come to a standstill as people watch their teams play in the World Cup -- on television. With TV, radio and the Internet providing free wall-to-wall coverage, mobile TV is an expensive alternative. Not to mention soccer is a wide-angle sport hardly suited to watch on a tiny screen.

While there’s no downside for ESPN to offer fans the opportunity to consume the event in any medium available, it remains to be seen whether mobile broadcasts will draw big numbers.

Similarly, the $7.99 premium app for Apple devices seems awfully stout for live audio, scoring alerts, and in-game video highlights. Again, it’s another platform and another way to augment the World Cup experience. But there are several very nice free apps -- including ESPN's -- so it will be interesting to see how many apps are sold.

Finally, there’s ESPN3.com, formally known as ESPN360.com. ESPN is heavily promoting ESPN3.com, which in its former incarnation was little more than an afterthought for most fans.

The tournament should be a boon for ESPN3.com. Its format, 64 games including games every day for the first 16 days, is made to order for those stuck at work in an office.

The catch is that ESPN3.com is limited by its licensing deals with ISPs. Currently, that translates to roughly 50 million subscribers. That fact has been lost in the pre-tournament hype, with few stories noting the restrictions for ISPs, thus producing many frustrated fans who have aired their gripes widely on Twitter.

One benefactor of ESPN3’s limitations may be Univision. Univision will stream every game at UnivisionFutbol.com, regardless of your ISP. And “Goooooaaaalll!” is understood in any language.

Soccer: The Beautiful game goes mobile {nielsenwire}
World Cup 2010: Best iPhone apps {NY Daily News}
Are World Cup Fans Really Passionate About Mobile? {MediaPost.com}
FLO TV: No mojo {Multichannel News}
For ESPN and Univision, the U.S. Is a Soccer Country {New York Times}

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