With the World Cup over, what’s next for mobile TV?

Posted on July 15, 2010


FIFA World Cup 2010

fiercemobile- The 2010 FIFA World Cup is now history. The biggest winner is Spain, which captured its first-ever World Cup trophy–obvious losers include the Netherlands (suffering its third title match defeat in as many championship berths), Italy (the 2006 champ, sent packing after the opening round), quality officiating (a seemingly endless series of egregious referee errors likely will force FIFA to revamp its rulebook), and peace and quiet (even days later, the ceaseless beehive-like buzz of the vuvuzelas still haunts my every conscious moment). What’s not clear is the fate of U.S. soccer: Landon Donovan’s last-minute game-winning goal against Algeria will live forever among the transcendent moments in American sports history, but Team USA quickly squandered newfound fan interest in its heroics, losing to Ghana in its next match. The jury’s also still out on mobile TV, which reached new viewership peaks during the month-long tournament–now that the World Cup is over, however, it’s unknown if or how mobile broadcast solutions will continue to attract U.S. subscribers moving forward.

With the vast majority of World Cup play unfolding during weekday hours in the U.S., sports media giant ESPN made the decision to stream all 64 matches live across its ESPN Mobile TV channel, available via both the MobiTV and FLO TV broadcast platforms. The payoff was huge: ESPN’s mobile coverage reached 1 million unique viewers during the tournament and registered 93 million total minutes of viewing. Credit ESPN for prominently incorporating mobile television services into its extensive World Cup promotional efforts–the network’s advertising made it plain that handsets were an integral part of its wall-to-wall multi-screen coverage. ESPN’s related mobile offerings (like its mobile website, ESPN 2010 FIFA World Cup App and ESPN ScoreCenter App) also scored big, together accounting for 98 million visits, 520 million page views, 6.2 million highlight video views and more than 2.5 million application downloads.

MobiTV adds that over the 31 days of the tournament, it streamed 108,291,096 World Cup minutes on ESPN Mobile TV–that’s the biggest live event to date on the app, which presents more than 1200 live sporting events per year. The aforementioned USA/Algeria match posted the highest average minutes per user, while the Spain/Netherlands championship attracted more unique viewers than any other 2010 World Cup matchup. Days prior to the tournament final, FLO TV announced several new service viewership benchmarks of its own, noting that three World Cup matches (France/Mexico, Mexico/South Africa and USA/Slovenia) now rank among its all-time most-watched programs–in addition, average viewership time increased to a record-breaking 41 minutes during the Mexico/Uruguay tilt. Team USA’s run also translated to sharp audience growth: 73 percent of all FLO TV viewers between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm EST on June 26 were tuned in to the U.S. loss to Ghana. In all, FLO TV’s total usage minutes grew 34 percent in June over May, with close to one in five subscribers tuning in for more than an hour each viewing day.

But with the World Cup over, some familiar questions return. Given that mobile TV is such an event-driven medium, what’s the next spectacle that will galvanize viewership to comparable levels, let alone to even greater heights? The next World Cup is four long years away. The 2012 Summer Olympics are 24 months in the future. The best bet is the National Football League, which returns in September: Beginning this season, the NFL’s new operator partner Verizon Wireless will introduce to mobile the NFL Network’s NFL RedZone channel, which supplies live look-ins of every touchdown and signature play from the Sunday afternoon games. Verizon also will simulcast NBC’s Sunday Night Football and the NFL Network’s own Thursday Night Football matchups, with the cable channel’s related football programming airing live 24/7/365. Still, the NFL is synonymous with Sundays and primetime–most World Cup 2010 matches aired when U.S. viewers were at work, or on the way there, creating the perfect scenario for mobile consumption. A similarly ideal context may not come around again. But at least for a few weeks, Americans’ resistance to soccer crumbled, and their resistance to mobile TV followed suit–the challenge now is building on that momentum before it slips away.