Few sports governing bodies have had a period quite as exciting as Uefa has had in recent months. The European soccer organization’s new – if slightly complicated – Nations League tournament has proved to be a major success so far, while the body has also shown further willingness to embrace new ideas by introducing VAR into its flagship club competition, the Champions League.
Now, the organization has confirmed plans to embrace video technology in another sense, by taking steps into the ever-evolving world of live streaming.
A core part of the web
For the uninitiated, the basic definition of live streaming is broadcasting live video and audio coverage across online services, rather than perhaps using a traditional radio and television service to do so. The concept has become a fundamental part of how many of us use the internet, with video chat applications like FaceTime being an example of the technology.
In addition, the likes of Amazon used the technology for its Mayday customer support service for several years, while streaming has also been embraced by the online casino industry too. Sites like Betway use the technology to offer ‘live’ casino games, where the action is hosted by a dealer who appears and communicates with players via a video link. Finally, another new example of streaming in action is LinkedIn’s Live service, which has been created with a focus on showcasing events, conferences, awards ceremonies and other corporate-themed issues.
But how are Uefa looking to use streaming technology and what could it mean for the future in terms of watching some of soccer’s biggest competitions?
Shifting the focus
In comments to the Spanish news outlet Palco23, Uefa marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein has outlined how the governing body is seeking to create its own new streaming service. Described as an over-the-top – or OTT – service, this would mean that content is provided to users without the need for them to subscribe to a standard television service or package. According to SportsProMedia.com, Uefa is planning to use the new service to provide more updates and coverage of events and competitions which do not get the level of exposure afforded to its biggest tournaments in men’s soccer, which means it is expected to predominantly feature action from other forms of the game such as futsal and women’s soccer.
It is hoped such a service would create a new revenue stream for Uefa but Epstein has stressed that he does not see such a platform emerging as a major challenge to the broadcasters that the organization already has links to. He emphasised: “We do not want to compete with TV channels but to take advantage of the wide range of content we have, such as summaries, delayed games, backstage pictures and futsal, women’s and grassroots competitions, whose broadcasts generally do not have the same visibility as the men’s tournaments.”
Uefa is not completely new to the world of online video, as it does already have its own UEFA TV YouTube channel. However, a particularly interesting element will be whether the body chooses to make any streaming service operate on a region-specific level or if it will simply open up content to all countries and continents without any restriction. No date has yet been set regarding when this new service may be available.
A major issue
News of Uefa’s plans is just the latest example of how streaming and its impact on broadcasting is attracting more and more attention within the sporting world, but particularly when it comes to the issue of soccer.
Eleven Sports has emerged in recent months as a form of ‘Netflix for sport’ with rights to competitions such as La Liga, although there have admittedly some question marks regarding its overall success. Furthermore, last year’s announcement that Amazon had secured the rights to broadcast some Premier League matches in the coming seasons hinted how web services are mounting a viable challenge to the domination of traditional broadcasters.
While Uefa has undoubtedly been clear that it does not want to compete with its broadcast partners with the new service, there also remains a growing sense that organizations in the sports world are interested in taking control of their ‘product’. Take, for example, the Premier League, with recent reports hinting that the competition was close to trialling its own streaming service in Singapore towards the end of last year and suggesting that the platform could lead to a significant boost in its own revenues. In addition, the English Football League also makes use of the iFollow service, which gives clubs the chance to broadcast games to overseas fans and also showcase matches to UK supporters when they are neither played on a Saturday afternoon nor selected for broadcast on TV.
Such trends certainly do indicate that, although Uefa has said otherwise, it would not be a huge surprise if the organization has already given some consideration to the fact that the successful launch of a streaming service could give it an opportunity to broadcast its biggest games itself in the future.
The internet and the emergence of live streaming have transformed our lives in so many ways already, but it would appear that its long-term impact on the world of sports broadcasting remains to be seen. It will be fascinating to see how matters develop over the coming years and whether we are indeed heading into a time when major sports like soccer are broadcast directly to us by the bodies that organize their key competitions.