Lack of broadband may penalise football on the Net

New broadcasting rights mean that football clubs can now broadcast matches on the Web, but broadband delays will restrict the venture's UK success

Premier League football clubs are warming up to take advantage of their new online broadcasting rights, which will allow them to stream highlights of this season's games on their Web sites. But Internet analysts are warning that severe broadband delays will restrict the success of such a venture in Britain.

For the first time ever, top clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United will be offering subscription-based coverage of their matches a matter of hours after the event has taken place. Under the new rules, football clubs own the rights to video coverage of their matches, meaning that the exclusive broadcast period granted to TV companies will expire almost immediately in some cases.

In past seasons, Premier League football clubs have been limited to showing post-match footage on their sites. The new rights will mean that for games taking place at the weekend, the exclusive period runs out at midnight on the following Monday. For matches on weekday nights, the broadcasting rights will revert to the relevant club at midnight on the same day.

But the quality of match streaming is dependent on high-speed Internet connections -- something that is severely lacking in Britain. Internet analysts warn that the sluggish roll-out of broadband in the UK will prevent many people from paying up to £40 a year to watch poor quality broadcasts on their PC. "You need broadband to make this kind of content viable as a service, and it is not looking like we will receive major broadband penetration in this country for the next couple of years," said Hamish MacKenzie, senior analyst for IDC.

According to MacKenzie, television companies face a greater threat from digital TV companies broadcasting football matches. "I'm not convinced about people wanting to watch an entire football match over the Internet, as football fans are already taking advantage of digital TV to indulge their interest," he said. "DSL through digital TV however is a platform that could work well." Charles Runscie, production editor of BBC Sport Online, agreed that TV football contracts are safe. "The clubs will not be able to broadcast matches live -- I don't think that [Internet broadcasting] will have much of an impact yet, as people want big screens and a shared experience," said Ruscie.

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