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Sportscasters set for IPTV boom

Want to watch obscure football leagues, or bet online while watching the races at your desk?
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

Want to watch obscure football leagues, or bet online while watching the races at your desk?

Sportscasting is going to be at the forefront of the growth in television over the internet, or IPTV.

Major players in the world of sports broadcasting predict the sector will see considerable growth over the next three years as broadband penetration increases, the market for premium sports coverage matures and the public becomes more attuned to the benefits of digital interactive media.

And according to IPTV expert Ray Dogra from Accenture, the prediction could prove something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As BSkyB's decision to buy rights to top flight English football drove the uptake of satellite television in the 1990s so the availability of premium sports programming could force the issue of IPTV, Dogra told silicon.com.

Simon Green, managing director of Setanta US, said sportscasters must keep pace with other media that have made the move to new platforms and multiple channels.

Speaking at The New Media Sportscasting Summit in Dublin, Green said: "We are in the entertainment business and must compete for our customers' attention in a very busy market dominated by MTV, iPods, PSPs, TV soaps, cinema, pubs and PCs."

Stephen Michael, general manager of Liverpoolfc.tv, hinted at the traditionally fickle nature of online consumers who are prone to let subscriptions lapse or look elsewhere for content. Michael said "investing heavily in customer services and technical support" is key to reducing customer churn.

Michael said providing preview content and walking consumers through the offering is essential in educating the market about what they would get for their money.

Matthew Taylor, editor of At The Races, said the ability to stream horse racing over the internet, with a minimal time-delay, would also open up commercial possibilities for sportscasters and the online bookmakers.

Taylor said betting in-running will be something of a holy grail for companies able to reduce that time delay to as close to zero second as possible.

He added: "More users now understand the relationship between PC spec, connection speed and picture quality and broadband penetration is growing rapidly."

But it's not just the major sports with large fan bases that look set to benefit from IPTV.

Richard Hall, CTO at Avanade, told silicon.com minority sports with loyal fan bases will also likely embrace the benefits of IPTV. While many sports have traditionally failed to court prime time scheduling from major broadcasters and break the dominance of football, rugby and horse racing, Hall said IPTV will have a democratising effect.

Hall told silicon.com: "Sporting communities with a reasonably large fan base whose sport has not traditionally been broadcast widely in the mainstream, can now go direct to their audience."

Accenture's Dogra told silicon.com the same democratising effect will be true where location is an issue. Even with a growing number of television channels and a raft of subscription models it is not possible for broadcasters to cater for all viewers' sporting preferences. IPTV, once issues such as broadcast rights and subscriptions are ironed out, will enable people to follow domestic sports from anywhere in the world, said Dogra.

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