World Cup scores a goal on cell phones
The biggest thing about this year's tournament is actually small. Mobile video rights deals could change the way you watch sports in the future.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Even if you don't plan to watch a minute of the World Cup, how these matches are being viewed elsewhere could lead to big changes in how you watch your favorite sport in the future.
That's because these soccer matches are a breakthrough event in terms of wireless video rights deals.
There could be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fans worldwide watching goals and other highlights on their cell phones over the next month.
More than 100 countries have some form of mobile video offerings for the matches, with some real soccer hotbeds such as Italy, Germany and Switzerland broadcasting entire matches to mobile devices.
While some highlight packages will be available only after the games or at half time, other services will send fans alerts and the video feed within minutes of when the action took place.
"There will be a day when all major sports will be available in video form on mobile," said Robin Chan, associate director of entertainment programming for Verizon Wireless, the nation's No. 2 cell phone service. "This year's World Cup is a seminal event for mobile video."
At first glance it's tough to see that impact in the United States. V Cast, Verizon Wireless' video service, has highlight packages for all 64 of the World Cup games that can be viewed at halftime and after the games. But those highlights are in Spanish only -- English language mobile rights were not awarded in the U.S. this year.
Part of the reason is the far more modest interest in the World Cup in the U.S. compared to other countries. Outside of the U.S., the World Cup is arguably the world's most popular sporting event.
But another part of the problem is that the United States still trails many other markets, especially those in Europe and much of Asia, in the new generation of cell phones able to carry mobile video. Fewer than 10 percent of U.S. wireless phones now have video capabilities, and some major providers, such as T-Mobile, do not even have a mobile video platform in the U.S. yet.
Other major sports have been slow to embrace wireless video. The National Football League has probably the most lucrative U.S. mobile rights deal already in place with Sprint Nextel (Research), worth a reported $600 million over five years. But the highlights are only available after games are completed.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the NFL considered allowing video highlights to be sent out during the games but decided against it in order to steer clear of conflicts with the television networks that air football games.
"It's our philosophy to protect the rights we extend to our network partners who are paying a tremendous amount of money," he said.
But Bob Bowman, the CEO of Major League Baseball Advance Media, said he expects video highlights of baseball games will be available on a nearly live basis as soon as next season. And mobile video highlights of this year's postseason games will be available for customers outside the United States.
"We can't do it for rights reasons in the United States, but next year for regular season we'll be doing it, assuming our partners, the carriers, are ready to do it," he said. "I would say, it's going to happen inevitably. The phone is the most important device everyone carries. The technology is there. And the demand is there."
Bowman is one sports executive carefully watching how the World Cup wireless services do abroad.
"I tip my hat at what they're doing," he said. "They've got the perfect event to do it: a massive worldwide following where each goal, each game is so important."
Bowman and Verizon Wireless' Chan both said that as much as the spread of the new generation of video-enabled phones in the U.S. markets, the spread of mobile sports video offerings will depend upon sports leagues and wireless phone operators figuring out exactly what is the right business model.
"It's partly technology, but a lot of it is rights," said Chan. "It's such a young industry, there's so much money at stake. Everyone is just trying to make sure that the rights are allocated appropriately. It gets a little be complicated."
The leagues and cell phone providers are also trying to find the price points that will attract customers. The Verizon Wireless V Cast package costs $15 a month, while MLB's current alert service, which uses text messages rather than video, goes for $3.99 a month.
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