The companies behind the screening of England's World Cup qualifier in Ukraine as a pay-per-view online broadcast today hailed it as a success after almost half a million people tuned in, despite complaints about the picture quality.
The Swiss agency Kentaro, left holding the rights after Setanta went bust this year, and Perform, the internet broadcaster it employed to show the match after receiving no "satisfactory" offers from TV broadcasters, said almost nine in 10 viewers who responded to a post-match survey found the picture quality "satisfactory or better".
The experiment had been billed as a glimpse of the future but some viewers calling radio stations today claimed it was more like stepping back in time, complaining there were glitches in the feed and delays in the commentary.
But the doomsday scenario predicted by some observers, who said the internet might grind to a halt, failed to materialise and some pubs and clubs rigged up projectors to show the match despite there being no official provision for viewing in commercial premises. In a statement Kentaro claimed "almost half a million" people had watched online or in 12 Odeon cinemas nationwide. It said there were "no technical issues" and claimed all customer enquiries were responded to within five minutes.
Before the match, Perform had said it would cap the number of streams at one million to preserve the quality of the picture. The actual number of pay-per-view "buys", from £4.99 to £11.99, can be estimated at 250,000-300,000, although a proportion of those were through a marketing tie-up with the online bookmaker Bet365, which showed the game free to customers with a funded account.
If Sky had shown the game, it might have expected around two million viewers and had it been broadcast on ITV, the audience would probably have peaked at around seven million. Kentaro refused to release a detailed breakdown, claiming the figures are commercially sensitive, so it is impossible to assess how many viewers arrived via newspaper websites and other media partners signed up to promote the match on a revenue-share basis.
Perform's chairman Andrew Croker said it was "an extremely successful and ground-breaking project".
He added: "From a customer-service, production and distribution point of view, we felt it went very smoothly." According to its own survey, 87% of viewers said the match offered value for money and 89% said they would pay to watch sport on the internet again.
The BBC, which struck an 11th-hour deal for highlights but was not allowed to advertise the fact until after the match as Kentaro tried to maximise subscription revenue, attracted a peak audience of 4.3m. The corporation had bid in excess of £1m for the live rights but Kentaro, which was believed to be seeking around £3m, deemed it too low and opted to pursue an internet-only broadcast instead.
Kentaro's chief executive Philipp Grothe said the model is likely to be replicated in future. "Not only have we delivered Britain's largest ever live pay-to-view internet sports audience but commercially the venture has proved itself as a viable model for future games," he said.The experiment was being closely watched by rights holders globally, keen to see whether it can prove a viable alternative to selling to a TV broadcaster and so help stoke competition in the market.
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