The nine-day athletics world championships, which are staged in Helsinki next month, are to be webcast in the United States and US territories for less than $5, as the world governing body, the IAAF, seeks to overcome American broadcasters' antipathy towards "amateur" sports outside Olympic years.
Last year's Olympics in Athens were "narrowcast" in a joint venture between the International Olympic Committee and NBC, the US broadcaster and rights-holders for the Games.
The IAAF world championships are the world's third largest sporting event, after the Olympics and football's World Cup. But with American broadcasters consigning coverage of track and field to heavily edited highlights packages, often broadcast very late at night, the IAAF is seeking to reach athletics fans in the nation which is likely to dominate the medals table in Helsinki.
In total, 58 hours will be webcast live, with Steve Ovett, the former Olympic champion, Sean Pickering and broadcaster Peter Matthews providing the commentary. The service will provide uninterrupted coverage of all preliminary rounds of every track event and extensive coverage of all field events.
The coverage will begin this Friday with a "bonus" transmission from the Oslo Golden League meeting.
The service is being delivered by World Championships Sports Network (WCSN), in partnership with MLB Advanced Media. Viewing the webcast will require broadband Internet access at a speed of 350kps. Under the deal, regional television coverage in the US will be provided by Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia, Baltimore/Washington, and Northern and Central California, Comcast Sports Southeast in Atlanta, and Comcast Local in Detroit.
In addition to the live feed, subscribers will also be able to view archived footage of each day’s Webcast one hour after the conclusion of the day’s coverage. WCSN will also provide subscribers to the online service access to the one-hour highlight show that will be telecast each day on the PAX cable network.
This development arrives perhaps five years later than many had predicted during the dot.com boom, but represents what many sports federations hope will provide them with an essential new revenue stream and means of reaching new adherents. The recent, rapid extension of bradband access around the world has accelerated the process, which theoretically will allow sports fans to choose their own coverage and watch it on their computers.
Applied to other sports, tennis devotees could in theory choose to follow the action on Court 13, rather than watch the TV producers' pictures from Centre Court; gymnastics fans might opt to watch the progress on the beam or vault, rather than the floor exercises; and skiing enthusiasts could watch uninterrupted coverage of even the longest cross-country races.
"This Webcast has the potential to revolutionise the way track and field is viewed in this country," Craig Masback, the chief executive of the US track federation. "Devoted track fans will get precisely what they’ve requested for so long – uninterrupted coverage of action on the track and in the field."
WCSN says it is the first programming network dedicated to capturing the athletes and international sports federation competitions from around the world, and it aims to showcase gymnastics, ski jumping, fencing and volleyball.
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