American sports fans’ new-found enthusiasm for FIFA World Cup soccer, fueled by the inspiring performance of their home team, is helping to kick off the U.S. market for video service on cell phones, spurring a 12.7 percent increase in subscriptions in 2010, according to iSuppli market research partner Screen Digest.
U.S. mobile Video On Demand (VOD) and mobile TV active subscribers are set to rise to 3.5 million in 2010, up from 3.1 million in 2009. Subscribers are expected to continue to expand during the following years, reaching 5 million by 2014.
“Roused by the success of the American team, U.S. consumers are paying more attention to the World Cup in 2010 than ever before,” said Ronan de Renesse, senior analyst for Screen Digest. “This enthusiasm has extended into the mobile realm, where sports fans are eagerly following the action on their smart phones and other wireless devices. The main reason why mobile video is so appealing for viewing World Cup events is that many of the games taking place during the U.S. work day. At the same time, the ubiquity of mobile video makes it perfectly suited to capture the U.S. audience that is unable to watch the games at home.” Driven by World Cup interest, U.S. subscribers will consume 178.8 million mobile VOD items in 2010, up 31.5 percent from 135.9 million in 2009.
ESPN has cashed in on U.S. World Cup fever, with the sports broadcaster reporting 8.2 million visits to its World Cup mobile web app and content. The company also reported generating more than 50.4 million page views and 550,000 video streams related to the World Cup.
ESPN is streaming 56 World Cup matches to its U.S. mobile TV subscribers. In addition, the games are available from each of the major U.S. operators: Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. In particular, AT&T customers have access to the eight concurrent matches via a dedicated World Cup channel.
The success of mobile video World Cup coverage in the United States is reflected in other countries, including the United Kingdom.
For example, U.K. broadcaster ITV has launched an iPhone application and web app that offers live streams of all its World Cup broadcasts, news, schedule information, podcasts and video highlights. The BBC has also made live games available via its iPlayer, which is available on a variety of portable devices, including the Apple iPad.
French telco Orange said it expects the World Cup to lead to at least a 74 percent jump in viewership among its U.K. mobile TV audience. Orange U.K. customers can watch all of ITV's World Cup games as part of the operator's £5-per-month mobile TV service.
Sports content long has been a major driver in the adoption of mobile TV. For instance, Orange's April 2010 Digital Media Index reported that dedicated sports channels commanded 51 percent of its mobile TV audience.
The success of free sports content on mobile is not in doubt, and it is increasingly likely that ad-funded services will enjoy the strongest uptake in the future, but mobile advertising is still in its infancy and corresponding revenues are currently insufficient to offset content rights costs. Paid subscriptions that offer bundled multi-platform access will fare better than stand-alone mobile services. Nonetheless, because the World Cup only lasts one month, it is also likely that many new paid subscribers of mobile video will churn after the tournament—unless service providers continue to offer compelling content.
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