Saturday’s World Cup game between England v Sweden was the BBC’s highest ever online-viewed live programme. Does this spell the end of the role of television at future World Cups? Well, in a word… no. Matt Bowell sprints to set the record straight.
My first World Cup memory dates back to 1986 in Mexico. A time when the only real technological concern was how to get a decent reception on your TV to watch the games.
As a seven-year-old at the time, there was something magical about being huddled around this small, fuzzy screen watching England play Argentina as my dad and his mate got rather shouty at a certain Number 10.
Fast forward – gulp – 32 years and the weekend’s World Cup quarter final between England and Sweden typifies how significantly things have changed in the way we can now watch and consume these huge marquee football matches.
Even just looking at a few friends of CE over the weekend I could see how many options were now available to the public…
One live-streamed it on a train back from London, where a carriage full of fans raucously celebrated the Ali goal. Another was 30,000 feet in the air en-route to a holiday in Panama, but with in-air WiFi and BBC 5Live there was no keeping them away from the match, even including the Vice President of Emirates. Even I used the iPlayer app to watch the game, so we could sit outside, enjoy the sun and top up the tan, instead of being locked away in a darkened room.
Something significant happened after Italia ‘90 as 25.2 million people tuned in to witness Gazza’s tears as England lost a penalty shoot out to West Germany in the semi-final in Turin.
What followed was a significant shift exemplified by a broadened interest and change in perception of football, culminating in Sky buying up the rights to Premier League games, satellite dishes appearing on houses up and down the country, and the consumption of televised football becoming ingrained in this nation’s culture.
Four years later at USA ‘94 things were changing as the ‘World Wide Web’ started becoming more useful. As can be seen by the following official statement on the World Cup USA ’94 servers:
‘When the games begin on June 17th, the World Cup USA ’94 pages will begin to change daily reflecting the current date, that day’s events, results and standings. New and different imagery, graphics, and text will enhance this dynamic online electronic news source.
Official results, imagery (game photos), and standings will be updated shortly after each game. Each team’s standings and statistics will be updated as the games progress, and the previous days’ pages will be accessible to the sports enthusiast.’
Fast forward 28 years and it’s not quite as simple as putting on BBC or ITV to watch a World Cup game. Through the interactive Red Button, the BBC iPlayer, or the dedicated BBC Sport App on our phones, tablets and Connected TVs, online content is served up to masses. Not only do we love it, but we’ve grown to expect it.
Whether it’s live streams, highlights and clips, latest headlines and fixtures, scores and results, we’ve come a long way since that announcement from 1994… and I’m not even talking about how much impact social media has had on all of this. I’ll leave that for another person on another day.
However, what hasn’t changed is our preferred device for watching the big games live. The television. The quality, size and capability of these televisions has changed significantly, and the options available to us have grown, but you can’t argue with 19.9m of us tuning in to watch England’s World Cup quarter-final victory over Sweden.
Yes, the match received 3.9m online requests, 3.8m of them live. Yes, there’s an element of the unknown about what the future holds with Amazon and Facebook recently securing the rights to live-stream Premier League games. Yes, as digital marketeers we need to ensure we leverage the online opportunities that exist for our clients around the World Cup. BUT, there is no hiding from the fact that 19.9m of us, when given a myriad of ways to watch the game, decided to televise it.
Whether it’s huddled around a small, fuzzy screen in 1986 with a shouty dad, or one of the 20m of us watching last weekend’s England Sweden game from our front rooms, beer gardens, or wild public spaces, we still love the good, old-fashioned telly and as far as I can see, that will continue into future World Cups as well.