The Game’s the Thing!

What drives technology adoption, especially for consumer electronics products? History has shown that pornography is a major (though often unmentioned) force. I suspect that sports comes in a close second. I remember that early color television programming focused on sporting events. Sports also make up a large part of the HDTV programming that’s available today. Satellite radio and various subscription TV services stress their total coverage of one college or professional sports league or another.

So can sports be a driving force for the adoption of video content over the Internet? There are some signs that it may well be a major factor here as well. According to a report in The Bridge, just over 1.8 million unique visitors logged onto the network’s site for March Madness On Demand, which provided free coverage of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. These visitors watched a total of 2.72 million hours of live coverage.

Now make a fast break to this year. The visitor count jumped to more than 4.7 million in 2008: better than a 160% increase. And these visitors watched nearly 5 million hours of streaming content, slightly less than double last year’s figure. CBS eliminated the registration requirement that had been part of the site in prior years, but this alone does not account for the big jump in usage figures.

Now, keep this in persepective. The number of viewers would have to double more than four times before it comes close to the 97.5 million who tuned in to the 2008 SuperBowl (according to Nielsen Media Research). (And the 2008 SuperBowl drew the second largest audience of all time, behind the final episode of Mash.) Still, 4.7 million is a lot of people taking advantage of free live coverage of a sporting event over broadband Internet.

If the past repeats itself, more people will turn to the Internet for sports coverage, and in turn, will start looking at other content available online as well. If you have an Internet connection to your television and you get comfortable using it for sports, you’re more likely to start using it for other programming . I don’t expect that sports will turn Internet video into an overnight success, but the signs are clearly there that interest is growing.