The 2008 European Football Championship in Austria and Switzerland next summer will be the first major international tournament to be broadcast in its entirety over the internet.
The European Football Association (Uefa) has developed the platform to produce, encrypt and deliver the content to broadcasters and to individual pay-per-view customers across the world.
The initial push came from the European Commission, keen to drive interest in new technology, according to Uefa New Media head of technology Daniel Marion.
“The European Commission came to us and said that since we were managing a big sport, we should be present in, and exploit, the growing online market,” said Marion.
“In the early days the technology was not in place to provide live streaming, but for 2006 to 2009 we decided to sell the internet broadcast rights along with those for TV.”
The process of creating the internet feed involves satellite relays and a global server network.
Footage of each match is filmed by the local broadcaster that holds the rights for the country in which the event takes place. Coverage with ambient sound is then sent via satellite to Uefa’s office in London which is responsible for the dubbing of the international English broadcast and then on to Turin for commentaries in other languages to be encoded.
Once complete, the data is transferred back to London where the match coverage is distributed via NTT’s secure Smart Content Network.
The service uses a network of strategically-located cache servers in Europe, Asia and the US to balance out spikes in demand and ensure smooth coverage for viewers.
Uefa’s online streams are contracted to broadcasters, who in turn make coverage available to individual consumers at a cost of around £1.50 per match.
Internet coverage will enable European football fans all over the world to follow the Euro 2008 championship.
The service is also playing a vital role in securing the future popularity of the sport, both by providing another way of watching games and through additional interactive services that can be offered over the internet.
“The younger generations are more likely to use their PCs to watch football,” said Marion.
“And new fans don’t want to just sit and watch sport on their couch they want to talk to other people using instant messaging and things like that,” he said.