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Google Considers Using YouTube to Air Live Sports

Most people in America are not familiar with the game of cricket. Terms like “wicket” and “leg bye”, have not yet been embraced by our lexicon, but soon, they could influence the fate of all broadcast sports.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) recently finished its season with a new champion. In its native country, IPL is the most watched sport, with millions tuning in to follow local clubs, and fans of the sport spread out across the globe. Although America has never really accepted the sport, the results of the games could have a major impact on us. Or at least the sport’s fans may.

Google India recently created a new channel on YouTube called the IPL channel, which streamed only live Indian tournament cricket matches to the rest of the world (although not to America, where there was a delay). A total of 60 matches aired live on the IPL channel. The results were that a staggeringly high 50 million fans tuned in to YouTube to watch games, 25 percent more than Google executives expected. Around 40 percent of viewers were from outside of India, proving the reach of the channel.

The New York Times is reporting that Google partnered with seven advertisers in India, including international companies like HP and Coca-Cola, and together with Google they purchased the rights to air the cricket matches for two years, for around $10 million. By comparison, a television deal that was similar in terms of coverage, forces a ten-year commitment and cost broadcasters $1.2 billion.  The IPL has proved to be a huge commercial success in India, and while no profit numbers for the Google deal have been released, it is safe to say that the deal with the IPL did very well for Google financially.

Although television broadcasts dominate, and will continue to control the sports business, Google’s success with the IPL could signify a new avenue for live sports. If it worked with cricket, there is no reason it would not work with other sports as well. Google is not the first to air live sports either. ESPN recently renamed their online channel from ESPN 360 to ESPN 3 in an attempt to legitimize the medium.

Major sports in America already have intricate deals that generally cover online broadcasts as well, but some sports with a devoted fan base that may not be able to get the coverage they want- hockey for example- could find success on YouTube. In fact any sport with a global reach that does not reach huge TV audiences, or may simply not offer the depth of coverage some fans would like (cycling, swimming, track and field, for example), might be an ideal fit for the software company that has incredible resources and a global reach.

The impact of YouTube may be slight at first, but it could offer fans a new place to watch their favorite sports. A FIFA official told the New York Times that a deal with YouTube during this World Cup was “very unlikely,” but for future tournaments, he said, “there is perhaps a possibility.”

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