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By: MarkJ - 7 October, 2009 (8:48 AM)
This Saturdays World Cup Qualifier match - Ukraine v England - will be the first England international EVER to be broadcast exclusively live on the Internet in the UK, on a pay-to-view basis. The unusual move has caused a lot of controversy and sent many ISPs into scramble mode as they attempt to make sure that customers have enough broadband bandwidth available to view it.

To recap, Ukraine v England was originally scheduled to be broadcast live in the UK on the Setanta UK pay TV service; however Setanta UK went bust last June, meaning Kentaro, who own the rights to sell this match, had to find a new broadcast partner to show it. No offers materialised and so Kentaro turned to digital sports specialists Perform to stream it live.

Sounds interesting so far, except for some rather significant gripes. Firstly there's the limit of one million active customers and the fact that, unlike some broadcasters, there is no agreement in place to allow this match to be shown in pubs; as is somewhat of an English tradition. In other words, millions are being denied the chance to watch our national side play. If this is the future of media then “I’ll get my coat”.

The next issue is video quality, which is partly dependent upon the connection speed you receive from your broadband provider. Perform states that they will "provide the stream at three speeds (450kbps and 800kbps)" (isn't that two?) and customers will need a minimum connection of 550Kbps (0.5Mbps) for reliable viewing. Unfortunately, even at its highest setting, the quality is still disappointing and makes the BBC's iPlayer look superior.

england v ukraine 2009

Price has also been a concern, with those who pre-book being asked to pay £4.99 to watch the live event, which rises to £11.99 on match day. Personally I've never been a big fan of pay-per-view events and always avoid them, thus my feeling about this being deeply over-priced for what you receive should be taken in that context.

Naturally anybody on a cheaper broadband package should also be mindful of the fact that they may consume 1 or 2GigaByte's of data during the full coverage, which could cause problems if you have a cheaper service with a restrictive Fair Usage Policy (FUP) or small monthly usage allowance. Some ISPs may also impose restrictions upon streaming services and it may be wise to check with your provider before coughing up any cash.

So what about the ISPs themselves, what are they doing to help prepare for this rather unique event? Happily most of the ISPs we've heard from or spoken with are indeed aware of it and attempting to make sure that any increase in traffic does not overwhelm them.

Clodagh Murphy, Director of Eclipse Internet (KCOM), said:

“Delivering the England game via the internet will be an exciting challenge for all ISPs in the UK. We are confident that our significant investment in technology and capacity, together with our Optimisation Tool will give our customers a ‘virtual’ pitch side vantage of the match. We will also have our UK based Technical Support team on hand to help our customers should they encounter any difficulties.”

Eclipse Internet allows customers to prioritise their broadband connection for the activity that is most important to them. From video streaming to gaming, Peer2Peer to web browsing, it is free and requires no technical support to set up. Sadly most other ISPs prefer to retain this level of control for themselves.

Elsewhere both BT and Virgin Media have informed us that they are preparing for the event, which in BT's case means "proactively planning to make as much bandwidth as possible available for the match." BT added that it will be offering additional advice to its customers. Both providers are in contact with Perform and we hope to have more ISP responses later.

Watch the Event LIVE:

UPDATE - 1:17pm:

Comment from the CLA:

Douglas Chalmers, Director CLA North, said:

“Even if they are willing to pay, many fans in rural areas simply cannot access the fast connection required to be able to watch streaming television over the internet. This match must not set a precedent. Internet-only broadcasts of important events are simply not acceptable.

I always thought that big sporting events should bring people together, not send them away to their solitary computer. As a Scot, although my team is not involved I still feel strongly about the principle.

This is another example of either an ignorant assumption that everyone who wants to can watch in this way, or an arrogant disregard for those who can't, including the many supporters in rural areas.”

UPDATE - 8th October 2009:

The cost has now increased to £9.99 and will rise to the maximum on match day.

BT now has an information page for it's customers on the event, although it's nothing new: http://bit.ly/wz8FD .
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