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Is Internet Streaming Killing Sport? Or is it just the lawyers?

Is Internet Streaming Killing Sport?

By Simon Bailey.

This week I watched the Arsenal match on my PC courtesy of a stream provided by an unknown person in an unknown location in the world. The reason for this is twofold; Firstly it was a 3pm kick off and no UK TV channel is allowed to show 3pm Saturday matches. This is to encourage UK residents to go out and support local teams in lower leagues that almost always play at that time. Secondly, Setanta Ireland, who always show a 3pm Saturday match, were showing the Chelsea – Villa match.

As I live in Ireland, I have the choice of Sky, ESPN and Setanta. If you live in the US you may have the choice of FSC or Setanta, and the same applies in most countries in the world. Most countries have a sports channel or two that shows EPL matches, but the UK and Ireland seem to have the best selection of matches to view.

Apart from the Internet of course. Every Arsenal fan in the UK who saw the match at home this weekend did it via the Internet. The website I use had a choice of 20 different providers in at least half a dozen languages. The higher the profile of the match, the more providers there are, so being Arsenal fans we tend to get a good choice, when we played United at home earlier in the season there were at least 40 providers.



To be able to take your pick of these streams you generally need a windows PC, a decent broadband connection and a few third party pieces of software installed. Many streams are available as media player offerings in an internet explorer web page, but as the seasoned stream watcher will know, these are generally of an awful quality in terms of picture and continuity. To view the best streams you need some or all of Sopcast, TVU, TVAnts, StreamTorrent, and Veetle. There are others but their interfaces are generally in Chinese and therefore unintelligible (to me anyway).

All of the above have their pros and cons. For instance you can’t change your screen ratio in most of them, and they are all susceptible to interference from heavy usage. But the pros outweigh the cons for two reasons: they are universally available and free. For those of us not willing to rely on MOTD for unbiased reportage of our teams match, they are indispensable.

Before the General Election takes place in a few weeks in the UK, the government are trying to push through the Digital Millennium bill into statute. As well as dealing with noble issues such as broadband coverage, this bill has been hijacked by private businesses which are unwilling to embrace the medium of digital distribution and prefer to bury their collective heads in the sand. They are trying to ensure that the law makes it possible for internet subscribers to lose their connections  on production of evidence that at best is collected in a truly flawed manner, and at worst is not supported by facts at all.

It is all about Intellectual Property and Copyright. They equate every ten downloads of a song or movie as one lost sale, and have claimed that the music and movie companies are losing money hand over fist. This despite the fact that research has showed that people who download stuff for free are the biggest cash spenders on legitimate media.

They have also failed miserably to take into account the fact that 20 years ago there was only tapes, records and videos which the consumer could spend their money on. Now we have the aforementioned as well as PC games, Console games, Mobile Phone Apps, Legitimate digital downloads, and all the hardware required to use these items. Add to this the fact that business has never been better for record and film companies.

When the bill is passed, there will be an ability for these private companies effectively to censor the internet. Indeed there is a provision snuck away in the small print that allows changes to this legislation to be made on the hoof, without prior debate in any government institution.

One of the more disturbing consequences of this legislation will be the upsurge in legal firms such as ACS Law. Their business model is to approach American porn distributors and purchase the UK internet rights to their products. Using a modified torrent client, they then harvest IP addresses of people who are actively uploading/downloading these films. They apply to a court for an order which entails ISPs handing over the names and addresses of the people involved. Their next step is to send out hundreds of Legal letters on a daily basis demanding that £300 odd quid is paid immediately to make them go away.

What has this to do with me watching footie streams you may ask. Well, if you are using one of the aforementioned pieces of software, your IP address is harvestable because, apart from veetle, they are all P2P applications. It won’t be long before the Premier league catch on to this and start sending letters.



The arguments for and against file sharing are complicated and I won’t go into them here. What I will say is that I download music which is  non mainstream and generally unavailable to purchase anywhere. I also download various TV shows, a few movies and the odd piece of software. I watch the occasional Arsenal match on my PC. I take my family to the cinema once a month or so, I visit the UK a couple of times a year to see the Arsenal play, and I take my missus to see live music once or twice a year. Most of the TV shows and films are eventually broadcast on SKY within a year of their release.

So just as in the 80’s, we were told that home taping is killing music, is internet streaming of sporting events going to kill sports in 2010?

We are all too aware of how much money our club earns from TV revenue across the world. Is the unchecked proliferation of free internet streams going to affect this?

We have to go back to the music model here. If possible I always download music in the FLAC format. This is a format that unlike MP3 is lossless. There is no degradation of quality in the compression action. Indeed FLACs are often available at a higher bitrate than that which is currently available on CD. In general I hate MP3s and their scruffy quality, but if they are all that’s available then they will have to do until something better comes along.

When I watch a match on Sky or ESPN in HD the quality is outstanding. If I watch a match on Setanta or any other non HD channel it’s good. On Arsenal TV online the quality is passable but not great. If I am demoted to watching a stream the quality in comparison to any of the aforementioned is brutal. It’s even worse if I patch it to my big telly. In reality it’s only because I’m an addict that I even resort to the internet method.

A non HD match will generally take up 4 Gigabytes on a hard drive. An HD match can take up to 12 Gigabytes. If these files are converted for post match download via a torrent site, they can be successfully compressed to about 1 gigabyte with not much loss of quality. But with the technology currently available, converting a broadcast in real time on the fly into a 500kb/s stream, the size of the file would be around 350 Megabytes. This is 1/10th of the quality of a standard non HD transmission.

In the UK and Ireland we are seriously lacking in terms of broadband speed compared to many countries. I believe that in South Korea that Gigabit internet is the norm. Our governments are aiming to have 3Megabits as the minimum standard. But even if we all had super fast connections, the average bitstream rate of sports streams is around 500Kilobits, or half a meg. Unlike music or films which we can access over the internet at near perfect quality, these live streams are far from perfect and I can’t see the situation changing any time soon.

That is not to say that they will not use this as a stick with which to beat us. The Dutch league has successfully managed almost to clear the internet of live streams of their matches after taking various indexers to court. The EPL is active and does get some streams shut down but they do it on a match by match basis rather than having gained a court order.

There is of course another way that people can view transmissions without paying for them. In parts of Canada for instance it is commonplace for folks to travel to the US, buy satellite gear and then using hacked boxes or cards they view the US content for free. The codes for de-scrambling the signal are available via the internet, and the newer boxes will even download the codes they need automatically.

Sky doesn’t have this problem. They own the company that makes the encryption system, and they only license a few manufacturers to make the digi-boxes. That is why all Sky boxes look alike. Of course any satellite reciever will pick up Sky channels, but only the free ones. There are a few linux based recievers that with a lot of work can be made to de-scramble encrypted sky transmissions but this is such a niche market that its impact is very small indeed.

Those of us who subscribe to Sky et al are unlikely to cancel our subscriptions in favour of free internet streams because it just doesn’t match up in terms of quality. Just as most of us won’t go down the linux box route because it is so tricky and notoriously unreliable. We may cancel because of the recession or because the commentators and pundits do our heads in. Most of us will default to internet streams in the absence of anything better, but until really high quality live streams are available I believe that Sky and the EPL are fairly safe.

What I would like to see is the option of buying the sports packages plus a club package that will let us see every Arsenal match in HD. They have so many options available on the red button, surely this could be incorporated as well. It won’t stop the internet streams but it might derive more income for Sky, the EPL and therefore the clubs.

For those interested in this subject, www.torrentfreak.com has many intelligent articles which discuss these issues and more in much better detail than I have been able to here.

—————————

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20 comments to Is Internet Streaming Killing Sport? Or is it just the lawyers?

  • I want to jump in first. When Untold Arsenal was set up two years ago I had the idea that instead of just cutting and pasting news out of the Arsenal.com site we would actually become an internet magazine that published football related articles that no one else would ever publish in a trillion eons.

    This article, and the previous article on Glen Hoddle, are what I dreamed of – an on line Arsenal magazine that was intelligent, wide-ranging, and resourceful.

    I take no credit for this, other perhaps than setting the thing up. It is the articles, their variety, and their quality that makes Untold what it is.

    I know this may sound exceptionally daft in relation to the blogsphere, but I feel really pleased, indeed proud, about what is happening here.

    Tony Attwood

  • Paul C.

    But Tony, an internet blog just isnt an internet blog if it doesnt go into depressing overdrive every time a result goes against us!!!!

    As for this article, it has amazed me how long the PL has taken to get the whole broadcasting stream in line and to maximize revenue. There is this whole thing about not showing Saturday @ 3pm matches so why not move all PL matches to Sunday? Straight away the lower leagues would love the move. Then on Sunday you could have an American type model, with games at 2pm, 4pm, and a late game at 8pm – prime time.

    The majority of matches would be at 2pm, and fans could order “team packages” so that they watched their local team. The 4pm and 8pm games would be the “Game of the Week” type of thing. TV revenue could be maximized because fans could actually get a chance to watch who they wanted and you could still have Monday night matches, and could even have a big Saturday afternoon match every week (@ 5.30-6pm) especially for teams competing in Europe on a Tuesday the following week.

    It would be so simple and would make Sunday’s “Football” day for TV, in the same way that NFL is Sunday afternoons in America, and the whole counrty seems to stop for it. The whole association with Sunday and the NFL has allowed the NFL to become enormously rich because no other sport has a “day” of the week so associated with it.

    Other sports such as Rugby would also love this, since they could play on Saturday without competition of the PL.

  • walter

    Great article Simon. As I also live in another country I seem to be a bit lucky when it comes to Arsenal games on TV in my country.
    I think that for the last seasons our paying sports channel gave some 40% of the Arsenal games live. The other I had to watch on the internet and the quality is poor at times but when I have to chose between nothing at all and watching it on the internet even when quality is poor.
    But from this season on, thanks to the arrival of Vermaelen, our sports channel has chosen more Arsenal games and I think some 60 %, maybe even more around 70 % are live. But some games, like the Birmingham game we have to go on to the internet to see the game. Bad quality and bad commentators (was an USA stream FSC ? ). I like more the East european stream as I can not understand a word they say so I don’t have to be angry when they talk crap.

    So if they would shut down the internet it would be a big blow for us.

    If one could buy the games direct form Arsenal and pay direct to Arsenal I would be the first to do it. Just if the quality would be up to the price. And even then… I would still pay to see every game live on the internet or on my TV. And who knows even with good commentators like on the audio from Arsenaltvonline.

  • walter

    Paul, really love your idea as it would free myself more in my private live and I would have more time for my refereeing hobby again. I now refuse to do games if that would mean that I can not watch Arsenal.

  • Bongo

    I live in Ireland aswell and until they create a football package to cater for me as a fan of Arsenal I would rather struggle through crappy streams, than pay a boat load of cash to see maybe 4-5 Arsenal games. I don’t watch other teams when they play, I either find it boring or annoying to see our rivals win etc.
    I mean who, other than Man U fans, likes to watch them play crap for 90 minutes and have rooney win it for them?
    I don’t care what they do in the UK, nor what they’ll do with streams here in Ireland, just like I had to change from tape to CD to digital to copy music, tv shows and games (I have 5TB worth of stuff). I will adapt to any other changes they make, as I always have. Use proxies and another program to mask my i.p. keep my wifi security disabled for plausable denial and revel in the fact that my I.S.P. doesn’t enforce its download cap.
    If they get rid of streams people will just record them and upload them to torrents, which they pretty much do anyway now.
    I buy all new Arsenal replica kits, some hats, scarves and other merchandise so I have no problem giving money to the club I love but I’m not going to support pay per view companies like sky when i have no interest in 99.9% of what they broadcast. Especially seeing as they rarely broadcast any matches that matter, like the birmingham game.

  • John lupe

    Hey guys i dont knw much bout the skys and bbc’s of your world but to me they make much more than they deserue and a majority of arsenal fans in EU dont give a darn bout thm and their brodcasts i hear they’re pretty CRAP AT BEST – – atleast here am from iv just missed the burnley 1-1 game but all the others i get to watch (BY THE WAY IN A LOCAL BAR *and we demand they show all arsenal games , even whn manure ,chavs or the other countryside team are playin ) so the other fans JUST HAVE TO LIVE WITH US.. . . . . . Luv being a gooner + THE COMMENTATORS ARE NOT ANTI-REALITY LIKE THE sky and bbshit over their !!ANYTHING 4 THE ARSENAL !!

  • keith

    Yes agree i live in Spain and unable to get to Arsenal games anymore i remember the times you could turn up 10 mins before kick off and walk in the north bank
    I for one would like to see the option of a tv season ticket where you could watch all you clubs matches both home and away it would i believe for most people able to get sky in europe end the p2p and bring in more money for clubs and tv companies through advertising also just makes sense

  • Rhys Jaggar

    Tony, you’re right to be proud of what you set up here. The best online sites all gain a momentum of their own due to something that online readers want. In your case, discussion of real issues not toeing the party line. Yes, within a broad framework, but really democratic too. My opinion on that: don’t change that unless you’re thrown in jail for not doing so and, in that case, shut it down rather than submit.

    The other site I know well where this happened fantastically is a climate blog site in the US called Watts Up with That? (Anthony Watts is you, in that case!) He is a weatherman who started a project to monitor all the weather stations in the US as he was finding that they were not up to a proper standard and his work has radically changed the way people now see all the ‘data’, ‘proof’, concerning ‘global warming’. http://www.wattsupwiththat.com went into the stratosphere in terms of hits during the Copenhagen summit but is still one of the biggest global climate blogs of all. Its format and philosophy is almost identical to yours. He gets a multitude of scientists, meteorologists and other folks to submit stimulating articles and clearly gets a lot of blog responses to them. He now thinks that some scientists see that process as more reliable than the traditional journal publication system in terms of highlighting potential flaws prior to publication. Not surprisingly, a few of its bloggers are quite wacko, but the majority are well informed folks who were tired of the PC hype.

    Your site has the potential to gain global traction if you find the right way to attract Walters from around the world! You would surely be on fertile territory in Kenya, where apparently politicians root for an Arsenal win if the tribes threaten a punch up, as they all support Arsenal!! Any chance of anyone telling us an African story about what supporting Arsenal is from afar??

    There’s also an American guy with seats next to us at Emirates who flies from New York with his son, who dreams of playing for Arsenal. I’m sure he could tell you about watching Arsenal in Japan when on business!!

  • Cosmojon

    I don’t know what its like in Kenya but in Hong Kong, everytime Arsenal, ManIOU n Diverpool play the city comes to a halt. Every single EPL and champs league match is displayed on T.V in HD…don’t understand why we can’t get the same service. What’s worse is that they pay £5 per month! ! !

  • Mark

    I went to the Brum away match, but if I hadn’t have been able to get a ticket, i would have watched it at home, I’ve got a motorised dish installed, and can pick up channels from the former yugoslavia area, one of those channels pretty much will be showing arsenal, quite often there’s an english commentary to it as well.
    So streaming isn’t the ‘only’ option.
    I’m not sure of the legality of buying a TV subscription of a foreign land and watching the programs from beyond it’s borders, but for home use (as opposed to pub style commercial use) I think it’s pretty safe.
    Anyway, the way forward is the ability to purchase your teams matches on a TV season ticket I say. The thinking that I’ll go watch Aldershot instead of Arsenal just because Arsenal aren’t on telly is sanatorium level intelligence.
    Good site btw Tone, where’s your seat at AG?

  • tim

    If internet streaming didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be able to watch a single game live.

    Yes, there’s lots of money “lost” due to internet streaming, but on the flip side, from a club’s perspective, you have people all over the world who probably wouldn’t be “fans,” many of whom would be willing to shell out a week’s worth of salary just to fly to England to see their favorite team, and have certainly bought tons of merchandise, etc…(this is Bongo’s point above.)

    In this sense, I see internet streaming as kind of a “sunk cost,” which, in the end, benefits all (except for the %^&#s at Sky Sports, etc.).

    But yes, if there were an option to be able to watch every game in HD by paying a small fee, I’m sure I would. After all, I happily pay for ArsenalTV Online.

  • Mark I am in block 99, row 10

  • Jim

    Before anyone thinks I’m defending Sky, I have to say that I will never ever willingly put money in Murdoch’s pocket and don’t have Sky or any other form of pay tv BUT!

    If Sky or the BBC didn’t send cameras (absolute minimum 3, usually more) and crew to every single PL game, there wouldn’t be any streams to download. The cost of all this plus the infrastructure to get the feed back to their network is pretty high. All the matches seen abroad rely on the feeds from the UK broadcasters, paid for by Sky subscribers and/or UK TV licence fee payers. That’s why I do have some sympathy for the attempts to shut down dodgy satellite feeds and internet streams, but not for the broadcasters themselves.

    The big issue for me is the ridiculously high Sky fees in the UK. If Sky dropped their fees for football and/or stopped bundling it with hundreds of channels of garbage that no-one would ever pay to watch, then many more people would consider paying for all the PL or just their own club matches. The trouble is, however high the costs of televising TV football are, Sky charges far more than it costs. This is exactly how Sky got where they are. Before PL football came along they were going bust. Ask Sky why you can’t just have the PL and nothing else. They won’t tell you of course. You can’t because without PL the rest of Sky is a pack of cards of that would collapse in an instant.

  • well-endowed gooner

    I’m in Australia, and I basically live off internet streams. There’s very little alternative when it comes to watching the Arsenal. And it’s a nightmare trying to find a stream that works, and that will work for a full 90 mins. I would pay £25 a year if the Arsenal broadcasted low-quality streams of matches throughout the year, as long as they guaranteed a reliable stream.

  • Mark

    Tony, oh ok, you’re pretty much directly above me, I’m block 5 row 5, I asked cos there’s a bloke looks like you in block 4 row 10 (which is my cousins seats that’s how i know) cheers,

  • Great article. I was living in Japan in the early 2000s and with the sky perfect TV staff I never missed an Arsenal game even though I was paying a lot of money but as an addicted I can’t live knowing Arsenal are playing and not being able to watch. Now I am back to my country : Senegal. For those who don’t know it, it’s a small country in the westest part of Africa. Now I’m getting this Canal+ staff with every possible option they have that can show a footy game. And my only purpose is to watch Arsenal and maybe get the results of our rivals. And still sometimes right befoe kick off you realise they won’t show the game. You start nail-biting cursing everybody before running for the streams. And if you guys in the UK are complaining about your internet connection just imagine how it is down here.
    But I have been really impressed with the Japanese sky perfect fellas even the pre-season games were available. Technically they have destroyed my life after spoiling me so much but I am still very happy about what they offered me coz they gave me all a fan could ask for.

  • 0.9 Calibre

    Good one Simon. I used to live in India and internet streaming wasnt an option (not that I needed em always) cos of the miserable speeds(of the order of several kbps), I guess there are many countries like mine which are yet to develop and contribute millions of EPL viewers and for all of us its ESPN or STAR sports! Right now I live in the US and I use streams every weekend cos I havebt taken a cable (students dont take cables) and I long to watch the matches on real TV on ESPN or STAR. Its just like the guy just off Ems will probably never watch it on TV and the guy with ESPN will probably never use Veetle and the guy who uses Veetle always dreams about watching matches at the Ems and on TV. Good internet streams like Veetle lag the live coverage by a minute and for someone like me who is keen on following other results that take place at the same time as our game (Chelsea Vs Villa, miserable!) I open up espnstar sports.com on one window and follow their Livescores option and you get to know the Arsenal goals a min earlier so its annoying. Whats even more annoying? You watch an entire build up to a goal and when he is bout to shoot the stream hangs.. For someone spoilt on cable TV this is unacceptable… Bottom line is that Live internet streaming will take another 30-50 years universally to ensure quality streams of PL games and by then the Corps would have figured out a way to charge us for it and a bunch of super smart Pirates would then evolve.. this’ll never end..

  • Clerkenwell Gooner

    Is the model for clubs to start streaming live footage of their own home games to fans directly via the web? When will this happen?

    And is this why the Glazers are in at ManU?

    Like many of the commentators above, I have no desire to put $$$ into Murdoch’s pocket (in fact I don’t even have a TV, I go to a game when I can afford it, to the pub to watch the big games, or else listen to live commentary on BBC 5Live).

    I see no reason that man should get my cash for watching Arsenal. Arsenal should get it direct.

  • Ray

    I quit my Sky subscription because I felt the price had become too high. My decision had nothing to do with streaming. I think Sky is greedy, not only getting money from subscription fees, but also through heavy advertising. In Britain, it seems Sky subscribers pay more compared to folk in other countries and I think this is partly the fault of complacent Brits for not making a stand. Previously, I bought a web subscription via Arsenal.com where most games consisted of commentary with a still picture every ten seconds or so. If Arsenal had a web service to enable live games in good quality to be watched at a reasonable price, I would be happy to subscribe. I would rather pay the club direct than go through an expensive middleman like Sky.

  • OK Ray I appreciate you are advertising premium soccer but tell me this, what is the deal like with BT?