With more digitally native audiences craving new experiences and formats for sports, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has become a case study of how apps and streaming services can bring the type of mobility, flexibility, and engagement traditional TV could not, writes Adrian Pennington.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 was always certain to be a tournament like no other. It was the first time that the most famous competition in global sport was held in the Arab world and one which saw streaming services set a new benchmark for the possibilities of live event coverage.
Around five billion people engaged with the tournament content, according to FIFA, across an array of platforms and devices across the media universe shattering the record set in 2018, when 3.575 billion people watched. On social media, according to Nielsen, there were 93.6 million posts across all platforms, with a 262 billion cumulative reach and 5.95 billion engagements.
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: Unprecedented live traffic volumes
In terms of scale, the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qatar was content delivery network Akamai’s single-largest traffic event. “During the 2022 World Cup we set a peak traffic record with 261Tbps on the platform due to the combination of the France v Morocco semi-final and a major video game download,” explained Harish Menon, Senior Director, Global Broadcast Operations and Customer Events, Akamai. “This is why we plan for these large events, accounting for peaks in traffic and regular organic growth.”
The epic final in which Argentina’s GOAT Lionel Messi went toe to toe with French superstar Kylian Mbappé was one of the most dramatic sporting events ever, generating unprecedented internet traffic volumes worldwide for an individual game.
In Argentina, which won on penalties after the game ended two goals each, the final was aired across three channels (TV Publica, TyC Sports and DirecTV) – with a combined audience of 12.07 million viewers, per FIFA stats.
In France, the final on TF1 attracted an average audience of 24.08 million viewers, 81% of the audience share. This was 24% greater than the audience for the France v. Croatia final in 2018 (19.38 million) and an all-time viewing record in the country.
In the US, the final attracted a combined audience of almost 26 million – with the coverage on FOX being the most watched English-language broadcast of a FIFA World Cup in the USA. The final was also the most-watched match of the tournament in Spanish, with a Total Audience Delivery of nine million viewers – a 65% increase compared to the 2018 final.
Coverage of the final aired live across the middle east region on beIN Sports. The match achieved an audience reach of 242.79 million viewers – equivalent to 67.8% of the channel’s potential television audience.
In Mexico, viewing peaked during the Mexico-Argentina match when 20.96 million viewers, about 67.9% of the total viewing population was engaged. It also became the largest FIFA World Cup Group Stage match in Spanish-language history when televised by Telemundo in the US.
Not only were there significant increases in streaming VOD and live streaming during matches, but surges of traffic within matches as digital engagement was triggered by goals, yellow cards, and penalties.
A North American client of traffic management solutions provider Sandvine saw traffic steadily climb in 10-minute increments of the final, reflective of the excitement generated by each goal and each yellow card as the match grew more contentious. Twitter traffic surged from 60GB to 130GB once the World Cup started, Sandvine reported.
FIFA World Cup 2022: Exponential engagement
In Japan, youth-focused streamer Abema procured streaming rights for all FIFA World Cup games in Japan. According to Sandvine, Abema didn’t reckon on the fact that each match Japan won would spur more interest for the next match, growing from 10 million to 30 million active daily viewers by the time Japan played Croatia at the end of November. To keep up, Abema engineers reportedly had to temporarily restrict access, which caused a flood of Twitter complaints from its younger viewers.
In Brazil, the tournament attracted an overall reach in the country of 173 million or 81% of the population.
Over 51 million UK viewers were reached across the entire tournament, representing 83.9% of the potential market audience, according to FIFA. Service provider Red Bee Media tells IBC365 that it even had occasions which included 68 EPG changes during the same day to serve its international broadcasters.
BBC figures reveal the matches across the tournament were streamed 92 million times on iPlayer, while also reaching 38.8 million on BBC TV.
Coverage of Portugal’s round-of-16 match against Switzerland delivered the most-watched FIFA World Cup broadcast ever recorded in Portugal, with an average of 3.89 million viewers – 71.8% of the broadcast share.
FIFA World Cup 2022: Quality the key metric
The clear trend is towards richer, higher-quality online consumption. Broadcasters and streaming services providers will be looking now to the FIFA Women’s World Cup from Australia and New Zealand this summer, then the Paris Olympics 2024. Further ahead, during the 2026 World Cup hosted in Canada/Mexico and the USA, fans will want an even better experience with higher resolution and low latency mere table stakes.
Fabio Murra, SVP Product & Marketing at V-Nova observed: “For World Cup 2022, certain matches available in UHD HDR with surround sound on streaming platforms were only available in HD with stereo on broadcast channels. On the other hand, a shift to streaming highlighted the latency issues that are still a challenge for this delivery method.”
Jason Friedlander, Sr. Director Product Marketing, Media Platform, Edgio stressed the need for operational scale. “During major live events like the World Cup, there are so many moving parts behind the scenes you have to be as efficient as possible. I’ve heard of some companies deploying up to 100 people on live events, which is just not sustainable and creates significant overlap. The complexity involved is huge, and to be honest I don’t think streaming providers are taking on board the challenges they will face as live streaming and programmatic grows from here.”
By 2026 sports content will be primarily streamed. According to Murra, “High-quality, low-latency services will deliver a reliable quality of experience for traditional 2D viewing. Perhaps, one of the most significant changes will be the use of more advanced technologies for extended reality (XR). These technologies will enable viewers to experience sports events in a more immersive way, give them the feeling of being at the venue, and enjoy it with friends and family that are physically far away.”
Red Bee expect greater personalisation in presentation – “particularly in the way that more personalised and local ‘shoulder’ content is used to augment mass audience moments. Serving the audience wherever they are, while maximising the opportunity to unite the nation.”
FIFA World Cup 2022: Showing the way for future engagement
Julie Souza, Head of Sports, Global Professional Services, AWS said, “There’s a desire by many leagues and teams to be closer to the fan, so we could potentially start seeing them launch services and experiences to complement the streams on more traditional broadcasts and OTT streams.
“We’re heading in a direction where the viewer holds the producer’s reins versus producers creating an experience they think works for the masses.”
By 2026, in-venue, 5G and edge computing will help ensure lower latency content to mobile devices of spectators at the stadium so that there’s more continuity between what’s they’re seeing unfold live and what they’re seeing on their phone.
A survey from Grabyo found that nearly two thirds (65%) of sports fans watch video on their smartphone (46%) compared to 43% of those that watch on their TV. Red Bee says these numbers highlight the need for sports content delivery to be more flexible and cater to market diversity as media companies expand across rights holding, content acquisition, packaging and delivery – for cable, satellite, digital TV and mobile.
“Consumers, more than ever, now demand customised and regionalised versions of live matches,” said Rick Young, SVP, Head of Global Products, LTN Global. Players like Amazon and Apple have forever changed the landscape causing traditional media players to rethink their strategy on how live sports fits into future plans. The 10-year deal by DAZN to license NFL rights across their global OTT platforms shows that platform-specific, digital-first delivery continues to grow quickly.
“In order to meet viewer expectations, experiences must be tailored for the specific platform or regional audience with the right graphics, language, shoulder content and advertising.”
FIFA World Cup 2022: Augmented reality
This is on FIFA’s mind too. New technologies and productions designed to be consumed via various devices were some solutions that FIFA proposed to its broadcasters in order to appeal to younger generations in 2022. For the first time at this event, social media content in vertical format was captured via mobile phone and distributed to broadcasters to use in their coverage.
An Augmented Reality app was developed by FIFA, offering viewers content through mobile devices, “transforming living rooms into a 3D data centre,” FIFA said. New tracking data allowed fans to get insight into a specific player or team to get stats and in-depth analysis of their performance, in real time.
The organisation also developed services to populate broadcaster services, such as VOD clips, near-live multi-angle clips or near-live statistics.
As Romy Gai, FIFA’s Chief Business Officer, summarised in a release: “Viewers are becoming increasingly active and less passive in how they consume content and in the future will have the option to choose how to enjoy an event like the FIFA World Cup – whether that be via livestreaming solutions more suited to VR or through gaming and the possibilities the metaverse will bring.”