The Bumpy Transition from Public to Personal Media

Yesterday's first-ever (legal) distribution of an English football match via the Internet apparently went off without a hitch, if one sets side already qualified England's loss to Ukraine. While such games are normally broadcast on TV for all to see, the original rights holder went bankrupt in the summer, leaving a new rights holder to make the decision to show it online. While the online version went generally well technically, if online comments are a guide, the transition of a traditionally "public" event to a very personal setting—from big screen TV to small screen PC—ran up against some social traditions that may be a bigger barrier than just having enough broadband.

What matters in this case is cultural context. In the US, we gobble up most new Internet innovations without blinking. In fact, we are a culture of technologically-driven change. Others, maybe not so much. In England, and in many other countries, group experiences around sports are a core social experience. US viewers are generally adapting to the movement of big screen content to the small screen. Sure, if the Super Bowl was made online-only, there would be rioting in the streets (led by the advertisers no doubt), but we are turning more and more to the Web and mobile devices to catch the action.

So, when media companies, online and mobile properties and sports leagues are making the decision to jump to new frontiers, they need to take careful stock of not only the technical feasibility, but the cultural context as well. This may mean rethinking timing, or, more importantly, finding ways of compensating for the rich  interaction that happens around sports as a social object.