IN 1993, the Californian garage band ‘Severe Tire Damage’ became the first rock group to broadcast live over the Internet, by streaming a concert to audiences around the world.
The quality of the debut broadcast was understandably poor, with the frame-rate around four frames per second. The broadcast reportedly required around half the bandwidth of the entire internet.
That fact alone encapsulated the difficulty of such a task but, gradually, live streaming began to become more common as technical advances improved the bandwidth of computer networks in the 1990s.
There were a number of significant landmarks throughout that decade; the first sporting event (a Major League Baseball game) was streamed in 1995; the first large scale live-video broadcast occurred in 1996 when Marc Scarpa produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert; the first live stream of political event was a US Presidential Address by Bill Clinton in November 1999.
By the middle of the 2000s, as broadband internet was becoming widespread, and computers were more powerful, the online video industry was poised to take off. By 2012, live streaming was ready for the big leagues, with the TV network NBC streaming the Olympic Games for the first time.
It may have taken a while for the technology to fully develop and expand the practise but, with it now possible to live stream from a smartphone, it’s easy to see why billions of people watch video live streaming via a device that fits in their pocket.
In recent months, the practise of watching local GAA matches on a phone has become increasingly popular. But in the context of how most people view their video content, the explosion of live streaming GAA matches is fully understandable.
Video live streaming has already transformed the way we think of television and video, because online video is gradually replacing TV. Viewers no longer segregate linear online content from TV programming; they consume whatever they want on a screen from wherever they choose.
The availability of technology has made streaming more accessible to everyone. But what has radically changed in terms of GAA viewing is the culture – because live streaming of club games has quickly emerged as an essential aspect of GAA life.
A handful of counties had been covering club games on their own TV channels, while some ambitious clubs had also jumped on that train. But when people everywhere could no longer go to watch the matches, every county began to provide a viewing service to their own public.
The uptake has been so high that a number of counties passed the 10,000 barrier for subscribers on their TV channel. Income from the streaming service will not make up the shortfall for lost gate revenue but it has underlined its success as a revenue-earner in such difficult times.
Different counties have reflected different trends. The majority of viewership figures are generally limited to club members watching their own club in action. But as some counties have crunched the numbers, they’ve noticed a significant uptake of viewers from outside their county.
The big question now is whether live streaming is the way forward for county boards, or merely a short-term stop gap while normal revenue streams have dried up? What will happen when the crowds come back?
The crowds will certainly return when they can but the streaming facility that enables subscribers to watch back for 24 hours will surely continue to accelerate the streaming practise when current crowd restrictions are lifted. In that context, if a supporter wants to get to a game at the same time as another attractive game, it can be viewed in the supporter’s own time during that following 24 hours.
That is particularly relevant to matches in other counties. For example, last Saturday evening provided a fiesta of huge knockout games across the country, many of which were played around the same time. The anoraks and fanatics were able to feast on the streaming a la carte menu, in their own time, throughout Saturday and Sunday.
County boards are fully aware now of the potential, especially when streaming can reach an audience anywhere in the world. It’s a smart business venture for county boards too because there is no capital cost, just a standard game-to-game cost, which only rises in the event of a second camera being provided.
Live streaming also requires minimal personnel, with just one operator required on location, while counties provide their own commentator and co-commentator. It is a basic service compared to those offered by TV stations but streaming club matches is mostly about making sure people are able to access their own club games.
The next challenge will be to extend that service to the inter-county game in the coming months. Over the last few years, there have been 45 live TV games during an 18-week championship. Now that that time-frame has been halved, there will be a host of big game TV casualties.
That was obvious in recent seasons when the feast was so great that a number of early-summer marque matches didn’t make the live banquet.
If the inter-county championships do go ahead, empty stadiums won’t be an issue for TV because the public are used to it now. With such a packed match schedule, and only so many games making the cut for TV, at least the public won’t be able to say now they can’t see their team in action.
And for those who routinely say that their county team only got three minutes air-time on the ‘Sunday Game’, the explosion of live streaming has certainly weakened that argument.