Women’s World Championship Video Streaming: More Bits Please

The IHF and Sportfive, Inc have made all of the matches at the Women’s World Championship available for viewing on line. Here’s a review of what you get for your 19.99 Euros.

[b]It’s all about the bits:[/b] Or more accurately it’s about the bits per second (bps). And the video stream of either 450 or 750 Kbps just isn’t good enough any more. It’s not to say that 750 Kbps isn’t viewable, it is. But, when you’ve gotten used to the 1,500 Kbps provided for German Bundesliga games at HBL.TV, you can’t help but be a little disappointed. On my own personal viewing guide of 1-10, with 1 being a 1950’s over air B/W broadcast and a 10 being HD TV on a plasma screen, the World Championships stream is a 5, while the HBL.TV is a 7. The HBL.TV matches are very close to regular TV over cable. There’s a few occasional drop outs and the picture isn’t quite as crisp. The World Championship video stream, as the lower score implies, is a step down. The picture is less crisp and you can’t go full screen, because you’ll get too much pixilation. As Sportfive is providing both products, I’m not sure what the logic is for the lower bit rate. Let’s hope that the next time around a higher speed is offered.

[b]It’s also about where you live:[/b] When I moved back to the USA, I knew my options for watching Handball on TV would immediately drop to zero. Internet viewing I knew would be my saving grace. It’s not quite the same as viewing a match on regular TV, but you take what you can get. What’s amusing to me is that now what I can get is more than what many handball fans in Europe can get. Yes, believe it or not, because of TV rights issues, someone in the USA (a handball wasteland) can see more of the World Championship then someone living in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Slovenia. Who’d have thought that my colleagues at handball-world.com would be emailing me in the USA to visually verify what happened in a match because it wasn’t on TV in Germany. Not only is that funny, it’s financially silly. Who knows how many subscriptions would have been bought in those countries? I understand the underlying issues with broadcast rights. But until the quality of internet streaming is the same as regular TV, no one is going to forgo buying a cable channel, because he’d prefer to watch the matches on the internet.

[b]A different way to watch: [/b]I’ve already covered how the actual viewing experience compares to TV, but what might not be readily apparent is how video streaming and video on demand changes the way you watch.

[b]Where you watch: [/b] Sunday morning is traditionally Daddy-Daughter day at the Ryan household with me taking my daughters for bagels and then to play at a nearby park. But with wi-fi access at the local McDonalds, the girls spent a couple of hours at the play place while I watched games on my laptop. Try doing that over your TV.

[b]What you watch: [/b] And, I wasn’t watching a game. I was watching games. With 6 pools and as many as 6 games going on, I surfed from game to game based on the score. Who’d have thought that Romania-China would be such a good game. Glad that I wasn’t stuck with one game on one channel. Of course, the option to view multiple games is already available for some sports on TV as part of a subscription package, but as far as I know handball doesn’t have that enough pull in any country to pull that off.

[b]When you watch: [/b] As Las Vegas is nine hours behind Central European Time, only the weekends are conducive to live viewing. I suppose I could take time off from work, but there’s no real need to when you have Video on Demand and can watch whatever match you want, when you want to. As there are only so many hours in a day, you also need to be selective about what to watch. Case in point, last night I only had an hour or so of free time, so I watched the end of the Brazil-Russia game, the end of the Hungary-Spain, and the beginning of the Australia-Macedonia match as I was curious as to how the Aussies were able to lead for so long. To Videosport’s credit the interface also makes it pretty easy to find a certain point in a match that you might want to see, such as the Paraguay goalie scoring against Ukraine.

[b]News Blackout or Not:[/b] Another big decision is whether to watch without knowing the score or not. Generally speaking if I’m going to watch an entire match I don’t want to know how it’s going to end. But a news blackout is not always as easy. Fortunately in the USA the likelihood of overhearing someone at work excitedly talking about the Brazil – Russia Handball match is incredibly small, but you still have to watch out for self inflicting yourself with knowledge by going to handball websites. And to the videosport website’s credit, you won’t see the scores of any games on the website. But with limited time, sometimes it’s better to know what happened so you don’t waste time watching a bad game.

[b]English Language Commentary:[/b] None so far, but I got an email from Paul Bray indicating that he will be calling games from the quarterfinal on. If you’d like to know a little bit more about Paul’s handball background check out the audio interview I did with him this past January in Germany.

[b]The Future (Near Term):[/b] I can only hope that the EHF provides streaming for the Men’s European Championship in January. And while they are at it, why not the Champions League? I’ve also seen news reports that NBC will be providing a lot of handball coverage, but it is not clear as to what portion will be web based and what portion will be televised.

[b]The Future (Long Term): [/b] More games with more bandwidth. Some day soon, I envision that every Spanish League, German League, Champions League and major national team competition will be online. The questions are simply when and how much will it cost.