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Live streaming changes sports viewing, broadcasting

After five years, the live sports streaming has finally caught on with Internet users. Now, with the free streaming of Sunday Night Football, Adweek magazine is reporting that a clear signal has gone out: Live streaming is officially a clear differentiator that forever has changed the way sports has been covered.

“Streaming is one of the big waves of the future,” Andrew Zimbalist, sports economist and economics professor at Smith College, told “Adweek. “And the quality of streaming is going to continue to go up, such that it’s going to be almost indistinguishable from HDTV. So there’s tremendous potential.”

All the major U.S. leagues, including MLB, MLS, the NBA and the NHL, are implementing or revamping mechanisms in an effort to capitalize on the revenue stream, both in terms of advertising and capturing new viewers, the advertising trade publication reported.

However, live streaming raises pressing questions for advertisers and the outlets that carry the games. Perhaps the biggest one is how advertisers are going to spend their dollars — a question that won’t be answered until they see whether the streaming cannibalizes exposure to their ads in the games carried on broadcast and cable TV. One possibility is that advertisers might forego TV buys in an effort to reach viewing audiences during the day.

In what will be a first, the NBA plans to stream live games in local markets on team sites in the coming year, a move that would conflict with the broadcast rights of local TV partners. According to Adweek, the NBA has mandated each team to launch three separate digital services — video streaming, interactive TV and VOD — to coincide with the start of its 2008-09 season in late October.

One of the main sticking points for the local cable and satellite operators is that they would lose exclusivity over some of their highest-rated programming. At this stage, it has yet to be determined whether the games will be streamed free.

The decision to emphasize live sporting events online was made last year, David Preschlack, executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Media Networks, told Adweek.

“We think there’s an online appetite to view them, but we also think that content is going to be a driver as it relates to the high-speed data marketplace, much like content was the driver for the proliferation of cable television back in the late ’70s.”