YouTube is actively pursuing deals with professional sporting leagues around the world in a bid to bring more live streaming sporting events to the video site. A Bloomberg report yesterday claims Google is in talks with "most sports leagues," including the NBA, the NHL, and multiple European soccer leagues to show live games on YouTube.
Just last year YouTube showed Indian Premier League Cricket games live, and the results were apparently positive enough to start going after some bigger fish. This is interesting news for a whole host of reasons:
YouTube Wants Your Time
YouTube has been quite public in the past about their desire to move average viewers from around fifteen minutes a day to several hours a day. And the reason is obvious: money. The longer the average viewer stays on the site, the more ads they can be shown. A viewer who watches 100 clips in one night is as good as 100 viewers who each watch one.
And one thing's true about pretty much every professional sport: the games are long. At least two hours long, some sports as long as three or four. That's longer than a typical movie, so it makes perfect sense they're making an effort to add more live sports to the site.
YouTube Is Very Smart
Remember how the major television networks snubbed Google TV by blocking access to Hulu and other sites? Well, how do you think the major networks would react to seeing their lucrative sports programming siphoned off by YouTube? Not too well. Fortunately for YouTube, they've picked the two major U.S. sports that primarily air on cable channels. NBC carries a smattering of hockey games, but the rest are on cable networks like Fox Sports or Vs. The NBA plays on network TV from time to time, but it's TNT and other cable stations that do the heavy lifting.
I have no idea how television works for European soccer leagues, but they're so spread out, I wonder if any one network has exclusivity over there.
The sports also have nice, built-in cult followings on YouTube for the two sports, with NBA and NHL clips routinely grabbing large audiences. So for many, live games will be an easy sell.
There Will Be Push-Back
Just because the sports YouTube is after aren't on major networks all the time, that doesn't mean there won't be push-back. Those cable networks that do carry the NBA and NHL games need all the viewers they can get, and won't be too happy about losing any of them to YouTube.
The difference here, though, compared to my Google TV analogy, is that in this case YouTube is negotiating with the content owners directly---the leagues themselves. Even if Vs. wants to fuss at the NHL over lost viewers, it's still the NHL's content to sell. With the push-back for Google TV, the content owners were the ones objecting.
Live sporting events streaming online is going to happen. It will eventually become the standard. Whether or not YouTube is a leader in that revolution remains to be seen, though I'd argue they're better positioned than anyone to lead the charge. Whatever challenges that live video presents---such as bandwidth or copyright issues---are dwarfed by the potential for lengthening the average viewing session.