The 2018 World Cup will be remembered for many things — Ronaldo’s free kick, Germany’s early exit, England’s best performance for years — but also for how media was used to watch and celebrate the games. This is the first World Cup for a host of innovations and features, each changing the way audiences consume the game.
Here’s a run-down:
1. The first tournament that people have been able to post live videos from their smartphones
Meerkat, the first live streaming app only launched in 2015, followed by Periscope, and by Facebook in 2016. Now many other services like Instagram and Snapchat offer it, and fans are using it to go live before and after games.
2. The first tournament with Vertical ‘Stories’
Vertical video was starting to become popular during the World Cup in Rio, but was not mainstream. While Snapchat stories launched in 2013, the platform still had well under 100m monthly active users, compared to the 400m people that now use Instagram Stories every day. This has generated new forms of media — specifically reaction videos, with fans and celebrities sharing videos of them celebrating the results. EE report that Snapchat in the UK saw a massive peak of activity after England won a penalty shoot-out.
3. The first tournament with GIFs in social media
Twitter also seems to be having a great tournament, with hashtags for all games trending, and fans using the platform to both comment on the games while they are on, discuss when they have finished, and in particular joke with each other in the lead up to the next games. Funny memes are being shared on the platform more than in previous tournaments partly because GIFs were introduced to the platform in 2016.
4. The rise of ‘Connected Viewing’
What is different is the way that smartphones are being used in conjunction with the TV — also known as connected viewing — now that people know that they do not need to stay at home to be able to watch the games. The number of 4G connections has grown from half a billion to nearly 3 billion in four years, and thus, phones are now being used to watch the matches alongside TVs, with streaming numbers being highest for daytime games when people are more likely to be outside.
5. First tournament watched with virtual reality
It has also been possible to watch games in virtual reality for the first time — Oculus Rift was not launched until 2016, followed by other brands like HTC Vive. Even the lo-fi Google Cardboard didn’t launch until 2015. Some broadcasters, for example, the BBC, Fox, DIRECTV and others letting fans watch with their headsets from different viewing points. There is no indication of how popular it’s been yet, but it has not been generating very much buzz.
See a sample from the BBC:
World Cup: Experience World Cup in Virtual Reality
2018 Fifa World Cup on the BBC Live: Coverage across BBC TV, BBC Radio and BBC Sport website with further coverage on…www.bbc.co.uk
Other observations this year
- Channels seem to have had better control over copyright. Several previous tournaments have been wrong-footed by technology, for example, a relatively uncontrollable YouTube in 2006, and Vine in 2014. This time the channels seem to have been much better at taking down unauthorised clips or preventing them from appearing in the first place.
- Players are taking to social media just as much as their fans. Several of the world’s 100 top Instagram users are footballers, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi, and young players can see the benefit of being popular on the platform. Players like Jesse Lingard, Takashi Inui and Mo Salah are all posting regularly with lots of personality. We should not be surprised as they are part of the Instagram generation.
- With all these innovations, it’s important to stress that TV is still the main screen where people are watching the games. In the UK, channels are seeing the biggest ratings for years, with viewing figures for the England games approaching the levels observed for the 2012 Olympics, and rising as England went further in the competition. For the England-Croatia semi-final, 26.6m viewed it on ITV and another 4.3m used its online service, ITV Hub. This number excludes those watching in their crowded local pub.
Lastly, we can’t predict the result of the next World Cup, but we do know that 5G networks will be live in 2022, so we can definitely expect that there will be much more live mobile viewing, including people in parks and on transport — it will be even harder to get away from than it is today!