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Hi-tech World Cup brings new dimensions to audience interaction

By Gary Morley, CNN
  • World Cup in South Africa will be experienced across the planet like never before
  • Soccer showpiece will be seen live on mobile phones and in ground-breaking 3-D
  • Popularity of smartphone applications has led to many developed for the tournament
  • FIFA has organized big free outdoor "Fan Fests" around world to maximize exposure

London, England (CNN) -- Streamed live on mobile phones, broadcast in ground-breaking 3-D and ubiquitous in its online presence -- the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be consumed across the planet like never before.

Traditionally, action from the showpiece has been broadcast on terrestrial television, via analog radio or set to print in newspapers, but in a few months the tournament will be available in many more ways.

From watching live matches on your phone or computer, to seeing the action explode around you in ultra-real 3-D or in free outdoor stadium events, the first World Cup to be held on the African continent is set to create new standards in availability.

3-D soccer

Though rugby union was the first to experience 3-D exposure, the World Cup will see the technology reach a much wider population of sport fans.

Broadcasting rights are very well-protected. Four years ago companies like wwiTV got a written copyright notice from FIFA
--wwiTV's Frank Huisman
Video: Kicking up a storm

Soccer's world governing body FIFA has announced that 25 matches will be broadcast in 3-D, with seven cameras at each of five grounds in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The 2-D broadcasts will require 32 cameras at each stadium.

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FIFA expects the total audience for the tournament to exceed the cumulative 26.29 billion viewers who saw the entire Germany 2006 tournament, but only a fraction of that will be watching on 3-D according to its director of TV, Niclas Ericson.

"We hope it will be at least a few hundred thousand per match," he told reporters at FIFA's 3-D launch in April.

U.S. network ESPN is one of three broadcasters to have so far signed up to show live 3-D matches, along with Prisa's Sogecable in Spain and Korea's SBS, though FIFA expects more to join them.

World Cup: Live 3D schedule
June 11: South Africa-Mexico
June 12: Argentina-Nigeria
June 13: Germany-Australia
June 14: Netherlands-Denmark
June 15: Brazil-North Korea
June 16: Spain-Switzerland
June 17: Argentina-South Korea
June 18: Slovenia-United States
June 19: Netherlands-Japan
June 20: Brazil-Ivory Coast
June 21: Spain-Honduras
June 22: Nigeria-South Korea
June 23: Ghana-Germany
June 24: Slovakia-Italy
June 25: Portugal-Brazil
June 27: 1st Group B-2nd Group A
June 28: 1st Group E-2nd Group F; 1st Group G-2nd Group H
July 2: Quarterfinal
July 3: Two quarterfinals
July 6/7: Semifinals
July 10: 3rd-4th
July 11: Final

For those territories without 3-D-capable broadcasters, eight matches will be available in digital cinemas and selected venues around the world.

Aruna Media, based in Switzerland as is FIFA, has exclusive non-television 3-D rights and plans to broadcast live matches at cinemas and other venues in some 26 countries.

Mobile matches

In the United States, ESPN is going big on the World Cup and will have 56 of the 64 matches live on ESPN Mobile TV and VCAST Mobile TV.

It is one of several U.S. rights-holders along with ABC, Spanish language stations Univision, Telefutura and Galavision.

The broadcaster told CNN it will make all matches of the tournament available on phone platforms from the first round to the final on July 11, with ESPN Mobile TV shown on Sprint TV, FLO TV and MobiTV.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) caused a big stir when it announced it would be streaming matches to domestic audiences live via its iPhone app.

These plans have since been shelved, but where the BBC have left a void, UK-based Web sites such as TVCatchup and Yamgo can fill the gap as they offer free feeds to phones for all British non-pay channels. The only restriction being that viewers need a valid television licence.

In many countries such mobile access will be limited, says Frank Huisman of Dutch provider World Wide Internet TV.

"There is a chance, however, that FIFA will broadcast this event on their official site like UEFA did with the European Championships two years ago," Huisman told CNN.

"In that case it depends on the country you live in whether you will get access or not. The broadcasting rights of this event are very well-protected. Four years ago companies like wwiTV got a written copyright notice from FIFA before the event began."

Apps for Africa

Smartphone applications are all the rage, and there are already many soccer-based developments available ahead of the World Cup.

Apple's iTunes store is the obvious port of call for those seeking to bring the tournament to their iPhones, with some free and others costing a fee.

ESPN is again among the contenders, offering a free application that will feature video highlights and in-game video goal alerts as well as live audio and full gamecast capabilities such as stats, play-by-play and live commentary.

CNN has teamed up with South Africa Tourism to provide the free app, which has detailed destination information, trip planners, World Cup information and a postcard function.

Another freebie, the World Cup Countdown app from ChilliX, tallies the days, minutes, hours and seconds to the June 11 kickoff along with images from South Africa.

For those new to the game, Soccer/Football Rules provides a free compendium of FIFA's playing regulations as well as those from the NCAA for American college soccer fans.

If you want latest results from matches, iSoccer Scores from AFR Ventures (99 cents) provides a wide range from the World Cup to most major domestic leagues.

A bit more costly at $4.99, FIFA 10 from EA Sports brings the top-selling video-game maker's latest soccer title to the small screen, and features a Wi-Fi multiplayer mode.

But what about people who don't have access to the latest hi-tech gadgets, which are often expensive even in comparatively rich Western nations?

Africa and South America are two regions with soccer-mad populations who could benefit from a less hi-tech approach to following the games.

To open up the sport to such regions, FIFA will again be staging "Fan Fests" as it did four years ago, this time extending the live match presentations to the nine host cities in South Africa and seven countries including Brazil, Mexico, Britain and Australia.

Berlin, London, Mexico City, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Sydney have all been confirmed to host the free outdoor events.

"We have always wanted the 2010 FIFA World Cup to touch the lives of as many South Africans as possible," local organizing committee boss Danny Jordaan says.

"The FIFA Fan Fest will provide an opportunity for millions of our people to watch the matches in a festival environment for free and will also provide an opportunity for small businesses and our musical talents to benefit from this event."

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