2010 Year in Review: Sports online scores big with viewers

Conventional wisdom says that the one thing over-the-top really hasn't been able to deliver is sports. That's a major reason, pay-TV supporters say, why OTT adoption will be hampered: Until you can watch the Super Bowl online, with no jitters, latency or freezes, OTT will play a supporting role and not be a real threat to other forms of delivery.

The Super Bowl's not likely to be available online in high quality for several years, but this is one of those times you should never say "never" because, proponents say, it's only a matter of time.

2010 was a watershed year for sports online.

Major League Baseball continued to deliver a season's worth of live games to subscribers on MLB.tv for just $20 a month. Satellite TV provider DirecTV streamed live online every game this season to viewers who subscribed to the $350 NFL Sunday Ticket offering; the NFL and NBC, meanwhile, collaborated on streaming Sunday Night Football. The big surprise? NFL Sunday Night Football continued to be a ratings leader.

Both the NBA and NHL also made games available online and on devices like the iPad and several smartphones.

The NHL's GameCenter Live gives fans more than three dozen out-of-market games to watch weekly for the entire season for $170. The NBA offers NBA League Pass Broadband, with a top-tier package that makes every game available online and to selected devices for $190.

But major events and championships also were available online in 2010.

NBC also streamed more than 400 hours of Winter Olympic action online, although fans in Canada were much better served... they got to watch sports everyone actually wanted to watch--hockey. And they had a blast.

Once again, CBS Sports set records streaming March Madness... more than 11.7 million hours of live streaming video and audio was consumed, 36 percent growth vs. 2009 figures, by 8.3 million unique visitors to the NCAA March Madness on Demand video players. The final game between Duke and Butler drew 575,000 unique visitors, an increase of 70 percent over the previous year.

The PGA streamed action from The Masters, the British Open and The PGA Championship gaining record viewership, while the U.S. Open tennis championship also set records online, and NASCAR teamed up with Turner Sports to experiement with online delivery of races.

YouTube even got into the action, streaming live cricket matches from India's Premier League. Over 43 days, 60 matches were streamed across the world.

Perhaps the world's biggest sporting event of the year, the World Cup soccer championship, also went online. The U.S.-Algeria game drew 1.1 million unique viewers who watched an average of 43 minutes.