This week in online video was almost all about Aereo. Almost. In the midst of a disappointing ruling by the Supreme Court that may put the streaming provider out of business, a little thing called the World Cup caught Americans' attention.
The swing between these two events was huge: first, crushing disappointment over what appeared to be the Supreme Court not understanding Aereo's technology, and then the euphoria over watching global traffic numbers skyrocket beyond any previous online streaming record. Add to that the U.S. team's thrilling loss to Belgium on Tuesday--"going out on their shield" as an ESPN commentator aptly put it--and I was left with the impression that two critical thresholds for online video were crossed.
That first threshold: defining just how far online video entrepreneurs can take their ideas legally, in a fiercely protectionist entertainment market. My colleague Dan Frankel and I have both been covering the early fallout from the Supreme Court's decision in ABC et al vs. Aereo, and you can access all of our content in this special report.
The second threshold: washing away any doubts that live streaming of sporting events is a sustainable business model. While the men's team didn't dominate the World Cup, Watch ESPN and Univision helped the U.S. dominate global streaming traffic, driving combined peak traffic to 6.84 Tbps on June 26. North America has topped average peak traffic so far at 4.3 Tbps, according to Akamai. Leading up to the match against Belgium, American viewers made up 20 percent of the total audience across FIFA's digital platforms, The New York Times reported. Visitors to its site from the U.S. jumped 207 percent between 2010 and 2014.
As a proponent of online video, I wanted to rail against the powers that effectively decapitated a company that was pointing the way to media and entertainment's future. But there are more pieces in play here than just the concept of "the man keeping us down." Pay-TV providers are finally taking their TV Everywhere offerings seriously, thanks to the increasing interest in events like the World Cup and the Olympics. And content providers are increasing their online heft as well--from the big movie and television companies to individual creators, signing on to multichannel networks to make their mark.
Aereo is currently on the ropes, figuring out its options in the wake of the high court's ruling. What happens in the next few weeks, as small companies try to move into the space left by Aereo and provide their own versions of live television, could further define online video. Not so much where it will go--audience demand is driving much of the industry's direction--but who will control it. Follow our coverage here, and stay tuned.--Sam