Streaming live sports, a study in contrast

Remember a couple weeks ago when sports fans and patriots were up in arms over NBC’s refusal to stream live coverage of events that it was televising?

The fear was that online viewers would cannibalize the television ratings.

Fast forward to the next great sporting event (opening weekend of the NFL doesn’t as “event,” for our purposes): the U.S. Open Final. Normally played on Sunday, the men’s final got bumped to Monday because Tropical Storm Hannah rained out the Saturday afternoon proceedings.

As a result, the match between Roger Federer and Andy Murray began at 5 pm ET, when many of us couldn’t be in front of a television. But credit CBS with [streaming the thing live](javascript:launchVC(‘rtmp://[email protected]′,’480′,’272′,’US%20Open%20Live’);), so we’re not completely shut off from what’s might end up a historic win for Federer. (It’s early yet, but he’s looking sharp.)

So why the different strategies? For one, NBC was playing for much bigger stakes with the Olympics than CBS with the Open.

But CBS’ move to live-stream the Open is also an encouraging sign that a network not widely known as the most cutting edge when it comes to digital strategy, might be warming up to the idea that content can live in multiple places at once without torpedoing the revenue proposition.

The CBS live stream is accompanied by the same trio of commentators you find on TV, and a sampling of the commercials has the familiar brands: IBM, Lipitor, etc. It’s just on the Web. And the video quality is pretty poor. No one who has access to a television would watch this match online — but for those of us who don’t, it’s nice to have it there.

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