Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Social media kick off new football era

By Wang Yiqing (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-22 07:38

Since the World Cup was televised live for the first time in 1958, television has been the main means for soccer fans worldwide to watch matches. But the nearly 60-year TV soccer era is now giving way to the Internet soccer era, as the World Cup in Brazil this summer has changed fans' viewing habits and made the beautiful game appeal to even broader audience.

The Chinese soccer team's woeful performances mean it didn't participate in the soccer jamboree in Brazil. But despite this and despite the time difference that saw many of the matches played in the weesmall hours of the morning, Beijing time, the event was still unimaginably popular across the country, and catching fans' eyeballs was the top priority for all the media.

In China the country's state broadcaster, China Central Television, is the big World Cup winner because it holds the exclusive TV broadcasting rights. Nevertheless, this year's World Cup showed how deeply the Internet, particularly the mobile Internet, is now embedded in daily life, especially the lives of young people.

Due to the application and popularity of 3G and 4G networks and the high-resolution screens and high-speed processing power of mobile Internet devices, Chinese World Cup audiences preferred experiencing the World Cup this year through their smartphones and tablets rather than their TVs.

While die-hard soccer fans were willing to struggle through the day after staying up all night to watch the matches live, most ordinary Chinese people weren't. During the day, mobile Internet services offered more advantages to viewers as they could access the results and highlights on demand.

The mobile Internet now occupies people's attention for a lot of time every day due to its high portability and convenience plus the fragmented time experience it offers. Industry insiders have noted that the morning and evening rush hours were two peak times for Internet use during the World Cup.

This World Cup can also be described as the first social media World Cup. Although CCTV didn't sell live broadcasting rights to any Internet company this time in order to maintain its core competitive power, it did choose Sina Weibo, China's largest Twitter-like micro blog platform, as its exclusive social network cooperative partner.

A result of this was the World Cup in Brazil became part of the social discourse. For me, this was the first time that the World Cup became a topic of conversation rather than being just a gala for soccer fans. At peak times there were as many as 370,000 micro blogs per minute about the World Cup. The beautiful CCTV female football anchor Liu Yuxi, who coincidentally each match wore the shirt of the team that lost the game, has become a popular celebrity thanks to social media during this World Cup. The topic "Squid Liu", the nickname that netizens gave her because of her ability to predict the results of games just like "Paul the Octopus" did during the 2010 World Cup, has racked up 300 million view-times on Sina Weibo.

Moreover, more non-football fans, especially a huge number of women who used to be excluded from enjoying the sport, have become more interested in soccer and enjoy the pleasure it brings, not least through the heated discussions it generates. It's perhaps worth noting, that female audiences contributed 54 percent of the discussion on Sina Weibo during the final.

New media are changing our lives and behavior in visible or invisible ways. It's hard to predict what new changes will take place at the next World Cup in 2018. But it won't be the same as this time, because technology development and media evolution never stop.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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