Billions across Asia to watch World Cup

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Billions of people around the world are expected to watch the World Cup at some point during the tournament with media operators in Asia eyeing record audiences.

Such is the massive interest in a sport that is played in virtually every country on the planet that FIFA has forecast at least as many people will tune into the month-long extravaganza as in Germany four years ago.

This doesn't take into account the millions more watching on streaming over the Internet or on mobile devices, where live goal alerts, match updates and even live games will keep fans abreast of the action wherever they are.

And in a first this year, some games will be broadcast in 3D, with South Korea's SBS carrying action in this format along with ESPN in the United States and Sogecable in Spain.

According to sportcal.com, FIFA expect television revenues of 2.5 billion US dollars, out of 3.5 billion dollars in total commercial revenues generated from the tournament.

While many fans watching will be in Europe, where football is akin to a religion, huge numbers will be glued to their sets in Asia, which is home to some 60 percent of the world's population .

China Central Television won the rights to broadcast free-to-air all 64 matches, making it the main avenue for the country's 1.3 billion people to view the event.

The station reaches up to 97 percent of China's population, with some estimates saying a cumulative 900 million watched the 2006 tournament, which explains why it is seen as the sport's top future growth market.

The official China Daily said the station paid two billion yuan (292 million US) for the rights.

India is another huge emerging market, and despite cricket being the number one sport the World Cup will be followed closely.

All matches are being shown live on the pan-Asian ESPN-Star network, which bid 40 million dollars to secure the rights for South Asia.

The coverage will include commentary in both English and Hindi, with officials estimating 125 million Indians will be watching.

"We are proud to have the rights for World Cup football and I am sure it will be one of the most watched events across India," said ESPN-Star managing director Manu Sawhney.

"Come June, India will be gripped by football fever like the rest of the world."

Free-to-air station SBS has the television, online and radio rights in Australia and is believed to have already attracted its biggest crop of advertising dollars in its 30-year history for the programming.

The deals are commercial in confidence, but The Australian newspaper reported sponsorship amounted to an estimated 20 million Australian dollars (16 million US).

"Demand has been excellent," SBS corporate communications manager Jane McMillan told AFP. "All packages were sold well in advance of the tournament."

With big viewer numbers expected, a premium is being charged for advertising.

In China, Sichuan-based alcohol producer Langjiu Group is reportedly forking out 4.88 million dollars for the exclusive titling rights to the World Cup's top scoring list.

Other brand advertisers splurging billions of yuan for air-time include China Mobile, Nike, sportswear maker Deerway and Tsingtao Beer, state media said.

In Japan, the Japan Consortium, a syndicate including pubic broadcaster NHK and private Japanese networks, hold the rights.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, the Consortium paid as much as 17 billion yen (190 million dollars) for the honour.

Japanese advertising giant Dentsu is the sole agent to sell marketing, including spot commercials.

"Generally speaking, the World Cup and the Olympics dominate sporting events with the World Athletics Championships trailing a little behind them. Corporate clients are greatly interested in them," a Densu sport marketing official said.

"As a matter of course, the World Cup provides content with the highest value for corporate brand awareness. In this sense, we recognise it as 'killer content' which doesn't seem to decline."

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