World Cup interest is so high in Japan that a streamer can’t cope

Players warming up during Japan’s official training on the eve of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Japan and Croatia in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Dec 4, 2022. — AP

TOKYO, Japan: CyberAgent Inc’s Abema TV may have to restrict access to Japan’s World Cup game at midnight Monday local time (11pm in Malaysia), as runaway demand is pushing the streaming service to its limits.

Viewers were advised over the weekend that admission to watch the Japan-Croatia match may be restricted in order to ensure a stable service.

Abema holds the streaming rights to the Qatar tournament in Japan, and the national team’s unexpected progress out of the group stage has triggered a wave of interest and support. The youth-oriented streaming network hit a new usage high on Dec 2 after Japan’s game against Spain, which was broadcast at 4am locally, CyberAgent President Susumu Fujita said on Twitter.

CyberAgent surged 4% on the news, which augured well for its investment in the loss-making service. Shares fell about 1% on Monday.

“CyberAgent’s stock is rising on expectations that Abema will see its revenue from ads increase over the long-term,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Toyo Securities.

Tokyo-based CyberAgent is better known for its portfolio of video games, such as Uma Musume, which helped drive the stock to a record high amid the pandemic. It may have spent as much as 20bil yen (RM650mil) on securing the World Cup streaming rights for Abema, according to Jefferies analyst Hiroko Sato. Its broadcasts also feature former national footballer Keisuke Honda as a commentator. Its service can be watched on phones, PCs and connected TVs. Japanese fans also have the option to watch via a regular broadcast on Fuji TV.

Though overwhelmingly popular, the Abema live streams are free to watch and analysts question how much of the current surge the company will be able to convert into paying users. Abema registered more than 17 million viewers on Dec 2, CyberAgent said. CyberAgent has added extra servers to handle World Cup demand and anticipates making a loss on the tournament, a spokesperson said.

“I expect most viewers who installed the app for the soccer games will delete it after the tournament’s over and return to other TV and streaming services, such as Netflix and YouTube,” Yasuda said. – Bloomberg

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