Employers Crack Down on World Cup Streaming

Photographer: FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Despite the downsides, embracing World Cup mania can be a smart business move. Letting employees watch and chat about the game, in addition to facilitating group viewings, can develop workplace camaraderie.

Right now, millions of people around the world are sitting at their desks staring at a small window on their screens. The influx in people viewing live-streaming video of the FIFA World Cup isn't great for productivity, and it's even worse for corporate IT departments.

Even in the age of YouTube, a flood of high-def video streams can put a strain on broadband networks. To prevent Internet connections from buckling under the weight of World Cup videos, some employers are telling staff not to stream the games at work and blocking known sports-video sites.

Magazine publisher Time Inc. told employees in New York this morning not to stream the USA vs. Belgium knockout-round game. The company encouraged fans to instead use conference rooms or pantries with TVs showing today's game, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg.

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When the U.S. national soccer team played Germany last week, "the Time Inc. network was severely impacted by users streaming the game to their local workstations," Colin Bodell, Time's chief technology officer, wrote in the e-mail. That game peaked at 1.7 million viewers each on WatchESPN and Univision Digital.

"While we understand that everyone wants to support the national team, please do not stream the game over the internet to your local workstation," Bodell wrote. "Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. Go team USA!"

The memo, which was published earlier today by Capital New York, is a bit strange coming from Time. The media giant owns Sports Illustrated and announced a partnership with Net2TV last week to create a "lineup of streaming television shows," including sports programs. Jill Davison, a spokeswoman for Time, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Judging by tweets from disgruntled employees, the anti-streaming stance at companies is widespread and international. In addition to technical challenges, U.S. businesses may lose hundreds of millions of dollars during the game today due to distracted workers.

But Palo Alto Networks, a cyber-security provider in Silicon Valley, advised corporate customers in a report last month not to block access to streaming. If soccer fans are determined to watch the game, they'll find a way. And if they discover that the most popular sites are inaccessible, they'll probably turn to shadier places that could open the network up to further vulnerability, the report said.

Despite the downsides, embracing World Cup mania can be a smart business move. Letting employees watch and chat about the game, in addition to facilitating group viewings, can develop workplace camaraderie.

For example, Bloomberg LP, the parent of this website, is providing pizza to employees in its San Francisco office for today's match between USA and Belgium. On that note, gotta go.

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