Except for fans of the TV series “Downton Abbey,” folks in the US probably don’t know much about the sport of cricket.
Well, know this: A cricket match just became the most-watched live video event in Internet history. So says Akamai Technologies Inc., the digital content delivery company in Cambridge whose global network delivered the broadcast to users of the streaming service Hotstar in India.
The Indian Premier League showdown between Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Chennai Super Kings attracted 8.2 million simultaneous viewers to Hotstar on Tuesday. That beat the previous record of 8 million simultaneous viewers of daredevil Felix Baumgartner falling 24 miles from a helium balloon live on YouTube in 2012. It’s nearly double the online audience for the inauguration of President Trump, and well above the 3.1 million who watched the New England Patriots lose the most recent Super Bowl.
Hard as it may be to believe for fans of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, cricket attracts the truly sports mad. The game is huge in many former British colonies, especially India — a match in April drew 7.1 million simultaneous viewers, and other games often draw three, four, or five million.
“It’s a religion in this country,” said Parimal Pandya, vice president of Akamai’s Asian media division. “The biggest cricket stars are treated like gods.”
Combine that with the surging popularity of India’s wireless data services. As recently as three years ago, fewer than five million Indians had wireless broadband, said Hotstar chief executive Ajit Mohan. Today, it’s up to 200 million. Most are young, and use a phone, not a TV, as their primary way to watch video. While in the US most homes have more than one TV, in India, said Mohan, the smartphone is the other TV.
And there’s another reason to view by phone — interactivity. Hotstar has an app that lets smartphone viewers play along with their cricket heroes, by guessing what the players will do next. That gives fans a reason to log on even when they’re sitting in front of the TV. Over the course of the four-hour game, a total of 26 million fans connected to the Hotstar stream for at least part of the match.
By the way, the Chennai Super Kings beat Sunrisers Hyderabad by two wickets. And if you happen to understand what that means, well then, you probably saw the game.Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.