Australians are sports mad and internet search colossus Google has taken notice.
According to Google Trends, more Australians search for sports results than for the weather each year.
And in 2019 – an election year – the most searched person by Australians was not a politician but a sports person – grand slam champion tennis player Ash Barty.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then, that Google is jumping on Australia’s sporting bandwagon with the launch of a virtual exhibition celebrating the nation’s sporting history – alongside the announcement of a slew of new search features for sports fans.
From Don Bradman’s first bat to Cathy Freeman’s emotional victory at the Sydney Olympics and surfboards battered by Bells Beach waves, the virtual exhibition titled Great Sporting Land was unveiled at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday.
It can be viewed at this website or on smartphone via Google’s Arts & Culture app and features more than 11,000 archived images and videos, and more than 100 original sporting stories from partners including the AFL, National Portrait Gallery and Bondi Surf Life Saving.
To help bring history to life, Google sent its extremely high-resolution gigapixel ‘art camera’ – previously only used to document the world’s greatest masterpieces at galleries around the world – to sporting institutions across the country to capture memorabilia, art, archival materials and artefacts.
Executive director of Bowral’s Bradman Museum Rina Hore described the initiative as “a massive shot in the arm for the culture of sport in this country”.
“We’ve discovered things about our own objects that we’ve got in our collection because the lens of the art camera is far more defining than the natural eye,” Ms Hore said.
“We’ll be able to get the importance of cricket and these cultural beauties into schools and the education system.”
Google’s cultural institute and art project director Amit Sood said the project will make Australia’s rich sporting history accessible for “anyone around the world with a mobile phone”.
“If you come to our platform and see a Rembrandt and Botticelli, you may also see Don Bradman’s bat,” he said.
“A fascinating piece of memorabilia that would otherwise be sitting in a case, now it’s come alive on the internet.”
New features for sports fans
Google Australia head of marketing Aisling Finch said the search giant was “keen to partner” with sports codes and “content rights holders” to provide fans a search experience that “goes way beyond blue links and text”.
Google, which owns video-sharing giant YouTube, will launch a slew of new video features for fans of major sporting codes in Australia, Ms Finch said.
Chiefly, match highlights and live streams that will feature in the “information box” that appears at the top of a Google search for match results.
The firm will also look to extend a new function that debuted last month that allows AFL fans to vote on the Friday Night best on ground and player of the round.
Streaming services vie for eyeballs, NBN struggles
Google’s focus on sports video content comes as a growing number of online streaming services compete for viewers in Australia.
In March, Apple signalled a shift in its direction with the unveiling of its streaming platform, Apple TV+.
The service will be priced at $8.99 per month – undercutting the prices of its two biggest competitors in Australia, Netflix and Stan.
“As the industry continues to fracture, consumers will likely have to subscribe to multiple streaming services to retain access to all the content they wish to view,” industry analysts IbisWorld side.
However, leading experts have cast doubt on the ability of Australia’s troubled national broadband network (NBN) to accommodate internet users’ growing demand for video streaming.
Curtin University associate professor of internet studies Tama Leaver said that the NBN is not equipped to cope with the requirements of high-end streaming platforms such as Google’s Stadia – a so-called ‘Netflix for video games’.
In May, research by University of Sydney urban infrastructure expert Tooran Alizadeh revealed one in two households in Australia’s three biggest cities will be dudded with an inferior NBN connection.
“When I was finalising this research it really got me one more time that we have been cheated,” Dr Alizadeh said.
Public outrage erupted last month when it was revealed NBN Co was considering a proposal to implement a so-called ‘Netflix tax’ on internet users accessing video content.