ESPN refuted over USA World Cup game

CBS says NCAA basketball game had more online viewers

It turns out that Landon Donovan's got nothing on Billy Donovan.

ESPN said Thursday that the U.S. soccer team's dramatic win over Algeria on Wednesday was the most-viewed live event in the history of the Internet. Not so fast, says CBS.

According to CBS officials, a game between Florida (coached by former Providence star Billy Donovan) and Brigham Young University during the NCAA men's basketball tournament drew an audience of 1,115,097 online viewers. That's slightly more than the 1.1 million unique viewers that ESPN claims streamed part of Wednesday's game on ESPN3.com, during which Landon Donovan scored a late goal to thrust the U.S. into the round of 16.

The problem, according to CBS officials, is not just that ESPN's audience figures actually trailed the audience for the Florida BYU game, but that ESPN boasted that the soccer match drew the "largest U.S. audience ever for a sports event on the web." That's a difficult boast to back up, because audience numbers from live events typically come from web publishers themselves, and not an established third party.

However, ESPN said Friday that it was actually conservative when it released its initial numbers on the game. "If you want to just look at uniques, we actually did have a larger audience," said David Coletti, ESPN's senior director of digital media research. That's because, according to Coletti, ESPN3.com pulled in a sizable audience from its non-English feeds of the game -- bringing its total unique audience to slightly above CBS' college hoops figure.

Plus, Coletti is adamant that the 328,000 viewers per minute ESPN recorded during the U.S. victory is unprecedented, and thus gives the network the right to claim the biggest sports audience on the web ever. "CBS isn't comparing their apples to our apples," he said.
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