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Companies prepare for bandwidth meltdown as U.S. faces Belgium in World Cup

Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilBelgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
The shirts worn by the United States players hang in the dressing room prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the U.S.Lars Baron/FIFA—Getty

Team USA walks on the field at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, and technology officers across the nation will be watching their network bandwidth melt away.

Online viewership has reached all-time highs for multiple streaming outlets, including WatchESPN, Akamai Technologies and Univision digital-video services. Nearly 3.2 million viewers tuned into WatchESPN’s app during Thursday’s USA-Germany game alone.

Comcast’s (CMCSA) Xfinity reported more than 9.2 million live streams over the past 18 days of World Cup action, 683,000 of which were during the USA-Germany match, the company said. Overall, that’s 16% more live viewers than during a similar 18 days of the recent Sochi Olympics.

All that streaming puts pressure on bandwidth. Time Warner Cable saw its bandwidth usage for corporate clients increase 20% during Thursday’s game compared to its average business day — a sizable jump, the company said.

Streaming video eats up bandwidth faster than other, static Internet activities. The actual amount it consumes depends on the quality of the stream, and its effect on a company depends on how much bandwidth is available and how the quality of service (QoS, as the tech guys like to say) is set up.

Time Inc. (TIME) (my employer and provider of World Cup streaming) sent out a note this morning asking workers not to stream the World Cup game from their personal workstations, but instead watch via streams provided in conference rooms, since Thursday’s game slowed the Internet traffic noticeably.

And, given the number Twitter feed updates with pictures streaming the game, Time Inc. isn’t the only corporation prepping to meet workers’ demand to watch our newest national obsession. Some companies get around this issue by limiting streaming overall, or by allocating a certain portion of their traffic to the activity. As a media company, Time Inc. doesn’t do that.

“We have a lot of video on our properties, and we do a lot of video generation, and our staff watch videos from other companies,” explained Colin Bodell, Time Inc.’s chief technology officer, when asked about the issue. “We don’t limit the bandwidth allocated to streaming.”

Hence the issue — and the email.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the WatchESPN app had nearly 1.7 million viewers during the USA-Germany match. It had 1.7 million peak concurrent viewers and 3.2 million total viewers during the game.