June 11, 2010 -- It's expected to be one of the most-watched television events in history.
Hundreds of millions of viewers from around the world will tune in to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, making it one of the biggest live experiences the globe has ever shared.
About one in 10 humans -- 600 million people -- will be watching the final of the competition July 11, according to predictions.
"It's the moment when the planet becomes a family, when we're all doing the same thing whether we are in California or Nigeria or Shanghai," "Soccernomics" author Simon Kuper said.
Global interest in the event has been so intense today that the World Cup has already shattered records for the Internet. Thanks to soccer fans around the world eager for live video streams and score updates, today is the busiest day ever for Web traffic to Internet news sites, according to the Web services firm Akamai.
About 638 million people watched the final in Germany four years ago, according to independent consultants Futures Sport + Entertainment.
Matches were screened in 214 countries, with even Togo vs. South Korea attracting an average live audience of 109 million viewers. That's more than last year's Super Bowl.
Even more viewers are expected to watch South Africa 2010.
The only other global television event to rival the World Cup for viewing figures is the summer Olympics.
The Beijing games of 2008 were the most watched ever, largely because of the sizable domestic audience. The opening ceremony drew upwards of a billion people, making it the most-watched live event ever.
Comparing audience figures for the Olympics and the World Cup is a tricky business. The two events are structured differently, and estimates can vary considerably.
But Kevin Alavy of London-based Futures Sport + Entertainment said the World Cup is unique.
"No other media property delivers the same spikes in audience delivery, day-after-day, sustained over a month," he said. "Not even the Summer Olympics, whose audiences, while similarly large, are more dispersed over all hours of the day and across multiple sports taking place simultaneously. In that sense, the World Cup can be described as the largest shared experience around."
Soccer's governing body, FIFA, said it expects South Africa 2010 to generate a profit of $1 billion from television and marketing rights.
World Cup Is a 'Kind of Universal Party'
The number of viewers who will be watching this summer can partly be explained by a rising global population, increased TV penetration and the screening of games on free-to-air TV in order to maximize audience size.
The underlying reason, according to agencies such as Futures Sport + Entertainment, is the broadening of the sport's appeal.
Soccer's international governing body has successfully spread the game to all corners of the globe, and the performances of national teams from big countries such as the United States have improved, bringing new supporters to the game.
Almost every demographic now watches the World Cup. More women are tuning in than ever before. In countries such as Venezuela most viewers have been female recently. Increasing numbers of fans from wealthier backgrounds, as well as younger viewers, are also tuning in to watch major soccer matches.
Kuper also attributed the game's success to its simplicity, which makes it perfect for television, and instantly accessible to anyone on earth.
He noted that the competition appeals to national pride.
"The World Cup is now perhaps the main global competition for prestige, a little like wars used to be," he said. "So if Brazil wins, or if the U.S. beats England, it's about more than just soccer. One nation has gained prestige, pride, at the expense of another."
He added, "True, the world cup is about nationalism, but more and more it's also a kind of universal party."