NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON WORLD CUP ONLINE - Internet's 'defining moment' in World Cup coverage streaming. The internet can thrive by being first with World Cup news, Alasdair Reid writes

Planning to get any work done next month? June, according to a report from the consultancy firm Hedron last week, could see a lethal cocktail of "general absenteeism, mass sick leave, long lunch breaks, (and) alcohol-impaired performance and safety issues". So that's business as usual in advertising and media, then.

But for other sectors of the economy, the World Cup is arguably going to have a bigger impact on productivity. Some estimates believe that the cost to British industry could exceed £3 billion.

That's because this time around (as you've probably heard) the World Cup is being held in Japan and Korea and as the time difference is nine hours, loads of matches will be live on TV in the morning or, scarily, lunchtime over here.

It's going to be mayhem. The pubs have special licences to open early and if you're going to take advantage of that, what's the point of staggering into work afterwards? No-one else will be there anyway.

Or will they? Actually, there's every indication that some employers are preparing to take a hard line on this. So maybe the place to go to stay in touch with the football could actually be your boring old desk.

This, according to some commentators, could be the first truly wired World Cup.

Yahoo! certainly thinks so. Last week it signed a ground-breaking deal that will allow it to stream video highlights of games - all 64 of them - on its site.

Are the online media owners guaranteed a World Cup bonanza, with enhanced traffic levels drawing revenue in - and maybe even stealing some from TV? Lindsay Biggart, the marketing director of Yahoo! UK and Ireland, says: "One of the keys to a successful business is satisfied customers who get good value for money, and we believe the video highlights service will provide this."

Caroline Pathy, the advertising sales director of Freeserve, says that there will be a substantial increase in traffic: "It will play to our strengths - we are very comfortable in carrying big peaks in demand. There will definitely be more opportunities for advertising and e-commerce."

But will the effect be significant? Online media owners steadfastly refuse to make predictions. But Greg Turzynski, the managing director of Optimedia, whose buying operation trades across both TV and the internet, has an ideal perspective on this. He says this could be as big as other recent "defining moments

for the internet as a mass medium.

He reckons the first major event using the internet as a key news access point was Nasty Nick's eviction from Big Brother. Then 11 September saw millions of people seeking out news sites. Most recently, and perhaps most bizarrely, BBC reported that more people logged on to the BBC website to watch video streaming of the Queen Mother's funeral than watched it on TV.

Turzynski says: "Certainly, the battleground is now looking to consist of audio streaming versus video streaming versus radio. The majority of World Cup matches kick off at 7.30am, so from the moment football fans enter their offices they will be switching on their PCs to access streamed highlights of matches, and setting up the ticker-boxes in the corner of their screens for live score updates."

Robert Horler, the managing director of Carat Interactive, says that there will be fewer peripheral and opportunist players dabbling in the market this time around. Advertisers themselves won't be attempting to build their own destination websites this time around - as some sponsors of Euro 2000 did. He states: "The interesting ones should be the people who have the classy content - people like Sky, Yahoo! and the BBC. People who already have broadcast or other offline content, like magazines, will be best placed to benefit. They will be best placed to keep the dedicated fan up to date. Those are the people that the big World Cup advertisers - like Coke and Adidas - will want to be associated with."

But that type of advertiser will have a huge TV presence too, obviously. Last week, for instance, Coke unveiled the star of its World Cup TV campaign - a suitably inept cartoon character of an England player.

Horler admits that he is sceptical about whether we will witness a significant surge in internet ad revenue. He states: "I'm not hearing advertisers asking to divert cash away from TV. Or saying that they want to use the web. My own personal experience talking to people is that it's just not true that people won't be watching on TV. They've already made their plans.

"Secondly, even if online traffic is huge, you've still got to find a way to make it come alive as an advertiser. Can they find ways to justify the kinds of investment they're being asked to make? There will be so much clutter that it will be difficult to achieve stand out. It's the same old conundrum. It's a question of how to do it well and not just badge up your logo on a website sponsorship. It's about creating a real, positive effect on your brand. It might seem an opportunity in terms of eyeballs but it's not easy to translate that into a genuine benefit."

Simon Waldman, the director of digital publishing at Guardian Unlimited, says: "The timing of the matches is good (from an internet point of view) and it will have a significant impact of page impressions. It's good when you get people sampling you but it's the work you put in the other 11 months of the year that's as important. The important thing is making sure that when they come to you, they're happy."

He concludes: "This business is about long-term equity and value. It's about the relationship between users and advertisers. It's not just about the World Cup."