October 31, 2014

HP First to Fail in Tablet Space

Hewlett-Packard has indicated that it is departing the PC business and it looks to jettison its TouchPad tablet device as well. The company said that it will focus on its strategic priorities of cloud, solutions and software with an emphasis on enterprise, commercial and government market. One of the early pioneers in the PC space this move is probably a sign, much like IBM’s departure from this space a few years back, that the overall market is both mature and changing.

Most mature markets see a reduction in the number of suppliers, and as Scott McNealy, once CEO of Sun Microsystems said years back, the PC industry is now just a distribution system for Intel and Microsoft. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs recently said that the issue with a number of the tablet makers is that they are touting speeds and feeds, just like in the PC’s heyday, rather than focusing on tight integration of hardware and software and seamless user experience.

Yet it was just two months ago that HP released its TouchPad tablet, to poor reviews and reports of very poor sales, it should be noted. Built on the WebOS operating system it gained via its $1.2bn purchase of Palm last year, it looks like it is flushing all of that away. There are reports that the company has sold just a fraction of its already built tablets, compared with Apple’s estimated 9 million plus in the last quarter.

For tablet users it means one less offering, and for developers’ one less operating system that they might have to consider. It is likely that the market will break down to two major operating systems, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, probably leaving Blackberry and any others out in the cold. Currently market researchers are predicting that Apple will maintain the lion’s share of the market for the next few years and then the Android wave will overtake them. This is a market that, according to market research firm Informa, will experience a ten fold growth by 2015, with an estimated about 87 million Android tablets sold in 2015, compared with 90 million iPads, according to the estimate.

Remind anybody of the PC market? For HP, think they might spin off the business? I have a good name for it, Compaq.

Could Twitter + Mobile Phones Kill ESPN?

Seeing the news today about ESPN teaming up with Foursquare to provide a platform for fans at events is evidence that The Mother Ship of sports is doing all it can to keep astride of the latest trends. But as our purposely provacative headline asks, is there a new “broadcast” paradigm emerging that could allow Twitter and fans on mobile phones to become the dominant method of disseminating sports news, opinions and information?

Before you dismiss the idea as crazy, remember that when ESPN debuted in 1979 it was seen as a place where you could watch Australian Rules football and exercise videos. Nobody at the time was guessing that ESPN would eventually replace the major networks or newspapers atop the sports-media scene, but some 30-plus years later that has come to pass.

The way that happened is a long story but one of the key reasons for ESPN’s surge to the top was its ability to satisfy the insatiable American appetite for sports coverage, news and opinions, through strategy (a 24-hour focus on sports) and technology (cable TV). I remember watching SportsCenter one night in the mid-80s when I worked as a sportswriter at a daily newspaper, and hearing my legendary editor Dan Creedon say about the show, “you know, these guys are killing off what we do.”

After watching 30 minutes of highlights and scores on TV moments after the games had finished our typeset page of baseball box scores — which wouldn’t be read until the next morning — seemed hopelessly quaint. Now I am wondering if Twitter and ESPN are at a similar inflection point.

Though ESPN is as out front as possible when it comes to the Web and mediums like Twitter and Facebook, the ability for anyone with an Internet connection to be able to “broadcast” their news, views and opinions at any time at all takes away some of the exclusivity and insider status that ESPN and all other established media brands currently hold.

And while established “voices” in the sporting media will no doubt retain or improve their popularity via the exposure of social media, an area where ESPN has no exclusivity is in direct fan-to-fan or friend-to-friend contact, which has become a huge part of how we enjoy sporting events both live and from the couch. No longer do you have to watch a game and listen to Brent Musberger drone on with Tostitos-laced commentary; you can “gather” a group of BS-trading friends on Twitter, via text message or even in a video chat to share your own observations and comments.

Twitter also allows fans to cherry pick the best content from any major provider who is covering a sport or an event, making Twitter a default aggregator that can take commentary from media types, teams and even the athletes themselves — all at no cost to Twitter. ESPN, meanwhile, needs to keep paying huge fees for exclusive broadcast rights. Which business model would you invest in, going forward?

Though ESPN is probably not going to run out of money anytime soon it’s also worthwhile to think that we probably never imagined that the cable channel that once highlighted caber-tossing would someday run its own awards ceremony or broadcast major league baseball games or take over Monday Night Football. So while it might be unlikely to view Twitter as a potential competitor to ESPN I think it’s worth considering that the “Twitter Channel” is already with us. How it grows and where it goes — especially in the world of sports — is going to be an interesting trek to follow.

ESPN Takes Shot at Creating NFL QB Rating Stat

ESPN has developed a new statistic called the Total Quarterback Rating that it claims will provide an accurate assessment of a NFL quarterbacks’ performance and will factor in a range of variables including strength of opposition.

The QBR program will use a scale of 0-100 with 50 being league average and will have a weighted scale to determine how well important and difficult a pass was in a game, as well as a number of other variables including touchdowns, sacks and QB fumbles, to arrive at a total.

The QBR will also use a host of historical data points such as historical outcomes for teams facing the same down, distance, field position and time remaining. There will also be a Critical Index included that looks at when it happens in a game. Here is how ESPN lays out the calculations for QBR.

ESPN has walked down the path of creating its own statistic at least once before, with its Productive Out in baseball, which it debuted in 2004. This showed how many times a team used a sacrifice or a bunt to move a runner over and purported to show that teams with the most were doing a better job. It fell apart rather quickly as other, better thought out stats were much more indicative of success, and I believe that many of the last place teams led the league in productive outs. Here is ESPN’s explanation as well as a good take down by The Hardball Times. Nowadays productive outs are just a running joke on some baseball web sites.

Does this mean that QBR is fated for the same demise? Probably not, and it does look easier to understand than the somewhat bizarre NFL Quarterback ratings. It uses many of the same factors that other homegrown rating systems use, and simply weights them differently. For instance Football Outsiders’ has its DVOA for quarterbacks and Advanced NFL Stats has several rating systems used for slightly different purposes.

TheBigLeads’ excellent football analyst Jason Lisk has a good piece on why this is probably a good thing for the NFL, and shows who it is aimed at, much more a casual fan rather than one that wants to delve down into the complex statistics of the game. He also compares how the different rating systems reveal slightly different results.

It will be interesting to follow this over the course of the season and see if it remains relevant and how much the WWL touts its own invention. Stay tuned.

ESPN kicks up Xbox service in time for College Kickoff

ESPN plans to launch a revamped version of its ESPN360.com live sports service in time for users to for the start of the college football season. The latest version is designed to give viewers enhanced customization so that they can fine tune their broadcast watching experience.

Slated for release on Aug. 25, which not so coincidentally is just a week before the Sept 1 start of the NCAA Division 1-A season starts, so that if you rush you will be able to watch that Villanova at Temple game that has been intriguing you all off-season. Snide comment aside ESPN will be making over 400 regular season games available as well as 31 bowl games.

The live sport streaming service, available on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console will now feature a host of additional features and upgrades, with possible the most interesting being the ability to have a split screen so that you can watch two games, or programs, at once.

There are many more ranging from a live college scoreboard, the ability to use a Kinect controller from Microsoft to gain voice control capabilities that will enable a user to pause, rewind, play and skip all using voice control. Upgrades will also allow users to set reminders, receive live alerts if they wish add the ESPN crawler at the bottom of their screen for scores and other sports news. This can be personalized to feature a users favorite sports and teams.

The deal is available to customers of EXPN’s Internet and broadband partners which show ESPN.3 and includes include Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Bright House Networks and Suddenlink Communications.

Weekly Fishwrap

Patent wars break out between Google and, well, everybody else
While you can’t keep a good man down, so the saying goes, you can try and keep a good program down via a judicial use of patents. Google is crying foul over the efforts of Apple, Microsoft and Oracle who it claims are running an organized campaign against Google’s Android, a campaign that Google labels as based on bogus patents. The three protagonists have a range of lawsuits across the globe and Google even complained that Apple and Microsoft teamed up to buy Nortel patents to thwart Google- However it should be noted that the winning bid was $4.5 billion, Google bid $900 million so there could be more involved.

Bet you did not know this
Do you like dropping a dime on your favorite football team, either pro or college, or both? The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on how professional gamblers are making bets fast and furious very early in the process. One of the reasons is that with not much known about teams early on, the odds have a good chance to swing a great deal, providing opportunity for the experience gambler.

iPad to remain king of the tablet space? iPhone sales continue to grow.
A research report from Digitimes claims that Apple’s iPad has a huge sales and market lead in 2011. According to the report, approximately 65.2 million tablets will be shipped from manufacturers’ and of that figure the iPad will account for 40 million, or a 61% market share. In the second half of the year it expects Apple to ship 25.5 million units, a 76% increase over the first half of the year.

In related news Apple could sell as many as 30 million iPhones in the fourth quarter, powered by sales of the latest version of the phone, slated for release around that time frame. This compares very favorable to the 14.1 million sold during the same period last year.

DirectTV and Comcast fight over NFL Sunday Ticket Ads
Now that the NFL is back are you looking at adding Sunday Ticket to you cable bill? Watching the ads that claim that you can add it without any extra charge? Have you noticed the little asterisk? Well Comcast is taking the time to point out, and file a lawsuit over, the fact that in Comcast’s opinion the ad is a complete lie. They have a nice little conversation on the topic at the Consumerist. Either way make sure that you ask the proper questions when adding the service to ensure you do not suffer from buyers regret at some point in the future.

On Wi-Fi Day, a Warning: Find Wi-Fi if You Want Sports on Your Phone

Attention, mobile sports fans: If you are thinking of watching a game anytime soon on your portable device, be prepared to find yourself some Wi-Fi — or get ready to pay Peyton Manning-like dough to stay connected.

Since today is officially “Wi-Fi Day” since the numerical date, 8-02-11 neatly corresponds with the IEEE designation for the Wi-Fi protocol (802.11) it’s a good time as any to start thinking about where you might be able to find a Wi-Fi connection for when you want to watch sports, especially live video, on your phone, pad or laptop. Why? Because the nation’s two biggest cellular carriers, AT&T and Verizon, have recently made it loud and clear that heavy users of wireless data will be forced to pay more for the service the more they use, and may even face data-download slowdowns if they use their phones too much.

AT&T this week let it be known that even those users who still have so-called “unlimited” data plans may see their cellular connections slowed down if Ma Bell decides you are using too much data. And Verizon’s new CEO spent part of the company’s most recent earnings call talking about how “tiered” data plans are inevitable and that cell phone users need to get used to a future where every bit is counted and charged for.

The good news is that both AT&T and Verizon are busy trying to set up free public Wi-Fi networks, especially at major sporting arenas, to help ease the cellular crush being caused by stadiums full of fans snapping pictures and sharing videos from their phones. The alternative is to find a Starbuck’s or other friendly eating establishment where you might be able to use a local Wi-Fi connection to get the bandwidth you’ll need to watch sports live on your phone for longer than a few minutes.

And if you are dead set on using your phone or tablet to watch sporting events via a cellular connection, now might be a good time to take a look at what Sprint has to offer, since as of this writing the No. 3 cellular carrier in the country is the only one still offering truly unlimited data plans for its new, faster 4G network.

We’ll have more on this topic soon but in the meantime it might not be a bad idea to take a look at Wi-Fi aggregators like iPass or Boingo to see if your corporate communications needs can sync up with your desire to stay connected with your favorite team.