April 24, 2014

TV Everywhere drives strong growth in March Madness viewership

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The push to entice digital viewers to follow this year’s NCAA Basketball tournament was a resounding success for NCAA.com and Turner Sports as their NCAA March Madness Live push underwent continued growth in a year when the championship game was down a bit from the previous year on broadcast television.

The broadcasting of the championship game saw a 10% decline in viewership on television. However the match between Kentucky and Connecticut generated two million live video streams, up 30% when compared with last year’s championship game.

The digital streaming effort, which includes its TV Everywhere initiative, maintained strong support from the digital space even in the face of a number of the better know and more popular schools being eliminated early in the tournament this year.

It set a new record for video consumption, as it has in the past few years, with this year’s event with a 42% increase in live video streaming over last year to bring the collective total over all platforms to 69.7 million live video streams. NCAA March Madness Live registered 15 million hours of live video streaming, a new high and up 7% from 2013.

The mobile space, where tablets and smartphones are still undergoing strong growth themselves, experienced very strong growth with an increase of 71% in live streams over the course of the tournament, and the total hours grew by 38% over last year.

In addition to more viewers, they stayed on longer while viewing watching an average of 67% more minutes than non-registered viewers. While a user can register and watch TV Everywhere on a PC, the use of that platform as a second screen appears to be fading in favor of mobile devices. The live streams on logged-in mobile devices representing 52% of the total TV Everywhere usage for the entire tournament

The growth was in a good part helped by the variety of ways that fans could access the tournament aside from mainstream broadcast television that NCAA.com and its partners Turner Sports and CBS Sports made available. There was an option of any one of three web sites available as well as NCAA March Madness Live available via the Amazon Appstore, Apple App Store, Google Play and Windows Store. On top of all of that fans could watch games via live streaming on TNT, TBS and truTV’s digital platforms, as well as participating TV provider websites.

ESPN continues to ramp up cricket coverage

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Just a few weeks ago ESPN announced that it would be carrying the biennial 2014 ICC World Twenty20 Cricket Championship across multiple platforms and the network has now added additional coverage to its lineup.

Next up is the India Professional League (IPL) cricket which comes to the sports giant via a deal with Willow TV that gives ESPN exclusive digital rights to the matches in the US, which the network will be making available on ESPN3.

The broadcasts will start on April 16th and run through the end of the season on June 1 and will include pre- and post- game coverage as well as the matches themselves. The pre and post game coverage will also be available online and to mobile platforms via ESPNcricinfo.

The deal will result in ESPN3 showing seven “Game of the Week” matches as well as both IPL semifinal matches and ESPN can show unlimited highlights from those events. It also has limited access to select highlights from all of the other IPL matches played during the season.

While not all of the matches will be made available a number of them will be able to be viewed across the spectrum of platforms that are reached by ESPN3 that includes smartphones and tablets by using the WatchESPN app. It can also be streamed to a television using a variety of platforms using ESPN on Xbox LIVE to Gold members, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

ESPN published some numbers from its ESPNcricinfo site and I was surprised at how popular it has become. According to the network it is among the five most visited single sport digital sites. It was founded in 1993 and acquired by ESPN in 2007. Its mobile presence is huge with 141 million visits and 2 billion minutes of time spent on the site each month.

Hopefully this move will turn into a ratings success for ESPN and so encourage it and its rivals to both promote more international sports as well as make them available to the digital world where increasingly fans are using mobile devices to follow their favorite teams and sports.

Olympics great for NBCSN; Are mock NFL drafts worthwhile?

The Sochi Winter Olympics are now in the rear view mirror as the sporting world now looks to the next major event, the World Cup, yet NBCSN is ready to continue basking in the winter event’s limelight for just a bit longer.

The network reported its best ratings quarter ever with a 215,000 average viewership daily for the live events that it broadcast during the two-week run. This represents a 231% increase over its 2013 numbers. Even subtracting the Olympics it saw a 58% increase and may indicate that the little-known channel may finally be getting traction with viewers.

Dodger fans can’t watch Dodgers games
With the huge growth of regional sports networks it seems that every MLB team has its own, dedicated network to bring its games to its fans. Somehow it does not always work that way, as New Yorkers can attest from a few years ago.

Now it appears that the fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers are facing viewing issues as its RSN, SportsNet LA, has had issues getting cable players to air the games, causing as much as 70% of greater LA to be blacked out.

Unconscious bias by umpires?
An interesting piece from fivethrityeight.com looks at strike zones but importantly how it can change, and change dramatically in important situations as umpires striving to ensure that they are not a part of the game instead do alter the outcome.

The article can be a bit confusing for some when looking at the graphs but it has some interesting conclusions including that umpires seem happier to call a strike on a borderline pitch with three balls than ball four. Head over and give it a read.

WatchESPN on Amazon TV Fire
Amazon has recently entered the broadcast delivery business with its Amazon Fire TV, a platform that will vie against Apple TV, Roku and others, but sports fans need not worry because ESPN will be there ready and waiting if you adopt the platform.

WatchESPN is available on the Fire TV and using it fans can access a huge amount of live and recorded sporting events along with ESPN’s select offerings of the channels original sports programming such as E:60 and Outside The Lines.


Mock NFL Drafts

The NFL draft is less than two months away and so now is the silly season for a growing industry — NFL mock drafts. You know, when an athlete who has not played in months magically goes from a first rounder to a third rounder on someone’s big board for no apparent reason.

The good folks at Kissing Suzy Kolber have taken the industry to task and show why you should pay little attention to the mock drafts. They point out the inanity of the event and it has always seemed to be that the local beat writer for a team has a much better feel for what your team will do than some talking head in a studio will — that is unless the talking head is using other peoples’ work without recognizing it and we know that never happens!

Mobile viewership soars in setting March Madness record

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Mobile digital viewers are making their collective strength known during the current NCAA tournament by blowing away last year’s then record setting totals, and doing so with the championship weekend still ahead.

The numbers of hours of live video consumed is up only slightly from last year but the amount of live video streams that fans are viewing has tremendously increased as users are voting with their tablets, computers and smartphones that streaming video is a viable delivery format for fans.

The breakdown for the tournament through its second week shows that NCAA March Madness Live has seen 13.5 million hours of video watched, a 7% increase over last year’s 12.6 million at this point in the event. That video is comprised of 64 million live video streams over that time period, a 40% increase from last year’s 45 million. To put it in a clearer context last year for the entire tournament there was a total of 49 million videos streamed.

The role of mobile usage in driving up these numbers is obvious. Simply counting the mobile portion of the total streaming viewership shows that smartphones and tablet usage saw a 71% increase over the same two weeks last year with live streaming hours on those two platforms increasing by 38% over the same span a year earlier.

Of course in terms of percentages the growth appears to be leveling off since in 2013 the growth rate for live video streams was 145% over 2012 and the number of hours was up 201% from 2012, but it shows that strong growth is still occurring and is likely to maintain a strong pace going forward.

According to video delivery technology firm Ooyala the amount of minutes video minutes that have been viewed on tablets and smartphones has grown 719% in the last two years and that sports fans spent 62% of the time viewing videos longer than 10 minutes. It estimates that mobile viewership will encompass half of all video viewed by 2016.

Two Final Four Apps Launched
NCAA.com and Turner Sports are launching a pair of event-based apps to take advantage of the interest in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four tournaments this weekend available for Android and Apple mobile devices.

The two apps, NCAA Final Four North Texas app presented by AT&T and Women’s Final Four Nashville will serve fans at the events as well as those that will be following them remotely. For fans in the two towns where the games will be played the app can serve as a guide to the city and event with information such as schedule information, interactive maps, tickets, free Wi-Fi locations in the cities, news, and social media features.

The Men’s app appears to be the more feature rich and has a number of events such as AT&T Final Four Photo Hunt- a scavenger hunt around North Texas, the Coke Zero NCAA Social Arena. Both have an interactive map, the ability to buy tickets and merchandise and a daily events schedule.

Fan engagement app CheckinLine gains traction

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One of the major challenges that any new app faces is how does it separate itself from the pack. Simply having solid features and an easy to use interface is no longer enough in these days when a user has millions of apps to choose from.
CheckinLine is one of the new types of apps that are designed to engage fans, an area that others have tried to gain traction in and then fallen by the wayside. Yet CheckinLine might be able to break that mold as it has not just had a successful beta test but also gained support and recommendations from some major sports teams. It also helps that the app is taking a slightly different approach to addressing fan engagement, with solid metrics for teams to use on the back end.

In reality the app is half about fan engagement and half about access to tickets to sporting events, and how one can naturally lead to the other. The app enables fans to “check in” to get in line for tickets to select events. Then they can demonstrate to others who are also checked in how big a fan they are in conversation and other ways. The focus of the latter part is determined by the sports agency or school that is using the mobile program. There can be games such as quizzes and trivia contests to gain access to tickets, either as rewards or permission to purchase or simply moving up in the queue.

While the app has been adopted already in Australia by teams and stadiums in the Australian rules football league such as Hawthorn FC, Stadium Australia (ANZ Stadium), Etihad Stadium, Octagon and St Kilda FC it is still in the testing level in the U.S. but is making progress toward widespread adoption.

CheckinLine said it has just completed a beta test with Arizona State University and it said that it has received commitments from several schools such as The University of California at Berkeley, Boise State University and Illinois State University and claims that a host of additional schools are looking to come on board later this year. It has also gained support from The Aspire Group, a fan relations management group that has 25 colleges as clients and has recommended the app to them.

While the app can provide advantages to fans in that it might enable them to get tickets to sporting events that they otherwise might not have access to, it also brings advantages to the schools in that it enables them to harvest a huge amount of data about its fans and so tailor programs to continue engaging them. The app can also be used to sell advertising to companies seeking to reach the demographics that the app has revealed.

It will be interesting to see how the app fares in the U.S. when it gets a real world test. Even devout fans can be forgetful to check into mobile apps, since it’s not quite the same as going to the team fan page but it looks like CheckinLine has a boost in the right direction to keep its users.

Friday Grab Bag: NBA first to adopt ads on jerseys?

Apparently it is just a matter of time. ESPN is reporting that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver told an audience at the IMG World Congress of Sports that the move to put ads on NBA jerseys is inevitable and that it will enable its marketing partners to get closer to fans. I guess that translates into owners will be able to take home more money.

Ads on U.S. pro team uniforms has been contentious — MLB has talked about it for more than a decade and in a game in Japan rolled out the look to wide displeasure but it seems inevitable. Teams are always looking for additional revenue and this looks to be money just left on the table.

NFL to have official to official communications
According to MMQB the NFL will equip all NFL on-field officials with a microphone, earpiece and a radio pack so that during games they can communicate wirelessly over an encrypted system to each other for a more efficient game.

I wonder in this day when people can hack into store accounts how long it will take for some person or persons to hack the communications between officials and either broadcast it somewhere or interfere with the chatter?

Buffett wants bracket changes for tournament
If you are like everybody else I know your March Madness bracket was blown up during last weekend’s round of major upsets but not everybody was unhappy — Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett’s offer to pay $1 billion to anyone that picked all winners will go uncollected this year.

However they are not gloating and Buffett, who said that they plan to offer the $1 billion next year, wants to change it so that it will be easier to win. However he has not yet worked out how that can be done.

You can still win millions if you Beat The Streak
March Madness is not the only game in town as with the start of the MLB season there s also the launch of the 14th annual Beat The Streak fantasy contest, this year with a $5.6 million prize, and hopefully someone will finally win this very hard to attain prize.

The Beat The Streak sponsored by Dunkin Donuts game itself is very simple; all a fan has to do is select two players every day and hope that one gets a hit, for 57 consecutive games, breaking baseball’s historic single season hitting streak. Good luck.

Maryland’s departure from ACC gets even more acrimonious

Maryland is one of the many schools that has shopped for a better deal in its collegiate alignment and announced 2 years ago that it was departing from the ACC for the Big Ten in search of its pot of gold. The ACC responded by suing to collect an exit fee.

Now Maryland is striking back and has subpoenaed 10 conference schools and ESPN claiming that the ACC violated its own rules on exit fees and that along with ESPN it tried to lure Big Ten schools, according to the Washington Post.