April 17, 2014

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.

MLB delivers completely revamped At The Ballpark app

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With the start of the Major League Baseball season just days away the league has delivered a complete rebuilt At The Ballpark app that includes a great deal more local customization, new technology integration and support.

The app has been available for 4 years and the facelift will add many features that will give users a greater ability to customize the app to meet their personal needs and usage model. It is available now for 20 ballparks and runs on both Android and Apple’s iOS operating system with additional customization in the latest release for the iOS 7 operating system.

The first of the two key technologies that have been incorporated is mapping and directions provided by a MapQuest-powered engine. MapQuest has a deal with MLBAM that will call for the delivery of additional MLB-focused features that will be available soon for both operating systems that At The Ballpark supports. In addition MapQuest and MLBAM also are co-creating an original video series, expected to debut in May 2014.

The second technology has been much more talked about in recent months, and that is the inclusion of iBeacon, a low powered micro-location technology that was introduced with iOS 7. MLBAM has equipped 20 ballparks with dozens of iBeacons each, and starting with Opening Day fans can check in at the ballpark and then receive offers and information from locations within the park as they travel around or sit in their seats.

Currently there are only a select few applications for the technology at the ball yards but MLBAM is working to create more and expects to deliver them later this year, as well as expand the number of fields that have the technology.

For fans who have been using At The Ballpark in the past it will still have the familiar functions including the ability to use MyTickets Mobile for delivery and storage of all MLB tickets sold as well as seat upgrade functions in select clubs. Some clubs also allow you to order food and beverages with the app.

You can view team stats, schedule and watch video of games, a number of hooks into social media and rewards for check-ins as well as more mundane features such as ballpark guides, parking and directions are all among the functions of the app.

This is a great upgrade to the app and really enables fans to not just customize their experience but will provide even seasoned baseball game attendees the ability to make the experience easier and more enjoyable.

MLB delivers daily fantasy game in partnership with DraftKings

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In the past Major League Baseball once denounced daily fantasy baseball games as gambling, implying that no skill was involved, but that has changed as baseball has teamed with fantasy sports contest provider DraftKings for an offering that launches with the upcoming season.

The Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com is a free one-day fantasy league that can be entered daily and offers fans the ability to win tickets to regular season games, the 2014 All-Star Game and a 2014 World Series game. There are a total of four grand prizes, two each to the All-Star and World Series as well as a number of other prizes.

Players get a $50,000 salary cap and then select from a field of players that has 10 position players who can accumulate points (or lose them) by accomplishing select actions such as +5 points for a stolen base and +2 points for each strike out a pitcher earns. There will be several different offerings including a daily MLB.com Official Fantasy Contest and a weekly MLB.com Friday Home Team contest among others.

DraftKings specializes in creating what it calls daily leagues, ones that you can play and then quit, none of this following a fantasy baseball team for a season trying to convince a fellow owner to trade his star starting pitcher for your broken down LOOGY.

Its system is simple and has the potential to be lucrative for users. It has both free and paid contests in which participants select individuals to make up a team, watch how they perform that day and if they perform the best you can win cash. DraftKings is currently running several contests including a March Madness one. It offers contests in five major sports: MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA and the PGA. It offers a wide variety of contests from head-to-head to qualifiers.

This will be interesting to see how this pans out on many levels. Lotteries have tried to have sports offerings and most of the major league teams have fought against them. States, led by New Jersey, have then fought back, so far unsuccessfully. Now a league is endorsing it as a skill event and that could lead to an easing of other leagues’ dislike of this type of activity.

Turner Sports’ digital approach to March Madness a winner

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While most people I know have already seen their NCAA brackets crushed, one player is clearly winning at the tournament and that is Turner Sports and its online game-viewing policy.

According to Turner the men’s 2014 NCAA tournament has set an all-time record for online video consumption with a total of 51 million video streams accessed through the first full week of the tournament, a number that is 40% greater than what it achieved a year ago at the same point in the event.

To put the number in greater perspective, last year for the entire tournament there were a grand total of 49 million video streams accessed for the event. These numbers represent users accessing the videos from desktops or laptops as well as smartphones and tablets. Mobile (tablets and smartphones) platforms experienced the highest segment growth this year, with live streams for mobile device users up 74% over the first week of the tournament in 2013, according to Turner.

It is interesting to note that the videos were watched for 10.5 million hours, a number that witnessed only an increase by a mere 6%, showing that fans liked the ability to cherry pick the events that they watched and came in droves for them.

According to Turner Sports the top games featured some of the exciting upsets that have been a major factor in this tournament.

§ Dayton vs. Ohio State – 4,626,000 viewers
§ Mercer vs. Duke – 4,218,000
§ Harvard vs. Cincinnati – 2,767,000
§ Kentucky vs. Wichita State – 1,987,000
§ Stanford vs. New Mexico – 1,451,000

Not surprisingly the broadcast side of the business also had a record setting first week. The four networks that carried the games, TBS, truTV, CBS and TNT reported that they had the best first week in the 23 years that they have been carrying the tournament. It is averaging 9,277,000, up 4% from last year.