July 2, 2015

Monday quick thoughts: Livestreaming comes of age on fight night; PGA’s digital moves confusing

Some quick thoughts on a Monday where yours truly is recovering from a week-plus as stage crew for my daughter’s musical, a much more physically taxing job than originally thought:

Livestreaming comes of age during Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

We’ve been pounding the drum a bit lately about livestreaming apps like Twitter’s Periscope and its twin Meerkat, which allow people to become personal broadcasters, relaying live video of whatever their phone cameras can see to their “followers” on the livestreaming services. Earlier this year we wondered if the services would cause a problem for sports like baseball (which is not worried about livestreaming just yet) but the big breakout in livestreaming and sports came this past Saturday night, when lots of people used Periscope and Meerkat to give others a free, completely illegal look at the closed pay-per-view fight by holding their phones up to TVs showing the live action.

The fallout still hasn’t hit in any official or legal way yet, but after HBO’s quick lawsuits trying to stop people from livestreaming episodes of Game of Thrones, you can bet that similar legal attempts to constrain the services from showing exclusive sports footage won’t be far behind. I also just saw a photo of the live crowd at the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight that showed multiple fans holding up phones, no doubt some of them livestreaming. While Major League Baseball’s Bob Bowman thinks that most fans don’t want to hold their phones up for long stretches of time, my thinking is, that before long someone’s going to figure out how to link a GoPro helmet cam to their phone for HD livestreaming that’s hands-free. Then what?

I just think this is going to be a much bigger deal than leagues and sports think right now. The weird coolness factor of being your own broadcaster is strangely compelling, and is a step up from the ubiquitous selfie. While Twitter CEO Dick Costolo might think it was cool that Periscope “won the fight” Saturday night, let’s see how smug he is when lawsuits start showing up at the door.

And while the terms of service for both Periscope and Meerkat clearly state that the services may not be used to show copyrighted content — and while the services have made noises about being ready to kick off users who do so — the fact that you can sign up instantly makes the policing after-the-fact a fail before it starts. Nobody wants the return of phone and camera police at big events, a kind of enforcement that never really worked and won’t work now that videocameras can fit inside pockets. Twitter, which clearly wants to play ball with sports leagues — witness its deals with entities like the NFL to show approved replays — needs to get out in front on the livestreaming/sports issue or risk legal wrath. And we haven’t even talked yet about how livestreaming might affect bandwidth on stadium networks, a topic sure to be discussed at the upcoming SEAT Conference in San Francisco this July. More on livestreaming soon, you can bet.

PGA sends confusing message with credential pull

When I wrote an editorial suggesting that the PGA embrace livestreaming as a way to attract more fans with innovative use of new technology, I had no idea that earlier that day the Tour had pulled a season credential from reporter Stephanie Wei for using Periscope to show some live video of practice rounds from the World Golf Championships Match Play event at Harding Park last week. Coming just after the PGA announced a deal with MLBAM to produce an over-the-top service to show live Thursday and Friday morning rounds, it was thoroughly confusing: Was the Tour embracing new media, while slapping the wrists of other media who dared use the same technology?

In a quick call Friday with Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president for communications, we heard the Tour’s claim that Wei had a “long history of [policy] violations,” and that the suspension of her credentials was due to the long history, and not just her use last Monday of Periscope. Wei posted her own version of the story on her blog, Wei Under Par. As far as we know, Wei is the first major-sports reporter to get a credential pulled in part because of Periscope use.

While we clearly understand the need to protect copyrighted broadcasts, it’s our opinion that the Tour needs to lighten up on quick-hit video content, especially for coverage of things that the TV broadcasters don’t show, like practice rounds or range action. As we said, such content could attract a young golf-geek audience and reward hustling reporters like Wei, who we’ve been following mainly because of her fresh take and embrace of social-media methods of communication. For a deeper look inside the whole issue, you should read this column from Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck on the incident, and why he thinks (and we agree) that the losers here are golf fans.

Opinion: Pro golf tour should embrace livestreaming apps like Meerkat, Periscope, to attract new fans and show ‘missing’ action

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as it ramps up its own official efforts to bring more live action to fans via the Internet, the professional golf tour should embrace the emerging “livestreaming” services like Periscope and Meerkat to expose even more live play to a wider and possibly younger audience.

Why? Because golf is unique in its ability to allow fans very close to the players, and combining that with the predictability of action makes for a perfect recipe for compelling livestream content, something that may not be possible at stadium-based events like baseball or football. And since golf itself is admitting that it needs more live coverage, why not open the gates as wide as possible, and see what happens? As I will explain below I think the downside is minimal, and on the upside there’s the opportunity for the world’s stodgiest sport to shed some of its historical knickers and attract a younger, hipper audience that it might need somewhere soon down the road.

Perfect for Periscope

That overall idea was my instant takeaway from a day at the World Golf Championships Match Play event this week at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, where I strolled the grounds on Tuesday, when practice rounds and a pro-am event were taking place. While the almost non-existent crowd meant I could really get up close and personal, it struck me that even at crowded days at golf tournaments a good number of fans are extremely close to the players, making cell-phone livestreaming something you may actually want to watch.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Even with my limited photography skilz I was able to get some good shots Tuesday, including one stop-action picture of Ian Poulter’s perfect swing. I also spent some time watching Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner dial in their short irons at the practice range, and the thought occurred to me that golf geeks might really like being able to watch such “action” via a livestreaming service. So why not allow and even encourage it? If you follow golf at all you are probably, like the rest of us golf fans, regularly frustrated by the lack of “live” coverage either on TV or online. Especially so since there’s now no real reason not to have as much live coverage as you can.

In the old days, it might have been cost-prohibitive and technically impossible to have TV cameras following every golfer on the course on every hole. But as cameras and wireless technology continue to improve, you’re seeing more and more flexibility and choice in “official” golf coverage, most recently with Tuesday’s announcement of PGA Tour Live, which later this summer will bring live coverage of some Thursday and Friday morning action to Internet viewers for a small fee. That’s great news for frustrated old-line golf fans, who will probably happily pay a few bucks a week not to miss early rounds, especially from players who may finish before the TV coverage comes on air.

But why stop there? Even the PGA’s new service will be extremely limited, only showing two “featured” groups each day. That means possibly half the field still won’t be seen, and who knows when someone will have a hot round? Even The Masters’ excellent online coverage only shows a couple groups at a time and a couple holes. Why not allow unlimited or at least PGA media-approved livestreaming, something that could expand Tour coverage while rewarding hustling reporters who scour the course for unknowns having a good day? From where I sit the opportunities seem to far outweigh the negatives.

Remember: Online is additive for regular TV coverage!

After Tuesday’s press conference I briefly chatted with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and asked him about livestreaming apps, which are popping up at other pro sports events, like baseball. Though he doesn’t seem like someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter Finchem did know what Meerkat and Persicope were, and said “we’re looking at it [livestreaming] since it raises obvious issues.”

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn't let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn’t let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

Those obvious issues, of course, are that livestreaming clearly violates broadcast rights agreements and circumnavigates sponsor advertising, two big items in the PGA’s revenue list. But like other sports, golf isn’t really concerned with livestreaming right now since the guess is that most fans want to watch the action and not spend minutes holding up their phones so the Internet can see what they are seeing. That’s probably a safe bet but I think golf should go the other direction and encourage livestreaming, perhaps from golf media professionals already covering events or from sponsors themselves, who are also already providing social media coverage of their sponsored players. Instead of looking at livestreaming as something that takes away from its professional, sponsored coverage, the PGA should see the new services as a valuable promotional tool, one more likely to be consumed by an audience that doesn’t watch much golf now — young, hip, tech people who live on services like Twitter and might find golf cool if they could watch some live action on their phone, for free.

Already this week some golf media professionals with good social media skills, like Stephanie Wei, have done some livestreaming from Harding, but why not have more? Livestreaming could be a way to bring more exposure to up-and-coming players, who might never be part of an online “featured group” and who almost never show up on broadcast coverage, unless they shoot a hole in one. By and large the professional golf TV coverage is wonderfully produced, but it’s also predictable and as stuffy as sports gets: Tiger, Phil, commentators with British accents. What golf could profit from is some kind of Men in Blazers coverage, which might be a way to get younger fans for the twentysomething stars like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who are now No. 2 and No. 1 in the game respecitvely. Livestreaming could be a simple, fun and cheap experiment that’s worth a shot.

It also doesn’t have to be revenue-free, since the PGA could allow sponsors to livestream their logoed players — I’m thinking here that the excellent social media crew at Callaway would jump on such a chance and probably be ready to do so by next week. Maybe the PGA could sell a few approved livestreaming spots to the highest bidders? Maybe then I will finally get the 24/7 TigerCam that I’ve always wanted — and I think that other golf fans, new or old, would appreciate as well.

BONUS: More MSR photos from Harding below.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

Don't quite understand why we weren't given the keys to this cart.

Don’t quite understand why we weren’t given the keys to this cart.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

Bowman: MLB won’t stop fans from using Meerkat or Periscope at games — for now

Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

At a Major League Baseball game and feeling the need to livestream some live game action via Periscope or Meerkat? Go right ahead, because the powers that be at MLB aren’t going to stop you — at least not yet.

While the nascent livestreaming services — which basically allow users to broadcast live video of what their phone cameras can see — potentially create conflicts with both broadcast rights and available network bandwidth, they aren’t yet a problem at MLB ballparks, according to Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball and the CEO of MLB’s advanced media operations.

Bowman, who was at Harding Park Golf Course Tuesday to announce a joint deal between MLBAM and the PGA, spoke briefly with MSR to address the livestreaming question, which surfaced earlier this month when fans started using Periscope and Meerkat to “broadcast” live video from MLB games. Though showing live video “without the express written consent” of MLB games is “strictly prohibited” (as anyone who’s ever watched a MLB game broadcast knows), Bowman said Tuesday that he and MLB don’t see livestreaming as a problem that needs to be addressed by policing fans or blocking the services.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 11.20.55 PM“I just don’t think our fans come to games with the idea of holding their phones up to stream video for 20 minutes,” Bowman said. While he does note that such streaming is patently illegal, Bowman also said that MLB didn’t want to alienate fans over something that wasn’t yet causing any big problems. Currently, he said, most fans are using social media to share photos of themselves at baseball games, a type of free promotion MLB and teams go out of their way to encourage.

What hasn’t happened — yet — is large numbers of fans using the livestreaming services, something that could potentially clog up the cellular and Wi-Fi networks inside the stadiums since live, streaming video inherently uses up a large amount of bandwidth. Bowman, whose MLBAM operation spent some $300 million over the past couple years in a project that is bringing advanced cellular and Wi-Fi networks to all MLB parks, said that if livestreaming becomes a bandwidth issue, it will be addressed.

“We just put all these new networks in, and the last thing the stadiums want is [people] using the network for these types of activities,” Bowman said. “If we’re wrong, we’ll review it. But I just don’t think our fans are there to stream the game.”

MLBAM to power new PGA Tour live action online service

MLBAM's Bob Bowman (L) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announce the new PGA Tour Live service at the WGC Match Play event. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image)

MLBAM’s Bob Bowman (L) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announce the new PGA Tour Live service at the WGC Match Play event. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image)

SAN FRANCISCO — Finally, golf fans will get a chance to see those early morning Thursday and Friday rounds that are never on broadcast TV, thanks to a new online live-action service announced Tuesday by the PGA Tour.

At a press conference held on the scene of this week’s World Golf Championships Match Play event at the Harding Park course, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the tour is partnering with Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media entity (MLBAM) to produce a service called PGA Tour Live that will bring live Thursday and Friday golf coverage to any digital device for a small fee.

“I think you can see the possibilities” for such a service, said Finchem, who jointly presided over a press conference announcing the service with Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Finchem noted that at several recent PGA events there were some early rounds that fans couldn’t watch since they happened before the scheduled broadcasts came on air. With PGA Tour Live, he said, fans will be able to use phones, tablets or laptops and desktops to watch live action via the Internet.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth gets in some practice shots at Harding Park Tuesday.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth gets in some practice shots at Harding Park Tuesday.

According to MLBAM and the PGA the service will eventually be available from more than 30 events per season, and will show two “featured groups” from each event, similar to how many of the bigger tournaments like the Masters currently use online outlets to show live action. The service (you can sign up to get notified about its launch) is expected to launch sometime later this summer.

When asked the key question — how much this would cost — Bowman replied that the price wasn’t yet set, but that he thought it would be in “single digits” per event, meaning less than $10.

“Great content is not free, but I think this should be in single digits,” said Bowman, looking across the podium at Finchem to see if the tour’s boss agreed. “Lower is better.”

Bowman said in an interview after the press conference that the PGA would handle the content capture part of the service, and then would send the content to MLBAM for coding and processing on the Internet. While MLBAM already makes hundreds of millions showing live baseball action online, there are some extra hurdles to jump over to get content out from golf courses, which typically don’t have as much installed infrastructure. But Bowman also noted that at major events like the WGC tourneys, having mobile equipment isn’t a problem.

“If you look around here, you’ll see something like 40 [equipment] trucks,” Bowman said. “These are major media events, and it won’t be a problem [getting video from the courses]. This isn’t your grandfather’s golf tournament anymore.”

Will Periscope and Meerkat swamp stadium networks?

Three thoughts to start your week off, of a completely unrelated nature. First one up is about a couple of live video-streaming services that you might have heard of or seen, Meerkat and Periscope. I successfully avoided watching any super-selfimportant types video themselves using Meerkat from SXSW, and I’ve been too wrapped up in March Madness to care yet about Periscope. So far I haven’t seen any coverage that details how much bandwidth the apps use up. Probably not much if you are livestreaming something all by yourself. But what if a bunch of people decide to livestream, and they’re all in the same place? So I do wonder how stadium networks will handle the idea of live video streams.

Will the Wi-Fi and DAS networks be able to handle the traffic? Anyone looking into this yet? Discuss. You can do so in the comments, or send me some longer thoughts via email and I will relay them to the crowd. Will Periscope and Meerkat be banned in-stadium? If so how can that happen? Will live video streams be the final straw that makes teams and leagues realize that Twitter may not be such a great content partner after all? I don’t have any answers yet but I assure you this is a question that will be asked the rest of the year in stadium IT shops — as well as in the lawyers’ offices where content and TV rights are negotiated and protected. Selfies may be fine, and Vine may be OK. But live streams of sports events are bound to get someone’s attention, fast.

Thought No. 2: Twenty-three years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I saw this:

I was in Beaver Creek, Colo., in a swanky hotel room that I normally couldn’t afford, watching the Duke-Kentucky game after covering pro ski racing during the day on the slopes of Beaver Creek. Because it was near the end of the ski season the still-new Beaver Creek wasn’t too full, so us members of the media got special rates to stay in the slopeside hotel rooms that now will cost you an arm, a leg and maybe a first-born. That is not important to this thought, though. What is important is that I remember watching the game on a nice TV. Which was the only way you could watch, 22 years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night, when another classic NCAA tournament match involving Kentucky came down to the wire, and a last-second shot, on the exact anniversary of the Laettner shot. That Kentucky prevailed this time in another classic also doesn’t really matter here; what does is how I watched the second half — on my phone in my backyard while cooking dinner on the grill, over a Wi-Fi connection to a router inside the house. The thing I thought about afterwards was how completely normal it seemed to do something that was unthinkable 22 years ago, namely watch a live game via a handheld device through multiple connectivity junctures — and it all just worked. In the future I will probably remember the game more, and the key free throws and the crazy defense of the last play. But right now I’m still a little in wonder in how far the idea of watching sports on your phone has come.

Third thought: Some more history here — does anyone out there remember the 2009 version of SXSW, when Foursquare was launched and the huge influx of attendees using Twitter on their iPhones brought the AT&T network to its knees? Here’s another link to the historical moment when AT&T got pantsed publicly for not knowing how much bandwidth its customers would need at a gathering like SXSW.

Fast forward again to this year’s SXSW, and man, was AT&T ready for record network usage. Not only did it trot out the huge big-ball cellular antenna that it used at Coachella last year, it beefed up regular network connections and brought in a whole herd of COWs (cell trucks on wheels) to satisfy a mobile bandwidth demand that doesn’t seem to be able to stay flat or go down. According to AT&T, its network saw 37 terabytes of data used during the SXSW event — that’s like three-plus Super Bowls worth of traffic, and this is just on AT&T’s networks, so not counting other carrier traffic.

We concentrate a lot here on stadiums and the particular problems for wireless communications caused by a tight geographic grouping of device-holding people. But what about towns with festivals like SXSW, or other big gatherings? Is your event ready for massive wireless bandwidth needs? If not what is your plan going forward?

YinzCam’s Super Bowl stadium app will have instant replays, Super Bowl commericals, stadium maps and more

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year's game.

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year’s game.

We’ve been waiting for official word on what the YinzCam-developed app for the Super Bowl will look like, and though there’s no press release the page where we are guessing it will eventually be available is offering some details, like the availability of instant replays from different camera angles, video of Super Bowl commercials, and stadium maps.

On the Seahawks.com site we found a good how-to story for fans going to the game, which included a link to this page, where we are guessing the Super Bowl stadium app will be available for download. Here is the boilerplate:

New for Super Bowl XLIX, the Super Bowl Stadium App Presented by Verizon aims to take the fan experience inside University of Phoenix Stadium to the next level. Features that will enhance Super Bowl ticketholders’ experiences include exclusive in-stadium video content such as Super Bowl commercials and replays from four different camera angles, stadium seating and concession maps, once-in-a-lifetime gameday opportunities visible only to fans inside the stadium and the option to receive up-to-the-minute gameday notifications. Available on iOS, Android and Windows. Goes Live 23rd January 2015

(Looks like the app is already available in the App Store and in Google Play, but nothing is live; we downloaded the app and the only three buttons available, for highlights, commercials and memories, all say they will be available on Feb. 1 at the stadium, so no idea what the “goes live” on the splash page above means yet.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 11.40.41 PMYinzCam founder and CEO Priya Narasimhan had told us earlier this year that a Super Bowl app was in the making, and apparently it will contain features found in some of the latest YinzCam app deployments, such as the Seattle Seahawks’ new stadium app, which has multiple camera angle replays. The Super Bowl app is different from the Arizona Cardinals’ regular stadium app, which was also built by YinzCam, which also features instant replays.

We were able to download the app for iPhone (it’s free) and apparently you will need to be connected to the stadium Wi-Fi (which has the clever SSID of “Stadium WiFi”) in order to view highlights and other video options.

The good thing for fans at the big game, there will be plenty of networking horsepower to keep the app running, no matter where you are. If you’re inside the stadium there is a new Wi-Fi network and a refurbished DAS deployment to keep fans connected; stay tuned next week for our big breakdown of DAS deployments and carrier plans to keep the Super Bowl crowds super-connected.