November 1, 2014

Stadium Tech Report: Nebraska adds Cisco-powered Wi-Fi, IPTV to Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

The state of Nebraska might not have a professional football team, but University of Nebraska fans now have a pro-style wireless experience at home games thanks to a high-density Wi-Fi network and IPTV features recently installed by the school at the 85,000-plus seat Memorial Stadium.

Combined with a new mobile app that delivers multiple live video streams and replay options, the loyal Cornhusker fans — who’ve come to Lincoln, Neb., and filled Memorial Stadium to the brim every game day since the 1960s — now have a wireless fan in-game experience among the best anywhere, collegiate or pro. Installed for use this season by CDW, the new network features Cisco Wi-Fi gear and Cisco’s StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile systems, as well as a new app developed by NeuLion and additional video-streaming capabilities from EVS.

“We have the most loyal fans in the country,” said Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the University of Nebraska athletic department. Part of putting in a high-definition wireless network, Mosier said, was to meet growing fan connectivity needs and to “stay ahead of the curve” in stadium experiences. “We wanted to reward the fans for being so loyal, and give them a new experience to brag about,” Mosier said.

A look at video options in the Husker app

A look at video options in the Husker app (click picture for bigger view)

One of the first collegiate programs to install big TV screens in its stadium, Nebraska now has a Wi-Fi network with more than 800 access points, both inside Memorial’s seating bowl as well as outside, at entrance and parking areas. In addition to synchronized IPTV broadcasts on stadium flat-panel screens, Nebraska fans also have access to a wide range of live video and video replays of game-day action, thanks to the new game-day app.

According to Dan Floyd, director of information technology for Nebraska athletics, the new network is already a hit, with a peak of 25,000 simultaneous users during the second game this fall. And even though Floyd and Mosier are aware of some problem areas, as Floyd said there has already been “a lot of positive feedback” from the technology upgrades.

Better sound, better connectivity

The network deployment was part of a recent $12.3 million upgrade to the football facility, which has been the home of the Huskers since 1923. Included in the total spend was also a revamp of the public-address and sound systems, but according to Mosier “the biggest chunk” of the spending went to cover the Wi-Fi deployment.

The need for better connectivity became apparent a few years back, Mosier said, and it set in motion a “very long process” of a couple years in length in which Nebraska officials looked at other existing stadium deployments and technology choices before making their decisions. One of the easier picks was selecting Cisco as the main Wi-Fi gear supplier, since Mosier said that most of the rest of the school’s campus was already wired with Cisco networking gear. And a recent deployment of Cisco stadium Wi-Fi at Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, Neb., where the Husker basketball team plays, helped further push the football decision toward using Cisco.

“We wanted to provide a seamless experience for fans between multiple venues, and to play well with the rest of the campus,” Mosier said. “It was just a no-brainer to use a Cisco [Wi-Fi] product.”

Also in Cisco’s favor was its StadiumVision digital display system and its StadiumVision Mobile product, which both bring advanced IPTV features to static stadium screens as well as to mobile apps. StadiumVision allows for synchronization of programming across a wide array of networked displays, while StadiumVision Mobile supports several live broadcast channels that can be used to provide live content to mobile apps. The Brooklyn Nets use StadiumVision Mobile to bring live action channels to fans who visit the Barclays Center for games.

“We wanted to not just provide the networking infrastructure, but on top of that provide something extra,” Mosier said. “Our fans are pretty savvy, and they are looking for things beyond what the casual fan might be looking for. StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile makes sense for our fan base. The ‘extra screen’ approach really lets them control their own video experience.”

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

On the Huskers’ game day app, Mosier said, fans at the start of the season could choose between three StadiumVision Mobile-powered “channels” that showed the big-screen broadcast, an alternate angle view, and an “all-22″ camera that is like what coaches view to see the players across the entire field. A “phase II” of the app live video, which had not yet launched at the time of our interview, will include further user-controlled selections for more camera angles and replays. According to Mosier, the Phase II capabilities are supported by the C-Cast system from EVS. The entire new app, he said, was built by developer NeuLion.

Though Mosier said the live video production for the app was “definitely a growing process” that will require further tuning and learning, he said the system already has impressive performance, with delays between live action and app action at “a second to a second and a half.” Mosier said that Nebraska also plans to bring more live action to the mobile app for basketball season, with multiple camera angles including a “slam cam” based near the rims.

Handrails and fan interference of Wi-Fi signals

While the 800 Wi-Fi APs give Nebraska pretty good coverage throughout the facility, Floyd said the IT team knew it would have connectivity challenges in the north and south end zone stands, since neither of those sides have any structural overhangs.

“Since the north and south sides [of the stadium] don’t have overhangs we knew they would be problematic,” Floyd said. One option used in venues including AT&T Park and Levi’s Stadium, the under-the-seat access point, wasn’t an option at Memorial Stadium, Floyd said, because the seats there aren’t high enough to meet safety requirements for keeping bodies away from the antennas.

One creative way CDW and Nebraska brought Wi-Fi to the north and south stands is via Wi-Fi antennas inside railing enclosures, but those are not without their own challenges. Though the railing antennas get a signal close to fans, the long rows of seats at Memorial Stadium — up to 30 in between rows — means that the “waterbags,” or human bodies, can act as signal-blockers for fans in the middle of the rows.

“The first 10 or 12 people on either side get a pretty good signal,” said Floyd, but he added that the fans in the middle are still a challenge to reach. Both Mosier and Floyd said Nebraska will continue to seek ways to upgrade the Wi-Fi network, including possibly putting APs on top of towers or in other creative deployments.

“We knew it would need tuning, and some tuning is easier than others,” Mosier said. “We know we still have pockets of [connectivity] problems. We knew that when we put in a system like this, it wasn’t going to be perfect on day 1.”

Something to brag about

According to Floyd, Memorial Stadium has had a Verizon DAS in place for several years, which fulfilled most of the fans’ basic cellular connectivity needs since he said that “70 to 75 percent” of Cornhusker fans were Verizon customers. However, the new sound system, with its big speaker arrays, has also given room for AT&T and U.S. Cellular to add some DAS equipment of their own, with antennas mounted right inside the speaker enclosures.

Unlike other schools or teams, the Cornhuskers are not pressed to make money off their wireless network, given the stadium sellout streak that dates back to Nov. 3, 1962. But Mosier said that even the Huskers aren’t immune to the lure of the living room couch, with its comfort, HD screen and close-by food and drink.

“We definitely have a blessed situation [with the sellouts],” Mosier said, while allowing that some fans might still prefer sitting at home. “But you can’t match the experience of being at the venue,” he added. “If we can address the connectivity issues, plus add to the stadium experience [with technology], it’s a win-win for us.”

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

MLB streaming comes to Google Chromecast


You can now add Google Chromecast to the platforms that stream Major League Baseball broadcasts in the U.S. Subscribers of MLB.TV who own one of the Chromecast sticks that plug into the back of many modern televisions will be very happy.

MLB.TV enables fans to watch home and away games of out of market teams and once subscribed can use not only the Chromecast but also smartphones and tablets to watch games. Be sure to check what qualifies as an out of market team since some areas such as Las Vegas are claimed by multiple teams.

English Premier League gains additional network partners for finals
The Premier League will now be available on additional channels as NBCUniversal has opened up its family of stations to the broadcast of the league’s finale that will consist of 10 matches held on May 11.

It now plans to simultaneously broadcast the games not only on NBC and NBCSN but also on Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, USA, CNBC, MSNBC, Esquire Network and E!, channels better known for broadcasting anything but exciting soccer.

Rate the MLB announcers
It may be a bit late to join all of the fun but over at Awful Announcing they are having a contest to rate all of Major League Baseball’s individual broadcast teams. It has been ongoing for a few days but is still worth checking in to see how your favorite, or least favorite voices are doing. Do you like or detest homers, are some too bland, off message or just plain head scratching? Time to make your opinion known! The national broadcast teams on stations such as ESPN and Fox Sports will not be included in this poll.

Google lays out details for modular smartphone
Last year when Google first started talking about its “Project Ara” we did not pay that much attention since it was basically just some mockup photos and not much detail. Last week the company put meat on the Ara bones and started explaining what its intentions are in that area.

The goal of the project is simple but grandiose; it wants to revolutionize the smartphone market, and in 1 year. The idea is very simply, a phone that has a number of replaceable components that a user can select to include in their version of the phone. Think of a Lego phone as a comparable. Users could swap in processors, memory, storage and even type of connectors.

USA Today offers rare sports prints
USA Today has launched an endeavor called the USA Today Sports store and to kick it off it is offering customers a chance to buy a select number of images taken of Muhammad Ali early in his career that originally came from the Courier-Journal in Louisville.

While these images will be available for a silent auction fundraiser to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute this weekend there are a large number of images available at thestore.

NBC and NHL provide TV Everywhere for Stanley Cup Playoffs

lords

The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here and the NHL, along with its playoff broadcast partners are using a variety of mobile and digital strategies and programs to engage fans including streaming broadcasts of the games.

The highlights are probably having all of the games presented nationally across the platforms of the NBC Sports Group for the third year in a row and for the second consecutive year NBC Sports Live Extra will stream every game live. To fans that closely follow the games this might not be a surprise but for the casual fan this could be news.

The live streaming will reach a variety of devices that have downloaded the NBC Sports Live Extra app and can stream the events as they are shown on NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC. It will work with desktop and laptop PCs to tablets and smartphones as long as they are authenticated customers.

This is part of the growing push for “TV Everywhere” partnerships between cable providers, networks and sports leagues that all are starting to promote more aggressively. CBS and Turner Sports along with the NCAA saw strong online viewership growth for the recently concluded March Madness even when broadcast viewership slightly declined; and NBC’s push with cable partners during the Winter Olympics also produced large digital audiences. (Editor’s note: So maybe finally broadcasters are really realizing that online audiences are additive, not subtractive ones. Huzzah.)

In addition there will be a stronger social media push for this year’s playoffs including a very interesting deal with Magisto called Making Stanley Cup Movie Magic with Magisto. Magisto is a video creation and sharing app for both Android and Apple platforms and it will enable fans to create movies about experiences and events at the game such as the Blackhawks’ I Was There promotion.

The NHL and CBS are taking an interesting turn at Twitter as well this season. The @NHLonNBCSports twitter account will be handled by a variety of celebrity guests including CBS personalities, ex-players and celebrity hockey fans over the course of the playoffs.

That is just part of its much larger social campaign that also includes the basic news for the playoffs at #StanleyCup, an effort to highlight fans through photos that at #CelebrateStanley Photo Campaign for the Fans and the news and information site of NHL on NBC All-Access Social Media that is located at NBCSports.com/NHLonNBC.

It appears that select sports leagues and networks are increasingly coming to the realization that as an increasing number of fans are also cutting the cord to broadcast and cable TV the best was to reach them is via mobile digital media and programs like these from the NHL and NBC seem like the right approach to encourage that engagement.

(Editor’s second note: Not EVERY game is being shown live, there are still local blackouts… look what we got when we tried to tune in San Jose – LA:)

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 10.19.07 PM

TV Everywhere drives strong growth in March Madness viewership

final4

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

ipl

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.

Mobile viewership soars in setting March Madness record

f4

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.