April 20, 2014

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

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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:)

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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.

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.

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.