July 22, 2014

Mobile technology and the Tour de France: Good, bad, ugly, cool — and you still need to pay NBC to watch it live online

Ever wanted to know what the Tour de France looks like from right in the middle of the pack? You now can see what it looks like for yourself, thanks to some on-bike cameras being used on a trial basis at this year’s race. Here is a link to a clip from Stage 1 that shows what it’s like to see a crash happen right in front of you. Great stuff, the kind of smart use of mobile technology that we’ve been waiting for since GoPro cameras hit the scene.

(For some reason it looks like the TdF is making some of these videos private, so watch them while you can. We also agree with what some commenters have been saying — what’s with the cheesy overdubbed music? Just use cycling action noise, please… thanks)

Of course, with technology advancements come things both good and bad, and if there is a crisis-about-to-happen trend it’s the proliferation of fans alongside the Tour de France trying to snap selfies with the racers in the background. Look, we get it: You are at a bucket-list type event, you spent hours by the side of the road waiting for the too-brief minute or two of action… so hell yeah, you’re going to snap a selfie to show everyone else how cool and important you are! Superb!

(VeloNews also has a report on the problem.)

The only problem is, over the last couple years, it’s become pretty obvious to anyone who watches Tour de France coverage on TV that the exuberant fans of old — usually fat old French guys who would sprint alongside the riders, on the steepest inclines where a human running can keep up with a bike for short distances — have now been replaced by a crew of idiots who know nothing about bike racing, but who want to be on TV. Or on the Internet. They dress up, they run in the road, they block the path of cyclists and motorcycles — every day now we hold our breath, hoping like hell there isn’t an incident where a fan takes out a leading rider, or far worse, a cyclist or fan suffers a terrible injury because some idiot was out in the middle of the road. Combine the idiot behavior with the turned-around selfie head not looking at what’s coming and you have a toxic stew. Who will save these jerks from themselves?

I’ve been around big bike races enough to know that there’s really no way of keeping these crowds completely controlled, short of putting up fences like they do for the last 1,000 meters in tour stages. Even then, people lean over the fences and cause crashes. I get it that part of the romance, the excitement of the Tour is the up-close involvement of fans. But these days it seems like it’s 90 percent self-important party clowns lining the roads, and not people who really care or understand the event. So far, it seems like the Tour has done little to try to tone down the on-road crowding. Let’s hope someone figures something out before there’s a race-changing or life-changing incident.

Crowds overwhelming cellular signals again?

This report is somewhat unconfirmed but in watching the NBC coverage live early this morning west coast time we heard one of the on-course reporters saying something about how team cars couldn’t communicate from the front of the pack to the back because they couldn’t get a cell signal — courtesy of the huge amount of fans lining the road for the stage into London. Shades of the Olympic road race! Guess they still haven’t figured out how to handle cellular crowds in the UK countryside.

TourTracker partners with CyclingNews: Best of both worlds!

Screen shot of TourTracker TdF app

Screen shot of TourTracker TdF app

We are also happy to see that our favorite live-action tour-following app, TourTracker, is now finally available for Tour de France coverage thanks to a partnership with CyclingNews. We’re happy for founder Allan Padgett and TourTracker… the best way to follow the biggest race in a mobile fashion. Unfortunately, the TourTracker app won’t have live video coverage — for that you still need to pay NBC extra, to the tune of $4.99 a day or $29.99 for the whole race. For mobile access only it looks like the charge is $14.99; not sure if there is also a per-viewing charge as well as a charge for the app.

How do we feel about NBC milking cycling fans for chump change? It wouldn’t be so bad if you could ensure that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were the only commentators heard, but from my short viewing stint today it appears that NBC has loaded up the announcer roster with those “other guys” that people generally can’t stand. My suggestion to Phil and Paul — hold some classes in the offseason to train the next generation of announcers! Please!

NBC sets streaming records for Stanley Cup final

Call us biased, but we bet that the numbers would have been even better had the Chicago Blackhawks been in the Stanley Cup final instead of the Los Angeles Kings. Still, according to NBC, this year’s Stanley Cup Final recorded record online streaming numbers “for virtually every metric,” according to a press release out today.

Here are the figures from NBC: “Live streaming for the five-game 2014 Stanley Cup Final on NBC Sports Live Extra delivered 603,000 uniques and 37.14 million minutes, up 38% and 22%, respectively, vs. last year and made 2014 the most-consumed Stanley Cup Final ever.”

For the entire NHL playoffs, NBC said it had 1.52 million uniques and 201.50 million minutes watched, “the best-ever for an NHL post-season” and an increase of 180% in uniques and 183% in minutes as compared to last year.

One question we have for cable and broadcast execs: Do the authentication measures really help with cable subscriptions? Or are they just a kind of feel-good thing to make cable providers feel like people aren’t getting “free” content? I’d love to see some proof or stats that say the authentication measures are valuable — as opposed to the good will and free marketing you could reap by just making stuff free online. Because really, nothing is “free” online — if you want to watch sports online you still need broadband, which isn’t really free anywhere.

Off the soapbox now. And hoping that next year when the Blackhawks return to their rightful perch atop the league, the online numbers will double this year’s.

The U.S. Open’s last hurrah on NBC, ESPN — last chance for good online golf?

If there’s one thing that’s been a bonus of ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship, it’s the fact that for those of us on the West coast, coverage starts at 6 a.m. local time. That means that by the time most of us are at our computers Thursday or Friday, there’s already live golf to be found. For one last time, we’ll enjoy it as the lads tee it up at Pinehurst No. 2 starting Thursday morn.

Will it be the same next year when Fox takes over? Though Fox did a decent job of the Super Bowl online this past big game, there’s no telling how good or how bad Fox’s golf broadcasts will be, and much less how much Fox will devote to online efforts. If the past is any clue, we may see a regression of sorts when it comes to online options from Fox. For this year, anyway, we’ll still have the rich options usually available from ESPN (including the WatchESPN app) as well as the above-decent online offerings from NBC for the weekend play.

You can, of course, also use the official U.S. Open apps or mobile websites to get mobile/online coverage of two featured groups and featured holes, a la the Masters but with less depth. And if you can stand the amount of time it takes for all the dumb features to load, the PGA’s new home page will certainly be kept up to date with scores and video highlights, as well as pointers to where you can watch live stuff.

NBC, which earned all kinds of honors recently for its online coverage (especially its Olympic streaming efforts) still, in my book, is learning how to do all this. Yes, there was lots of Olympics stuff online, but you had to hunt really hard to find the actual live programming late at night from Sochi — and when you did, the NBC window could spoil the results for you, since the integrated Twitter feed was usually a minute or two AHEAD of the NBC “live” online broadcast. Still, NBC and the NBC-owned Golf Channel should have more info and analysis than you could possibly want all weekend.

If you are watching on an actual television set, the ESPN coverage on Thursday and Friday goes from 9 a.m. Eastern to 3 p.m. ET, then you switch over to NBC for two hours, and then back to ESPN for the last two hours of coverage. On the weekend, it’ll be the last call for Johnny “63″ Miller as lead broadcaster, as NBC covers things from noon ET to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and Sunday from noon until the winning putt drops. Or until there’s a tie and an 18-hole Monday playoff.

Preakness gets online streaming extras via NBC Sports Live Extra

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 2.33.28 PMWith a solid showing in the Kentucky Derby, winner California Chrome looks like the best bet for a Triple Crown in years. And thanks to NBC’s Sports Live Extra feature, horse racing fans can get live streaming coverage of Saturday’s second race of this year’s Triple Crown series as well as online extras that include four isolation camera views and archive footage and replays of related topics like the Kentucky Derby race.

Basic race info: The live broadcast of the 139th Preakness Stakes starts at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time this Saturday, May 17, from Pimlico track in Baltimore. Broadcast coverage is on NBC.

As usual, you need to be a validated cable subscriber to watch NBC Sports Live Extra either online or through the mobile device app of your choice. I don’t have any empirical proof to back up the next statement, but from watching a lot of Stanley Cup playoff action via NBC Sports Live Extra online it seems like the NBC crew is really getting its act together in terms of delivery. I haven’t seen any buffering errors or frozen screens in a long time, and let’s hope it stays that way.

If you feel the need to vent your opinions on all things Preakness NBC is also hosting a social media sharing center, cleverly located at NBCSports.com/Preakness.

NFL playoff expansion on hold

Playoff games will be a bit more spread around this post season in the NFL as NBC will be adding a divisional round game and ESPN will be getting a Wild Card game. The ESPN game will be also broadcast over the air in the cities of the two teams that are playing.

Meanwhile the talk of expansion of the playoffs looks like it has been delayed, at least in the near term. NY Giants team president John Mara spoke to Newsday and said that he believed that the earliest additional post season games would be added would be in 2015. Commissioner Goodell had been pushing for this year.

NFL Players to land Tweet deal
Fans quite often follow their favorite athletes on Twitter, or at least ones that might make outspoken or interesting statements. Well now they may say something along the lines of “This Tweet brought to you by…”

A deal between the NFL Players Inc. and digital marketing company Opendorse will work to get endorsement deals for players who will be paid to tout the products via Twitter. According to Sports Business Journal Opendorse has already signed 200 players.

Top NFL Draft misses?
One of the byproducts of the huge NFL mock draft industry is that it sometimes makes some glaring mistakes. I think that most fans have a love/hate relationship with top online and broadcast mock drafters and really enjoy bringing up this topic.

Awful Announcing has complied just that type of list and leads off a historcial gem with Mel Kiper saying that JaMarcus Russell, the Oakland Raiders top draft selection in 2007 is the next John Elway. It just gets better after that but a few I was hoping to see did not make the cut, which may say something about the number of mock draft failures.

World Cup teams have needs too
Who knew that World Cup teams had demands that will most likely force rock stars to improve their game when it comes to making demands from the hotels where the teams stay. Kosher meat, fresh bananas from your native country and only liquid soap, none of that old fashion bar soap, which is apparently not good enough for the French.

According to SB Nation many are demanding the televisions carry broadcasts from home with Honduras demanding six Spanish speaking stations. Japan needs a Jacuzzi in every room. And I thought that Van Halen was demanding because they did not want brown M&Ms.

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.