October 31, 2014

Golf Channel scores with Ryder Cup digital broadcasts

Given the time differences between Scotland and the United States, making all the Ryder Cup coverage available live online or via a mobile app seemed like a smart move for the Golf Channel and its parent NBC. Now that the stats are in the numbers back up the move, with Golf Channel claiming record unique visitors and video starts for both its online and mobile-app platforms.

In a press release NBC Sports said Golf Channel Digital had “its best week ever across all digital metrics” during the Sept. 22-28 Ryder Cup week. According to NBC, for the week Golfchannel.com attracted 2.16 million unique visitors, a 325 percent increase from the Ryder Cup week in 2010 and a 75 percent increase from 2012, with 16.2 million page views. The website also recorded 1.3 million video starts, respective increases of 438 percent and 173 percent over 2010 and 2012.

On the mobile side the Golf Channel mobile app racked up more than 10.4 million page views, which according to NBC was a gain of 93 percent over usage from 2012. The mobile platform this year also had more than 267,000 video starts, which NBC said was up 81 percent over 2012.

Let’s hope the PGA takes the numbers to heart and increases mobile/digital coverage of all Tour events, especially during Thursday-Friday competition days when many golf fans are more likely to be in front of a PC than a TV. Golf Channel’s Ryder Cup numbers are just a sign that we’ll watch online or on mobile devices. Tee it up, PGA!

Watching golf this week: Ryder Cup online at Golf Channel, NBC

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.34.55 AMAre you ready for late-night or early morning golf online? That’s what fans in the U.S. will be watching in potentially large numbers this weekend as the Ryder Cup takes place in Gleneagles, Scotland. With live coverage starting Friday at 2:30 a.m. Eastern time (that’s 11:30 p.m. Thursday for us west coaster types) it’s a good bet many golf fans will be tuning in online, using headsets so they don’t wake up the rest of the house with the TV.

All the action will be streamed live by Golf Channel and NBC, through their Golf Live Extra and NBC Sports Live Extra services. Depending on the day and time you may need to bounce between the two outlets, a small hassle but an OK price to pay to get to see the intriguing competition live. You will need to have an authorized cable account to view the live feed, though it looks like they are giving fans a 30-minute grace period of free viewing before you have to log in with your cable account. You will also be able to see the live action via the Golf Channel/NBC apps for iOS and Android devices.

Especially interesting to us is the addition of something Golf Channel is calling its Alternate Shot coverage, which is basically a different set of analysts and announcers led by the entertaining David Feherty. Feherty, a former player who is often the most engaging voice on any broadcast these days, has a unique style and fun sense of humor, which fans of his excellent interview show Feherty know well. Like past experiments with college football that offer announcer choices, we are glad to see the trend spreading to other sports, and expect Feherty — who played in the 1991 Ryder Cup and is extremely passionate about the event — to do a bang-up job.

Of course, the competition will also be shown on TV, and if you want a good place to find a lot of information easily the Golf Channel’s Ryder Cup hub is a fine place to start.

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.