April 30, 2016

March Madness viewing: More digital options, plus some virtual reality

MML_iPhone_01-WatchRemember when college basketball tournament season only had a small slice of games available online? Or when you had to pay extra to watch online? It wasn’t that long ago. Thankfully though the future is here now and for 2016 the college hoops postseason has even more ways to watch games mobile or online, including one option to watch games via virtual reality programming.

Like last year, if you have a qualifying cable contract, you are basically covered and should be able to watch all the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games live, on whichever platform you want. The best way to start is to head to the NCAA’s March Madness home page, where you should be able to find any and all information on devices, apps and other avenues to streaming coverage. According to Turner Sports, the NCAA and CBS Sports the games will be available live on 12 different platforms, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku players and Roku TV models. The new March Madness Live app isn’t avalable until Thursday, so check back soon for the go-to app for everything March Madness.

Also like last year, you should be able to watch a few minutes of the first game you see without having to log in — great if you are just trying to catch a buzzer beater. The games of course will be available on regular TV, and the March Madness home page has what may be a great time saver, a widget that helps you find those obscure cable channels other than CBS or TNT where the games might be on. Since we’ve just moved, MSR’s NCAA viewing team might make good use of the Zip Code-powered channel finder.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.14.34 PMEven if you don’t have a cable contract you can still watch a lot of games that are streamed online; games broadcast on CBS will be available for no charge on desktop, mobile and tablet platforms, while games broadcast on the other channels (TNT, TBS, truTV and local channels) should be available on those providers’ websites. Again, if you get stuck or lost just defaulting back to the March Madness home page should give you a path to whatever game it is you’re looking for.

Big East tourney available in VR

If you have a NextVR platform you will be able to watch the 2016 Big East tournament (it starts Thursday, March 10) thanks to a partnership between FOX Sports and NextVR. We’re not VR-savvy here at MSR headquarters yet but with seven games and 15 hours of programming scheduled this might be a cool treat for VR fans. NextVR has an instruction page on how to watch the games in VR; if anyone tries this out, send us an email with a report on how it worked (or didn’t) and we’ll let everyone else know.

Also, don’t forget — this year for the first time the NCAA Men’s Championship game, scheduled for Monday, April 4, will be on TBS, NOT on CBS, the first time the champs game has been only on cable. And, there will be streaming options as well during Final Four weekend, according to the official announcement:

For the NCAA Final Four National Semifinals on Saturday, April 2, from Houston, NCAA March Madness Live will provide three distinct live video streams of both games to provide unprecedented viewing options for fans – live streaming of the traditional game coverage provided on TBS, along with “Team Stream by Bleacher Report” coverage or team-specific presentations offered via TNT and truTV. This year’s NCAA Tournament will include the National Championship airing on TBS, the first time the championship has ever been televised on cable television.

RBI Baseball is here; Best ballparks for craft beer

MLB has released R.B.I Baseball 14 to the joy of long-suffering fans of the game who have been waiting and hoping for years that the title would be reinvented and reinvigorated for a new generation of fans as well as older fans.

The game is the first one for consoles developed by the MLBAM and is available as a digital download for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 entertainment systems as well as for iPhones and iPads. The original game was discontinued around 20 years ago.

Quidditch is a real thing?
Apparently not only can you really play quidditch, there is an actual World Cup for the sport. The game that was made famous via the Harry Potter franchise of books and movies, sans magical brooms and a few other minor details, is being played around the globe these days.

Not only is it being played but it is gaining a bit of international support as teams from Canada and Australia will be among the 80 teams participated in the sport’s seventh World Cup in South Carolina last weekend. As a spoiler the University of Texas retained its crown beating Texas State University. Time to start practicing for next year.


Cubs’ fans disappointment may continue for 6 more years

When a new owner comes to town to take over a forlorn franchise there is always hope that they will manage to achieve what so many have failed to do in the past, create a winning atmosphere that will help make up for past failure.

That is what Cubs fans were certainly hoping for when Tom Ricketts et al took over the team. Yet it seems that a stadium and team that do very well in attendance and broadcasting viewership need to wait for new contracts and rebuilding. Or it could be the way the loan is structured and they don’t want to talk about that.

The 10 best ballparks for craft beer
When I started going to baseball games the options for food and beverages were very limited but that has really changed for the better. Now the Daily Meal has taken in upon itself to track down which stadiums have the best craft beer — why is this not a job assignment that I am ever given?

They list #1 as Safeco Field in Seattle, and the overall West Coast is well represented with AT&T and Petco also listed. Also did you know that at Yankee Stadium the space where they sell crafty beer is called ‘beer mixology destination?” Beer Mixology, really?

Qatar World Cup construction worker death rates continue
The World Cup that is due to be played in Qatar has already been under a cloud due to complaints about corruption and the fact that the tournament might have to be moved from summer to winter due to, what else, hot weather. But one issue that also seems to be running under the radar is worker treatment.

According to a piece in Slate 1,200 workers have already died building the facilities for the 2022 event. However FIFA said that it would look into it, which since it is responsible for the awarding of the games in the first place seems like the fox watching the hen house.

Wilson brings digital data collection to basketball
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Golfers can get a version of a smartwatch that tracks their game and provides real time feedback, there is a host of apps for runners and bicyclists to track their efforts and skiers can get goggles that lay out the run and show speed and slope. Soon recreational basketball will join the digital world with an app that will help Sunday morning athletes track their efforts.

There is more than just an app in the Wilson Smart Basketball program; there is of course a basketball that helps feed in the data. The app and accompanying basketball are scheduled for release for this year’s holiday season.

CBS to get ‘strong’ Thursday Night NFL slate
After outbidding rivals for the newest set of games that the NFL will be playing on Thursday nights CBS appears to be receiving an extra with the deal. It has been reported that the NFL will be taking steps to make those games between what are viewed as strong teams, not necessarily quality teams, but ones that will bring strong viewership.

Of course the quality of the games at the early point of the season, when offensive lines have not yet jelled, rookies are still learning the playbooks and teams have their new coaches is sometimes average at best and add in the fact that teams really only get two days to prepare for Thursday games I am not sure I would put the quality tag on any of these games just yet.

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.

Google seeks to expand ‘wearable’ options with Android Wear program

The Moto 360 Android

The Moto 360 Android

Google made a lot of noise a few years back with its push for Google Glass project, a pair of glasses that are connected to the Internet and now it is adding a second front in the wearable war with a push that it calls Android Wear.

The company has launched the Android Wear project in an effort to greatly expand the market for wearable hardware and related technology, with but not limited to helping a new generation watches running the company’s Android operating system.

The core of the effort will be a Software Developers Kit (SDK) that the company will be delivering to interested developers later this year.

While connected watches seem to be the first area that this effort will have an impact Google sees the effort expanding into other areas including bringing additional technology to more established platforms such as tablets.

However watches seem to be at the forefront of this space and potential developers that include everybody from Nike to Apple have indicated some level of interest in developing a watch. In addition there are already several connected watches on the market such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble’s Steel Watch. Google has a number that have now announced their intention. With such a huge position in the smartphone operating system already Google has a huge advantage and it looks to be building on it quite quickly.

Several partners have already announced intentions to build watches and in some cases have shown examples of their development efforts. Motorola, unsurprisingly, has one in development called the Moto 360 Android that it said will be available this summer while LG Electronics said it would introduce its first Android watch, the G Watch, sometime this quarter.

The watches will be equipped with a variety of sensors and the ability to connect to an Android phone. So it can sub for the fitness trackers that are popular with the athletically inclined. It will allow notifications and text messages to be forwarded from a user’s phone and enable voice replies.

I imagine it would be a great tool to use to cheat on exams, but that might just be me. However being in a meeting and getting, say, March Madness game updates, could be a boon for those times when it is frowned upon to look at your smartphone. However the flip side of this is that many, at least those of us old enough, might just see this as a glorified pager with a bit more functionality.

Turner, March Madness app ready for NCAA tournament

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March Madness, one of the sports world’s iconic events is on the horizon and no doubt fans are already plotting out strategies to get out of the office or school to watch their favorite team attempt to advance in its bracket. However thanks to Turner Sports there is an alternative.

It has released NCAA March Madness Live, an app that will provide portable access to all of the games in the tournament, with a total of 150 hours available during the event. Even better the app will now be supported by three platforms, Apple’s iOS, Android and for the first time Microsoft as well. Now fans can use a smartphone or tablet as a second screen if at a bar or as a primary device if at work.

To use the app a fan and watch all of the matchups that will be broadcast on TNT, TBS, and truTV a fan needs to log in with their TV service provider information. Games will also be available online at various sites, including This year, NCAA March Madness Live will launch from more platforms than ever before including the NCAA March Madness page, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report. There is no registration required for games on CBS. The app will also provide a temporary preview period giving fans access to live game streaming before login is required.

The app, Developed in partnership with the NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports is a follow up to previous years’ offerings but it has made several major enhancements to the app since last year, aside from the Microsoft support.

Of importance to the fans of bracketology and seeing if they are winning in their office pool the app has a new interface that has been designed for work with the smaller screens that smartphones feature as well with the slightly larger screens on tablets. It allows users to go directly from this feature to a live game and includes broadcast times and schedules. It also has additional view modes for brackets.

The heart of the app might be the GameCenter, one of the features that has been redesigned. It is the central [point to find which games are currently live streaming as well as pre-game matchup analysis, live in-game stats, key social moments and fan chat.

To complement the enhanced features in the bracket area there is the almost obligatory bracket for fans, this one entitled Capitol One NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge. The app developers have enhanced its social media functionality as well as supporting computers as well as smartphones and tablets. It allows for the formation of groups, sharing brackets and chat via Facebook.

There is also a general chat forum called the Coke Zero NCAA March Madness Social Arena that enables fans t converse about games and other events as well as follow game tweets, post and view Instagram photos and Vine videos. Fans can participate in the social commentary by using the hashtag #marchmadness.

Understanding that some fans might want to set up schedules to just see specific matchups the app now includes a TV Schedule that helps with planning. This feature can be accessed from various other features such as game schedule or bracket and provides the round, date, time and network for each game. Also new this year is a Tournament News feature that provides news and updates as well as highlights, recaps and additional information each day.

Following the broadcasting of all of the just concluded Winter Olympic events online by NBC hopefully this is the wave of the future. While MLB enables fans to watch a huge number of games either online or on their television via a subscription model the NBA and NFL trail well behind it.