July 28, 2014

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.

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:)

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New app features, streaming opportunities for March Madness

bracket

The NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament, or as it is better known March Madness, has already started but there is still time for those that wait until the 13th hour to get their act together to both follow the tournament as a fan and your bracket as, well also a fan.

First and foremost is watching and following the games and Turner Sports, along with NCAA.com and CBS Sports have simplified that by making all of the games available online, with some requirements for the viewer. You can go to the March Madness main page for more information; the key is finding the “Select TV provider” button in the upper left corner as you must have a qualifying TV service contract to watch online. The effort by Turner et al may shake up how future major sporting events are broadcast and garnered solid reviews in Fast Company. There is also a twist for the Final Four television coverage, where there will be separate announcing teams on alternative Turner channels. The SI roundup has a good description of what’s going on, television-wise.

Pretty much any newspaper, blog, web site and sports channel has a contest, ranging from billionaire Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans’ offer to pay $1 billion to anybody that picks all 64 winners to local office and bar pools.

The next games start Thursday and many pools allow you to enter up until just before tipoff of that round. If you are looking around for something that is not in the mainstream but will connect you to everybody that you might want to chart with, or talk trash with.

An app launching in support of the iPad in time for the tournament is called FanKave, and it functions much like you might imagine. You enter a ‘Kave’ for each game and can talk, both online and using voice, with friends or rivals while receiving play-by-play results. A nice feature is that from a Kave a fan can post to a variety of social media sites such as Facebook without needed to open a separate app for that.

The app supports more than simply the basketball tournament, with the NFL, NBA and NCAA football available now and MLB and FIFA World Cup 2014 expected soon. It is currently available only on the iPad platform but its developers said that iPhone and Android versions are expected soon.

A more established mobile app called theScore is also trying to make hay while the tournament’s sun shines by adding a number of additional features that revolve around March Madness. Among the new features is an ‘upset tracker’ that uses push notification to let users know that an underdog is leading with 5:00 minutes in the game.

There are plenty of established apps as well and pretty much everybody I know has multiple ones to follow both the tournament but also teams that they are interested in. Checking out specific schools can get you apps that (sometimes) enable you to closely follow the team’s progress through the tournament.

NBC’s own Twitter feed ‘spoils’ its live online video stream during Sochi super-G

Screen shot of NBC live stream video with Twitter window to right.

Screen shot of NBC live stream video with Twitter window to right (click for larger image).

Even though American skiers Andrew Weibrecht and Bode Miller were fast enough to win medals in the super-G Sunday in Russia, it was Twitter outpacing NBC to the finish line during the broadcaster’s live streaming coverage from the Sochi Olympics.

If you were up late in the U.S. watching the live online coverage via NBC’s Live Extra service, you could also see a window with “experts” Twitter feeds to the right of the video screen. As the super-G progressed, and as racers challenged Miller’s once-leading time, you could see race results being tweeted before they were shown via the “live” video. The spoiler effect got some Twitter users and live-stream watchers angry, and they took out their frustrations on the reporters whose tweets were being shown in NBC’s official window.

In a very unofficial review yours truly has noticed that NBC is jamming a lot more commercial breaks into the online streams than they did at the start of the games — the first night of action I watched online (men’s DH) had very few commercials breaks. The super-G coverage on Sunday/Saturday, however, had numerous commercial inserts, many right before racers were about to ski. There were also some buffering and streaming hiccups, which may be a result of my own connection and not NBC’s fault. Maybe it’s hard to blame NBC for the lure of trying to pump more advertising in; according to NBC press releases that come along almost daily now, the live streams are extremely popular and will probably become more so as the big-ticket events like men’s hockey and women’s figure skating get seriously underway.

Viewers expressing frustration at Twitter feed outpacing video

Viewers expressing frustration at Twitter feed outpacing video

But at some point during the super-G, because of the ads or because of physics, the Twitter feed on NBC’s page got well ahead of the event, and I had to resort to the full-screen option to keep the Twitter feed from playing spoiler. While we have messages and emails out to the reporters/tweeters and NBC to try and figure out the particulars, we can pretty much guess what happened — NBC probably had no buffer or filter in place at all, and the speed of 140 characters is going to beat video bits (which need encoding to traverse the interwebs) every time.

It is most likely an early-days problem of trying to do something ambitious like live stream every event, an undertaking NBC should be commended for. But with all the resources at its disposal and all its social media savvy, NBC should have forseen this kind of glitch. In this age of reporters tweeting from events there is always the problem of Twitter moving faster than even official broadcasts — but you rarely see a network spoil its own show with official Tweets that move faster than its own “live” video.

For us here at MSR it’s a glitch we can live with, since efforts to stymie the speed of Twitter are as futile as they are worthless. The easy solution will be to restrict or delay the Twitter feed, which will cripple the instant-feedback usefulness of Twitter. More live Twitter and more live video is what we say. But the glitch is also evidence that the desire to blend video and social media on the same viewing page may not always produce the results you are looking for. Maybe better design is the answer?

And sorry if we are playing spoiler for NBC’s prime time show later Sunday but hey, two medals in one race is pretty big news for the U.S. Ski Team, and what a killer effort from the old man Bode. And tying for a bronze — well that’s just a pretty Bode result too. And here’s an Instagram to show the proud teammates posing with the flag after their second- and third-place finishes.

Broadcast and digital video combine for huge NBA All-Star weekend

nbasta

Starting tonight there will be four days and nights filled with a variety of activities related to the NBA All-Star game that will be played on Monday night including features and broadcasts on live television, NBA.com and NBA Mobile.

While the actual game and some of the key events will only be available via broadcast television there are a number of features that will be available for the digital viewer as well as specials that will be made available on the NBA’s NBA TV channel. This will total an estimated 140 hours of all star coverage.

Social Media
Featured on the NBA.com home page, fans can follow tweets from NBA players and insiders, share user-generated video, check which topics and content are trending in real time and get behind-the-scenes video from players and celebrities.

Fans will be able to vote for both the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge MVP and Kia NBA All-Star MVP via online, mobile web, SMS text messaging, Twitter and via the NBA Game Time app. I wonder how many will vote like they are in Chicago?

The NBA Mobile app is being used as primarily a schedule and event tracker. There will be highlights from different events as well as some live coverage but no real streaming events to mobile users. All of the content that would fit nicely for a mobile user has mostly been designated for NBA TV. Still it provides users with the All-Star Dashboard that is basically a one stop site for that is happening with live press events, live video and social feeds.

It is more valuable if you are attending because the Events Section also includes including event information, ticket links, venue maps, directions, video, live scoring and social feeds from all of the individual events.

NBA TV
The league appears dedicated to highlighting its own channel and has a top lineup for NBA TV including a big block of original programming on Monday that will be highlighted by an interview with LeBron James, another with Oscar Robertson and an All-Star edition of Open Court: The Dunk In Depth and Defined.

However the festivities start tonight on the channel with a Slam Dunk-A-Thon that will show all of the Slam Dunk contests including the first held, during the days of the ABA in 1976. Among the events that will be broadcast on Friday there will be highlights and an inside look at the league’s rising stars. There will also be coverage of the media day as well as exclusive coverage of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Announcement.

The weekend sees a great deal more broadcasting on NBA TV and you can go here for the full schedule but some of the interesting items are the 2013 NBA D-League All-Star game and the new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s press conference. There will also be pre- and post game coverage on Sunday.

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi, DAS and live video get good reception at Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Sometimes, the best surprise is no surprise. That’s the case when it comes to technology deployments at the still-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Wi-Fi, DAS and live video on both fixed and mobile platforms are all performing pretty much as expected.

According to Chip Foley, vice president of building technology for Forest City Ratner Companies (the developer of Barclays Center), perhaps the only mild surprise so far at the just-over-a-year-old Barclays is that the biggest Wi-Fi usage came not during a sporting event, but instead at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony this past August.

“We had 7,000 people using the Wi-Fi network at the VMAs, and I was a little surprised at that,” said Foley. At Brooklyn Nets games, Foley said, the average Wi-Fi load in the 17,500-seat arena is somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 users per game. In a recent phone interview, Foley recapped the performance of the stadium’s cutting-edge technology, which also includes one of the first deployments of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile, which brings live video feeds to fans using the stadium app. There’s also Cisco-powered digital displays throughout the arena, and a robust DAS deployment to make sure regular cellular connections don’t fail.

HD Wi-Fi attracts 20 percent of attendees

Barclays Center, which opened in September of 2012, had the benefit that few NBA stadiums have in that it was built from the ground up with networking as a key component. If Foley has any regrets about the Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi deployment, it’s that it hasn’t really been fully tested yet. Even during the VMAs, Foley said he was using the in-building Wi-Fi to watch 10 different streaming video views on his laptop, from the red carpet cameras to the behind-the-scenes views of stars getting their awards.

Chip Foley

Chip Foley

“Our goal was to build as robust a network as possible, so that we can handle big needs of one-off events [like the VMAs] as well as the 41+ Nets games every season,” Foley said. With two 1-gigabit backbone lines providing Internet access, Foley said the Barclays network is meeting its goal of being “as fast as your fiber connection at home.”

The only drawback so far seems to be getting more fans to try out the network connection when they are at the games or events. According to Foley, despite advertising and promotions, Nets crowds almost always hit a figure of between 20 percent and 25 percent of them being online, a “Groundhog Day” situation that has Foley wondering whether it’s a natural limit.

“That may just be the number of fans who want to use it [the network]” at a game, Foley said.

The Barclays Center DAS, deployed by ExteNet Systems using gear in part from TE Connectivity, is another non-surprise center for Foley.

“The DAS is great, we never get complaints [about cellular connectivity],” Foley said. “You dread hearing that people can’t send texts. That just hasn’t happened.”

Digital displays, both mobile and fixed

One of the more compelling features of the Barclays tech experience is the implementation of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile technology, which brings several live “channels” of video to any fan using the Wi-Fi connection and the stadium app, which was built by WillowTree. With views from the benches, behind the basket and quick replays, Barclays can bring an up-close and personal view to even those far away from the court.

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

“StadiumVision Mobile is great for the upper pavilion seats, you can now get a view from a different perspective, and get replays,” Foley said. According to Foley, Cisco engineers tested the technology’s performance to ensure that it worked at every seat in the house.

Fixed digital displays are also a key technology at Barclays, starting with the unique Oculus display built into the striking exterior of the building, and continuing to the hundreds of digital displays inside. Using the Cisco Stadium Vision digital display technology, Barclays Center is able to change and update information on single screens or on all screens on the fly, allowing for greater flexibility in terms of messaging and information like concession-stand prices. Barclays also uses its displays to show train schedules, giving fans better information to plan their departures from events.

“The Stadium Vision displays have been nothing but great for us — we sold a lot of advertising on them even before launch,” Foley said. “It’s fun for our content group to build out content for the L-boards [displays where an L-shaped advertisement brackets other information on the screen], and keep it changing. Restaurant operators can use an iPad to change prices [on their screens] right before an event. They don’t have to talk to us. Overall, it’s a lot less maintenance than I expected or anticipated.”

If Foley had one chance to do anything over again with displays, it would be to add more of them to the original mix. His lesson to future stadium display builders is: If you’re in doubt, put up more.

“We must have had 30-plus meetings regarding [internal] TV locations, with 3D modeling and fly-throughs,” Foley said. “For the most part, I’m happy. But if I could, I would have more clusters [of screens]. Wherever there is one screen now, I wish I had three. People always look at a cluster.”

Adding new screens after the fact, Foley said, isn’t as simple as going to Best Buy to pick up a discount TV.

“You might be able to buy a TV for a couple hundred bucks on Black Friday, but no one tells you that to put that in a venue, once you get past union costs, connectivity and everything else, it’s about $5,000,” Foley said. “It’s way more money to add them now.”

What’s next: iBeacon, Google Glass and more analytics

What’s in the future for Barclays technology? For starters, Foley will oversee deployment of Wi-Fi services for the outside spaces surrounding the arena.

“It’d be nice to have Wi-Fi for ticket scanning outside the venue,” said Foley. “That’s one of those things that you don’t understand the need for it until you open the stadium and see what happens.”

Barclays is also looking into testing the Apple iBeacon technology, which can send text messages to devices in very close proximity. Technologies like iBeacon and even digital signage must also cross internal administrative hurdles, such as simply training sales forces and alerting advertisers to the opportunities.

“For some of the streams, there’s the question of ‘how do we sell this’ — the team has never done this and sponsors may not be aware,” Foley said. “You also have to figure out things like how many notifications and emails should we send out. You don’t want to send out too many, because that turns people off.”

Foley said the Barclays social media team is also at the start of a process of mining statistics from places like Twitter, Facebook and other social media streams, to get a better handle on what fans are using the technology for and how the experience might be improved. One possible way is through a Google Glass application, something Foley agreed might not be for everyone.

“I’m fascinated by the possibility of something like an XML stats feed [in Google Glass] where you’d still be able to watch the game,” Foley said. “We’re getting closer! It’s not for everybody, but some portion of the population is probably thinking that way.”