ESPN: We Design First for the Mobile Experience

There’s a lot of talk on the interwebs today about ESPN saying that it designs its content sites and programs first for the mobile experience, a statement that is not so surprising on its face but still probably somewhat of a shock to the general public who still thinks of ESPN as something you watch on a TV, either in a bar or in your living room.

But as our old pal Om Malik notes, with 400 million smartphones out there it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen. Om says:

With more than 400 million smartphones expected to be sold, it makes perfect sense for sports to get the mobile bump. I mean, don’t we want the baseball gossip, score updates or results of the F1 race when on the go?

The obvious takeaway from ESPN is: The future of fat profits in content is mobile, and we’re all over it. What that means for startups and established players looking to get into the mobile-sports arena is that your business plan better have a provision for what you will do when the WorldWide Leader becomes your competitor.

The design-for-mobile-first mantra is widespread in the sports content world — it is even part of our internal thinking here at humble MSR — but when big players like ESPN and Bleacher Report start talking about how mobile isn’t something in the future but something that is here now it makes sense.

For most desktop Internet connections, bandwidth, screen size and network latency generally aren’t problems when it comes to site experience. On a small handset with extreme variables in network connection, screen size and local processing power, how a site is designed has a huge impact on how it is seen. And you don’t need any exhaustive usability studies to tell you that people don’t come back to a site that doesn’t load or isn’t usable on a small screen. With development resources in demand everywhere, it makes sense to put an emphasis on mobile, which is growing fast and has the more-stringent demands.

At least it does to ESPN. If you’re a business looking at the mobile-sports space, the question is now: if the leader is already there, what are you doing to design for mobile?

The MediaPost recap by Mark Walsh of the keynote speech from Michael Bayle, vice president and general manager of ESPN Mobile, is worth a long read because it touches on a lot of places where ESPN sees mobile going. But a quick grab of a stat from the post should make it easily understandable why ESPN cares so much:

Bayle pointed out that its mobile audience across its mobile properties has surpassed 20 million, with users spending 45% more time with ESPN mobile content in 2011 than the prior year. ESPN Mobile now ranks as the company’s fourth-largest network and it has 150,000 people plugged into its mobile offerings at any given time.

Sounds like it’s more than just cowboys at horse troughs watching ESPN in a mobile fashion. And it will be more so going forward.

Bleacher Report Adds iPad Version of ‘Team Stream’ App to Address Growing Mobile Reader Base

A screen shot of the iPad version of the Team Stream app from Bleacher Report.

To better address the nearly 40 percent of its viewers who access its content via a mobile connection, Bleacher Report is launching an iPad version of its “Team Stream” app today, giving fans a better mobile viewing experience for the “stream” of news, Tweets, story links and other info that Team Stream helps them create.

Having a version of the app available for the Apple iPad will give Team Stream users a bigger screen to negotiate between articles and content items, and will also provide a “personalized dashboard” on the home screen with national-topic headlines as well as stories about the topics and teams selected by the user.

While the Team Stream app has gained its share of kudos and credits — if you’ve never used it, it’s incredibly simple and powerful, bringing you a mix of professional media content as well as athlete- and fan-generated content on the teams of your choice — what was more interesting to us at Mobile Sports Report was Bleacher Report’s claim that almost 40 percent of the site’s overall traffic is now coming from mobile connections, showing that sports fans are leading the way to content consumption on the go.

Here's what the smartphone version looks like.

“We really saw mobile happen in 2011,” said David Finocchio, co-Founder and vice president of content and product at Bleacher Report, in a phone interview. According to Finocchio, Bleacher Report — one of the top sports websites — started the year with just less than 10 percent of its traffic via mobile. By the end of the year that number was almost at 40 percent, making the “mobile future” something that was here, now.

Inside the mobile traffic number, Finocchio said readers using tablets “grew faster than any [device] segment, and it continues to grow faster.” That fact made development of an iPad version of Team Stream a no-brainer. Now fans who currently use the desktop or phone versions of Team Stream to compile tweets, stories and other info from around the web (curated by Bleacher Report editors) will have a larger screen mobile option, the better to watch video replays or view pictures.

Bleacher Report, which now claims 22 million monthly unique visitors and picked up $22 million in growth capital this past summer, is carving out its own space in the ever-expanding world of sports media with a unique focus, one that Team Stream helps deliver: Finding the best content, which is often local in origin, and then arranging it in one place to make it easy for fans to find.

“Right now it’s just too damn hard to go out and find all that information by yourself,” Finocchio said. “You should be able to go to one place.”

Friday Grab Bag: Who Could Hate ESPN?

SEC Championship to be streamed live at CBS Sports
Once again the SEC has two of the top teams in the country locked in a battle, this time with #1 LSU vs #14 Georgia in the fight for the SEC title. The game will once again also be a top on-line offering from CBSSports.Com as it continues to raise its streaming sports profile.

Take your pick?

The game will be broadcast on Saturday at 4 pm ET and pits the Eastern Division Champions Georgia against the Western Division winner LSU at the Georgia Dome. It will be streamed live over and CBS Sports Mobile.

CBS plans to start its game coverage an hour earlier and there will be a special tailgate program starting at 1 pm ET. There will also be the usual” 5th Quarter with Gary Danielson” after the game for an interactive post game program.

However interest in the game may not be what past championships have garnered. The Big Lead points out that with LSU a lock for the BCS title game win or lose sales for tickets has been less than stellar and that prices are dropping as fast as the point spread is increasing. I guess fans want to save their money for the expected trip to a bowl game.

Is your smartphone following your every move?
With the revelation that 140 million smartphones have a software component installed that records every keystroke that you make. The program, called Carrier IQ records and sends each keystroke as it is made and sends the information to the company.

Carrier IQ said that it is using the information as a diagnostic tool that will help it gain insight into issues such as why certain calls are dropped. Researcher Trevor Eckhart, who unveiled the issue, shows that it records browsing history, SMS logs and location data as well as keystrokes.

There are some claims that the technology violates Federal wiretapping laws. Well the good news is that congress is getting involved and I am sure that they will have the users’ best interest in mind when they inquire into this issue.

Is Craig James the most hated man at ESPN?
This seems to be the point of a recent Bleacher Report piece that states that he is strongly despised by a significant portion of the sports world. I must have missed this hatred, although I have to say I am not a fan, no one has ever come up to me and said they despise him like they do for say Joe Buck (I know he does not work for ESPN).

Anyway the article goes on to say America wants him fired and that “A vocal population of college football concludes James is a self-aggrandizing liar of the worst kind, who uses sophistry to get what he wants like we use paper towels to dry our hands.” Wow!

The bulk of the trouble seems to have arisen from his role in the Mike Leach ouster at Texas Tech and his inane votes in the BCS poll that alters the standings for both good and bad teams.

There appear to be several different pushes to get him fired and now at least some are trying to target advertisers to force ESPN’s hand. I think that if the revelations in Bruce Feldman’s book did not harm him at the WWL, and in fact drove out possible its best college football writer then nothing will.

New startup fund-Bye Bye Silicon Valley!
A new startup fund called the Revolution Growth Fund has been established by industry veterans Steve Case, Ted Leonsis and Donn Davis has been formed with a $450 million in initial funds. It is taking a different slant than many funds which mine Silicon Valley for potential startups.

Instead it will seek to find investment candidates on the East Coast. “We will generally focus on investments in the Eastern United States. We believe there are great entrepreneurs building great companies all over the country, so we will focus our attention outside of Silicon Valley,” according to a note posted on the Revolution Growth web page. The three founders are the three largest investors and there are an additional 24 limited partners.

The ideal company will be one that are consumer focused and are looking to disrupt large industries. The fund expects to be an investor in companies that have already had some venture funding and are now looking to take the proverbial hockey stick upturn. Initial investments are expected in the $20-$25 million range.

Tide turning for Samsung in patent wars?
Samsung won a patent victory of sorts in Australia where the Federal Court overturned a lower court ruling that said Samsung had copied Apple’s iPad and iPhone. This moves the company closer to selling its Galaxy tablets in that country.
However it is not entirely a get out of jail free card as it has been reported that Apple will in its turn appeal, this time to the High Court in an effort to get the overturning overturned. So at least in the near term the injunction against selling the products remains in force.

Make you (NFL Pro Bowl) Vote Count!
The voting closes following the December 19th following the Monday Night Football game between the Pittsburg Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers. You can go here to vote and also try and get tickets to the game, which would make a nice break in a Hawaiian vacation.

Currently Aaron Rodgers if the top vote getter and I saw somewhere that Tim Tebow was 4th among AFC starting quarterbacks. I hope he gets voted in just for all of the gnashing of teeth from sportswriters across the nation!

Bleacher Report and Turner Sports Continue to Expand Sports Apps Space

Ever wanted to follow a Div III Field Hockey playoff or have streaming news from your favorite pro team? Well there is a couple more apps that will help you do just that as web sites and news organizations continue to expand their presence in the mobile sports space.

First up is Turner Sports which has developed a mobile app called NCAA Sports for the Apple iOS and Android platforms. Designed to cover a wide spectrum of sports that often do not get wide coverage the free app will include live streaming video of over 60 NCAA championship games.

It will provide live streaming video of championships for all NCAA sports including Division II football, Divisions II and III wrestling, Divisions I, II and III field hockey, Divisions II and III men’s and women’s soccer, and Divisions II and III women’s volleyball. The app will also include in-depth regular season coverage of football and basketball.

The program permits users to drop in and out of the live broadcasts and provides the ability to chat with friends using Facebook or to post comments via Twitter.

In addition Turner has added a new mobile website on its hosted NCAA.Com space that is designed for mobile browsers user with touch screen devices such as Tablets and smartphones. The mobile website will allow fans to get live scores, schedules, news, rankings and video recaps that have been tailored for display on the mobile devices.

In a press release Mark Johnson, vice-president of Turner Sports’ NCAA Digital group said about the development that “College sports content is underserved in the mobile space right now and we’re excited to offer fans mobile products that are 100% dedicated to college sports.”

Bleacher Report moves desktop offerings to mobile app

The second app coming down the road is from Bleacher Report called b/r Team Stream App and the free app is now available for both Android and Apple iOS devices. It will cover a number of sports including NFL, College Football, MLB, NBA, NHL Soccer, Tennis and Golf.

The app is in ways a news aggregation program, Bleacher Report searches the web for news on the team you have selected and streams them to your mobile device using the app. However it will also include tweets from athletes and sportswriters.

Alabama-LSU Twitter Reaction: No Game of the Century

If you liked defense, maybe LSU-Alabama tonight was your cup of tea. But as the night wore on and neither team’s offense lived up to the hype the sentiment on Twitter started calling this one a boring tilt that didn’t deserve all the attention. ESPN columnist and talent for Pardon the Interruption Mike Wilbon even shouted down his own employer, saying the hype was unworthy:

I love all the Kool-Aid drinkers…All they heard all week (90 percent of it from my employer, ESPN) was huge hype…It ain’t living up…


Michael Wilbon

Jason Whitlock at least gave the teams credit for playing great defense, but put the “boring” idea out there as well:

What do we think of the Game of the Century? Pretty boring? Or great defensive battle?


Jason Whitlock

Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News got in a Daylight Savings Rip:

Don’t forget to turn your clocks back tonight to mark Bama and LSU turning football offense back half a century.


Bob Wojnowski

And yes, the expected crying photo after the Bama loss. Though not the way you might expect it:

Photo of Alabama couple crying after loss to LSU


Bleacher Report

And then the Big Lead caught us up on the game we maybe should have been watching:

oh my gosh, SICK catch by Kansas State at the 5 yard line. Holy cow, you NEED to watch this game


Jason McIntyre

SB Nation breaks out of the Vox with a broad media strategy





SB Nation, with 25 million in monthly visitors and $24 million in venture backing, took its eye off the ball today. Whether that strategy works remains to be seen.

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