Opinion: Pro golf tour should embrace livestreaming apps like Meerkat, Periscope, to attract new fans and show ‘missing’ action

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as it ramps up its own official efforts to bring more live action to fans via the Internet, the professional golf tour should embrace the emerging “livestreaming” services like Periscope and Meerkat to expose even more live play to a wider and possibly younger audience.

Why? Because golf is unique in its ability to allow fans very close to the players, and combining that with the predictability of action makes for a perfect recipe for compelling livestream content, something that may not be possible at stadium-based events like baseball or football. And since golf itself is admitting that it needs more live coverage, why not open the gates as wide as possible, and see what happens? As I will explain below I think the downside is minimal, and on the upside there’s the opportunity for the world’s stodgiest sport to shed some of its historical knickers and attract a younger, hipper audience that it might need somewhere soon down the road.

Perfect for Periscope

That overall idea was my instant takeaway from a day at the World Golf Championships Match Play event this week at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, where I strolled the grounds on Tuesday, when practice rounds and a pro-am event were taking place. While the almost non-existent crowd meant I could really get up close and personal, it struck me that even at crowded days at golf tournaments a good number of fans are extremely close to the players, making cell-phone livestreaming something you may actually want to watch.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Even with my limited photography skilz I was able to get some good shots Tuesday, including one stop-action picture of Ian Poulter’s perfect swing. I also spent some time watching Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner dial in their short irons at the practice range, and the thought occurred to me that golf geeks might really like being able to watch such “action” via a livestreaming service. So why not allow and even encourage it? If you follow golf at all you are probably, like the rest of us golf fans, regularly frustrated by the lack of “live” coverage either on TV or online. Especially so since there’s now no real reason not to have as much live coverage as you can.

In the old days, it might have been cost-prohibitive and technically impossible to have TV cameras following every golfer on the course on every hole. But as cameras and wireless technology continue to improve, you’re seeing more and more flexibility and choice in “official” golf coverage, most recently with Tuesday’s announcement of PGA Tour Live, which later this summer will bring live coverage of some Thursday and Friday morning action to Internet viewers for a small fee. That’s great news for frustrated old-line golf fans, who will probably happily pay a few bucks a week not to miss early rounds, especially from players who may finish before the TV coverage comes on air.

But why stop there? Even the PGA’s new service will be extremely limited, only showing two “featured” groups each day. That means possibly half the field still won’t be seen, and who knows when someone will have a hot round? Even The Masters’ excellent online coverage only shows a couple groups at a time and a couple holes. Why not allow unlimited or at least PGA media-approved livestreaming, something that could expand Tour coverage while rewarding hustling reporters who scour the course for unknowns having a good day? From where I sit the opportunities seem to far outweigh the negatives.

Remember: Online is additive for regular TV coverage!

After Tuesday’s press conference I briefly chatted with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and asked him about livestreaming apps, which are popping up at other pro sports events, like baseball. Though he doesn’t seem like someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter Finchem did know what Meerkat and Persicope were, and said “we’re looking at it [livestreaming] since it raises obvious issues.”

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn't let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn’t let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

Those obvious issues, of course, are that livestreaming clearly violates broadcast rights agreements and circumnavigates sponsor advertising, two big items in the PGA’s revenue list. But like other sports, golf isn’t really concerned with livestreaming right now since the guess is that most fans want to watch the action and not spend minutes holding up their phones so the Internet can see what they are seeing. That’s probably a safe bet but I think golf should go the other direction and encourage livestreaming, perhaps from golf media professionals already covering events or from sponsors themselves, who are also already providing social media coverage of their sponsored players. Instead of looking at livestreaming as something that takes away from its professional, sponsored coverage, the PGA should see the new services as a valuable promotional tool, one more likely to be consumed by an audience that doesn’t watch much golf now — young, hip, tech people who live on services like Twitter and might find golf cool if they could watch some live action on their phone, for free.

Already this week some golf media professionals with good social media skills, like Stephanie Wei, have done some livestreaming from Harding, but why not have more? Livestreaming could be a way to bring more exposure to up-and-coming players, who might never be part of an online “featured group” and who almost never show up on broadcast coverage, unless they shoot a hole in one. By and large the professional golf TV coverage is wonderfully produced, but it’s also predictable and as stuffy as sports gets: Tiger, Phil, commentators with British accents. What golf could profit from is some kind of Men in Blazers coverage, which might be a way to get younger fans for the twentysomething stars like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who are now No. 2 and No. 1 in the game respecitvely. Livestreaming could be a simple, fun and cheap experiment that’s worth a shot.

It also doesn’t have to be revenue-free, since the PGA could allow sponsors to livestream their logoed players — I’m thinking here that the excellent social media crew at Callaway would jump on such a chance and probably be ready to do so by next week. Maybe the PGA could sell a few approved livestreaming spots to the highest bidders? Maybe then I will finally get the 24/7 TigerCam that I’ve always wanted — and I think that other golf fans, new or old, would appreciate as well.

BONUS: More MSR photos from Harding below.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

Don't quite understand why we weren't given the keys to this cart.

Don’t quite understand why we weren’t given the keys to this cart.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

Time for The Masters — the best digital experience in sports

Gary Player (R) congratulates Jack Nicklaus after Nicklaus' hole in one (Sam Greenwood/Augusta National)

Gary Player (R) congratulates Jack Nicklaus after Nicklaus’ hole in one (Sam Greenwood/Augusta National)

There’s no small bit of irony in the fact that The Masters, one of the few places left on earth where you absolutely cannot carry a working cell phone, offers perhaps the best digital experience in all of sports. I’m biased, because I like golf and like the tradition and history of the Masters competition, but I would challenge you to find another event, team or league that offers the breadth and depth of the online/mobile experience brought forth by The Masters, CBS and IBM.

With live competition beginning Thursday morning, I’m not worried that I won’t be next to a TV set for the excellent, mostly commercial-free broadcast (Thursday-Friday on ESPN, Saturday-Sunday on CBS). That’s because if I am online or on my phone I will have access to no fewer than five different live feeds from Augusta, including featured groups as well as focused coverage on “Amen Corner,” the classic stretch between the 11th and 13th holes of the famed Augusta National course.

What makes the online and mobile experience so good? Production that parallels the TV broadcast, for one. No need for cable contract authorization, for another. That The Masters is like Harvard with its endowments — and as such doesn’t need to pander to advertisers — is nirvana for all golf fans, but especially so for those of us who watch a lot of sports action these days online. While TV commercials are easily endured (or muted, or skipped) it seems of late that broadcasters are doing their best to reclaim eyeball turf online, by subjecting digital viewers to more and more invasive ads.

During the recent NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament there was a lot of praise for the online product, but nowhere did I see anyone report the fact we found out — that when you were watching online or on your phone, during commercials the Turner/NCAA folks kindly blocked your ability to mute the sound on the screen controls. On my phone during the great regional game between Kentucky and Notre Dame I also saw a small button with a Pizza Hut logo remain on the left side of the screen during play. You would never try that on a broadcast offering, but for many events it seems OK to smack the online viewers around for any profit possible.

During the Masters, that’s not happening. (Or at least it didn’t last year! Hope I’m not jinxing things.)

Anyway — when play starts Thursday just go to Masters.com or download the app, watch away and see if you don’t agree. If there’s another online experience that’s better, I’d like to hear about it.

BONUS: Watch the Golden Bear back one up for a hole in one during the par 3 contest.

Will Periscope and Meerkat swamp stadium networks?

Three thoughts to start your week off, of a completely unrelated nature. First one up is about a couple of live video-streaming services that you might have heard of or seen, Meerkat and Periscope. I successfully avoided watching any super-selfimportant types video themselves using Meerkat from SXSW, and I’ve been too wrapped up in March Madness to care yet about Periscope. So far I haven’t seen any coverage that details how much bandwidth the apps use up. Probably not much if you are livestreaming something all by yourself. But what if a bunch of people decide to livestream, and they’re all in the same place? So I do wonder how stadium networks will handle the idea of live video streams.

Will the Wi-Fi and DAS networks be able to handle the traffic? Anyone looking into this yet? Discuss. You can do so in the comments, or send me some longer thoughts via email and I will relay them to the crowd. Will Periscope and Meerkat be banned in-stadium? If so how can that happen? Will live video streams be the final straw that makes teams and leagues realize that Twitter may not be such a great content partner after all? I don’t have any answers yet but I assure you this is a question that will be asked the rest of the year in stadium IT shops — as well as in the lawyers’ offices where content and TV rights are negotiated and protected. Selfies may be fine, and Vine may be OK. But live streams of sports events are bound to get someone’s attention, fast.

Thought No. 2: Twenty-three years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I saw this:

I was in Beaver Creek, Colo., in a swanky hotel room that I normally couldn’t afford, watching the Duke-Kentucky game after covering pro ski racing during the day on the slopes of Beaver Creek. Because it was near the end of the ski season the still-new Beaver Creek wasn’t too full, so us members of the media got special rates to stay in the slopeside hotel rooms that now will cost you an arm, a leg and maybe a first-born. That is not important to this thought, though. What is important is that I remember watching the game on a nice TV. Which was the only way you could watch, 22 years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night, when another classic NCAA tournament match involving Kentucky came down to the wire, and a last-second shot, on the exact anniversary of the Laettner shot. That Kentucky prevailed this time in another classic also doesn’t really matter here; what does is how I watched the second half — on my phone in my backyard while cooking dinner on the grill, over a Wi-Fi connection to a router inside the house. The thing I thought about afterwards was how completely normal it seemed to do something that was unthinkable 22 years ago, namely watch a live game via a handheld device through multiple connectivity junctures — and it all just worked. In the future I will probably remember the game more, and the key free throws and the crazy defense of the last play. But right now I’m still a little in wonder in how far the idea of watching sports on your phone has come.

Third thought: Some more history here — does anyone out there remember the 2009 version of SXSW, when Foursquare was launched and the huge influx of attendees using Twitter on their iPhones brought the AT&T network to its knees? Here’s another link to the historical moment when AT&T got pantsed publicly for not knowing how much bandwidth its customers would need at a gathering like SXSW.

Fast forward again to this year’s SXSW, and man, was AT&T ready for record network usage. Not only did it trot out the huge big-ball cellular antenna that it used at Coachella last year, it beefed up regular network connections and brought in a whole herd of COWs (cell trucks on wheels) to satisfy a mobile bandwidth demand that doesn’t seem to be able to stay flat or go down. According to AT&T, its network saw 37 terabytes of data used during the SXSW event — that’s like three-plus Super Bowls worth of traffic, and this is just on AT&T’s networks, so not counting other carrier traffic.

We concentrate a lot here on stadiums and the particular problems for wireless communications caused by a tight geographic grouping of device-holding people. But what about towns with festivals like SXSW, or other big gatherings? Is your event ready for massive wireless bandwidth needs? If not what is your plan going forward?

March Madness online: All 67 men’s tournament games available to cable/pay TV subscribers on any platform

NCAA hoops on a Kindle? Sure!

NCAA hoops on a Kindle? Sure!

I’m not that old, but I am old enough to remember when the men’s NCAA basketball tournament was on broadcast TV only, and not online mainly because the Internet and world wide web were just getting started. I even can take credit for being one of the first to ever try to put live tourney scores online, a battle that started between my outfit and a little place called Starwave Sports that eventually was bought by ESPN. That’s a funny story but you already know the ending.

Fast forward to 2015, when all 67 games of this year’s tournament will be available live, online, streamed to just about whatever device you want — as long as you have a qualifying cable or pay TV contract. With a revamped March Madness Live app, the powers that be behind the tournament broadcasts — Turner Sports, CBS Sports and the NCAA — are promising to deliver the “ultimate digital destination” for live tournament access.

There’s some new games, new social media stuff and other goodies that you can check out at the March Madness site — including a Rhianna video for some reason — but the key thing for most hoops fans will (and always will be) the games themselves, which this year start on March 17. If you have a cable contract you are set, since all you need to do is log in with your account information and you will be able to get “unlimited live streaming coverage and on-the-go access” to all games, which should make it easier than trying to find the truTV channel on your cable guide.

If you don’t have a cable contract you can still watch all the games that are broadcast on CBS; there will also be temporary “preview pass” for other games, which might be all the time you need if, say, you tune in for the last 2 minutes. Also, the games will be available online at the TBS, TNT and truTV sites, as well as CBS, for those like me who watch sports on their big-screen computer monitor while the other family members are holding the TV hostage.

We’ll do another post as the tournament start gets closer, but for now just revel in the fact that you don’t have to worry about whether or not the games will be available, or whether you will have to shell out $3.99 or $10 more like we did in the not-so-old days to watch the tourney online. It’s the fitting end to a long journey. Grampa Internet says you’re welcome.

UPDATE: Some press-photo looks at the new app and bracket app from March Madness Live below.

Game Center view

Game Center view

Android smartphone look at new app

Android smartphone look at new app

Android tablet bracket view

Android tablet bracket view

All NFL playoff games available online; Verizon only for smartphone watching

vzn_playoffWe’ve come a long way from the days when it was a struggle to even find NFL live action online. This season, all NFL playoff games, including the Super Bowl, will be available for online viewing, via a desktop computer, laptop or tablet, no matter which network is carrying the games. The league has even created a handy single web page to find instant access to the live streams, no small matter since network pages usually make you jump through several clicks to find the actual live stream.

Depending upon the broadcast network, you may need to have a qualifying cable or satellite contract to view the games. For this morning’s CBS game there was no confirmation process but for the afternoon Fox game I needed to submit cable provider info. Let me know what you see.

However, if you want to watch playoff games on your smartphone, your only option is to be a Verizon Wireless customer since that provider is the exclusive NFL live action host for smartphone devices. To view the live action, Verizon customers need to have either a More Everything plan or pay the $5 monthly premium fee for the NFL Mobile application. To be clear, customers of any wireless provider can download the NFL Mobile app to get all the stats and archived video it provides, but only Verizon customers can purchase access to live action on phone platforms.

UPDATE: Congrats to FOX for having the first playoff online broadcast fail:

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.01.07 PM

No word from Fox yet on when its stream will come back, or why it was down.

CBS to stream 27 college hoops games online and via app

Just like it did for college football this fall, CBS Sports is going to make a bunch of its men’s college basketball broadcasts available online or via a mobile app, according to a press release out today.

Beginning with Saturday’s all-cheesehead game between Wisconsin and Marquette, CBS’s College Basketball Live will appear online 27 times during the 2014-15 season, with not only a full stream of video but the cool “DVR” functionality as well (which allows you to go back and see highlights from previous parts of the broadcast). CBS says there will also be a “social stream” as part of the online offering, but we can only hope that with the social-media stuff CBS doesn’t make the error NBC seems prone to commit in its online broadcasts, namely having a window that shows tweets with info that hasn’t yet happened in the video window.

The full schedule (all times Eastern) is below, and it already looks Kentucky-heavy — we see at least four games with the No. 1 Wildcats scheduled so far. There’s also a big dose of Big Ten action, just in case you like that style of play. If you don’t want to stay tuned to the schedule, you can also follow the CBS Twitter handles @CBSSports and @CBSSportsCBB which will give you handy scoring alerts so you know when to fire up your app or browser to catch the action in real time.

CBS HOOPS ONLINE SCHEDULE 2014-15

Sat., Dec. 6 Wisconsin @ Marquette 12:30 – 3:00 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 13 North Carolina @ Kentucky 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 20 CBS Sports Classic

North Carolina vs. Ohio State 1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

UCLA vs. Kentucky 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 3 UConn @ Florida 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Maryland @ Nebraska (Women’s) 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 10 Kentucky @ Texas A&M 1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 17 Florida @ Georgia 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Michigan State @ Maryland 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 25 Indiana @ Ohio State 1:30 – 4:00 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 31 Arkansas @ Florida 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 1 Michigan @ Michigan State 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb 8 Michigan @ Indiana 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 15 Illinois @ Wisconsin 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 21 Florida @ LSU 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 22 BIG TEN WILDCARD 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Ohio State @ Michigan

OR

Iowa @ Nebraska

OR

Indiana @ Rutgers

Sat., Feb. 28 Georgetown @ St. John’s 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Arkansas @ Kentucky 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 1 SMU @ UConn 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

BIG TEN WILDCARD 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Michigan State @ Wisconsin

OR

Purdue @ Ohio State

Sat., Mar. 7 Florida @ Kentucky 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 8 Memphis @ Cincinnati 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.

BIG TEN WILDCARD 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.

Wisconsin @ Ohio State

OR

Maryland @ Nebraska

OR

Penn State @ Minnesota

Sat., Mar. 14 Big Ten Semifinal #1 1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Big Ten Semifinal #2 3:30 – 6:00 p.m.

Mountain West Championship 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 15 Big Ten Championship 3:30 – 6:00 p.m.