Masters online will show full rounds for featured groups; tourney also adds 4K TV and virtual reality options

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.11.03 AMOne of the best online sports viewing experiences, the Masters, will add a little more depth to its coverage this year, offering full-round coverage of selected “featured groups” of players. In previous years, the Masters only showed featured groups from the 10th hole on.

Otherwise, the superb Masters Live online package — which is available for free at both Masters.com and CBSSports.com — will remain largely unchanged from last year, with live coverage channels for Amen Corner (holes 11, 12 and 13) and holes 15 and 16, as well as one for a “Masters on the Range” live interview show from the famed course’s practice area. The online coverage will also include in-progress and end-of-day highlights in case you aren’t near a TV to watch the broadcast coverage. If you’re a golf nut and a Masters junkie like we are, you will probably have both options open, watching the TV coverage on a big screen while keeping up with the exciting challenges of Amen Corner and the 15-16 duo.

Maybe the best part of the extended featured-groups coverage is that online action will now begin at 9 a.m. Eastern, instead of noon like it did last year. Three more hours of Masters online? We’ll take it! Live action starts next Thursday, April 7.

HERE IS THE LINK TO WATCH THE MASTERS ONLINE

In yet another twist the Masters will also offer two new viewing options, including a 4K feed as well as a virtual reality feed. The 4K feed will cover the Amen Corner holes, while the virtual reality stream will show action from holes 6 and 16. For the 4K feed you will need a DirecTV account or an Internet-connected smart TV, along with some other requirements; for more information on 4K requirements check this page. For instructions and gear requirements for the virtual reality stream, check here.

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.

Watching Golf this Week: The British Open, and the Tiger Internet Channel debut

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.21.37 PMIn honor of ESPN fulfilling our longtime wish for continuous coverage of Tiger Woods at a golf tournament, we are bringing back our Watching Golf this Week feature. And for this weekend’s third major of the season, the British Open (aka the Open Championship) the viewing guide is easy: Just check ESPN, both on the tube and online, because the worldwide leader will give you wall to wall coverage of the action that starts Thursday morning at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

So what’s the deal with the Tiger Cam? We haven’t interviewed anyone at ESPN but it’s easy to see how this idea came about: With Eldrick finally returning to the pro golf majors scene for the first time this year after back surgery, there is an incredible amount of pent-up Tiger interest. Still easily the biggest draw in golf — just go to any tourney he’s in and watch where the crowd goes — Woods is an even bigger interest item this week, with everyone wanting to see if he is A) recovered enough to play competitively, and if so, B) if he’s good enough to start the Nicklaus majors-hunt in earnest.

While ESPN will most certainly cut to Woods whenever possible during normal telecast coverage, the idea of putting a camera on Woods only and using ESPN3, one of the company’s “Internet channels” to show streaming coverage is a masterstroke. Not only will you lure in potential “casual” viewers who might not give a hoot who Martin Kaymer is but who will watch Woods, you will also likely get golf nuts doing the two-screen dance, with the TV on the regular coverage and a phone, tablet or laptop following Woods. At the very least it’s a great experiment and one we expect will be copied (at least we hope so) in other sports, soon.

But while you might not want be so fired up to watch something like a “quarterback cam” or a “third baseman cam,” individual player coverage in things like golf tournaments is a perfect idea. In fact, most online golf efforts for the majors over the past few years have had “featured group” channels online, where they follow attractive pairings throughout a round. This is not really much different except for the focus on Woods, which some will no doubt say is unworthy, since Woods is only a single player, he’s not bigger than the game, blah blah blah. Tiger fans get it, and will (I predict) turn out in the millions to watch every shot he takes over the weekend. Here’s hoping for Tiger, ESPN and for golf that the cams stay on through Sunday. Plus you can watch it mobile, via the WatchESPN app. Good on ya, ESPN.

There will, of course, be other stories from Liverpool, including whatever magic defending champ Phil Mickelson can conjure, and whether or not we will see Major-winning Rory McIlroy finally fulfill his Open dreams, or whether he’ll continue to sputter in the big events. If I could I’d bet a few pounds on American Ricky Fowler, who has been steadily doing well in majors this year. Is this his breakthrough event? Are the British ready for an all-orange winner on Sunday? Or will Sergio Garcia finally come through? It all gets underway Thursday, and for once we’ll have a way to watch and see exactly everything that Tiger does.

BONUS: Doug Ferguson penned an excellent, technically correct article about Wi-Fi at Royal Liverpool. Hello Augusta, can you hear me now?

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSIP

ESPN COVERAGE
This is long, but worth it… what follows is the entire ESPN lineup of content from The Open (all times U.S. Eastern):

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 9.58.08 AM

FACEBOOK PAGE
Get yourself close to the Claret Jug at The Open’s Facebook page.

TOP TWITTER FEEDS TO FOLLOW
The Open’s own Twitter feed.
Geoff Shackelford — well known golf writer. If you’re not following Geoff you are missing the online boat.
Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend.
Doug Ferguson is the lead golf writer for AP. Good Twitter insights that often aren’t part of your wire-service lead.

TOURNAMENT APP
One of the better event apps, the Open’s App has everything you want in a handheld device app. iPad, iPhone and Android, even Windows. You will still need the ESPN contract to view live video, though. Still, well worth the download especially for the Thursday-Friday times when you may be at work.

WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?

Everything we’re reading says that Royal Liverpool (aka Hoylake) will play much differently than it did back in 2006, when Tiger did his 1-iron stinger thing, hitting only one driver all weekend en route to victory. According to an AP story today Tiger says the greens are soft, which might mean that American players unused to links golf might have a better chance. To us, it really doesn’t matter which course they use for the Open Championship. We’re so tired of TPC layouts by this time of the year that basically anything links-like is a refreshing slap in the face, like an ocean breeze. Fore, gentlemen.

WHO WON THIS THING LAST YEAR?

C’mon, do you need to ask? HEFTY!

FEDEX CUP LEADERS
1. Jimmy Walker, 2,322 points
2. Bubba Watson, 2,135
3. Matt Kuchar, 1,725
4. Dustin Johnson, 1,701
5. Jordan Spieth, 1,636

WORLD GOLF RANKINGS
1. Adam Scott; 2. Henrik Stenson; 3. Justin Rose; 4. Bubba Watson; 5. Matt Kuchar.

And… for those of you late risers who miss the Open coverage, don’t forget to watch Annika take on Michael Jordan and John Elway in Tahoe at the American Century Classic:

AMERICAN CENTURY CLASSIC TV
Friday, July 18 — NBC, 4 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 19 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 20 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.

ESPN to make ‘TigerCam’ idea come true: ESPN3 will live-stream Woods’ British Open rounds

Call me a visionary. Call me media-savvy when it comes to golf. Go ahead. Because it was almost 2 years ago that I asked why some broadcaster couldn’t tee up what golf fans really wanted — 24/7 coverage of Tiger Woods. And now, ESPN is doing just that for the upcoming British Open, live-streaming every round that Tiger will play on its ESPN3 Internet channel.

Like the very successful Megacast of the most recent BCS Championship game, I think ESPN’s decision to offer one of its many outlets as all Tiger, all the time, is brilliant. I’ll even go out on a limb here and predict that for the first 2 days of the tournament, the ESPN3 Tiger feed will outdraw the regular ESPN coverage. OK maybe not but it will be huge, and it will set online golf watching records — I’ll bet a virtual pint of warm ale on that.

Say what you will about Woods as a person, and call him washed up as a golfer. There is still a huge army of people who, whether they are Tiger fans or just Tiger followers, find him so far more compelling than any other pro golfer currently playing that they would watch him playing mini-golf before they watch, say, Zach Johnson or Brendt Snedeker.

No offense guys. Your results show you’re outstanding golfers. But when it comes to professional golf, there’s nobody currently active who moves the needle like Woods — not even Phil Mickelson, who is also a tremendous golfer in his own right. But have you watched Phil play? A lot? It’s an exercise in pain, most of the time. When will Phil crack is a much different show than the Tiger show. And it’s a brilliant move by ESPN, because nobody can claim they are shirking other coverage just to show Tiger. That’s the beauty of multiple streams from the same event… and let’s hope this is just the first of many such experiments. Bravo, ESPN!

Masters sets big-event standard again for streaming video, with multiple online and app choices

Screen shot of The Masters iPhone app. Credit: The Masters

Screen shot of The Masters iPhone app. Credit: The Masters

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: No big sports event does online video as well as The Masters. And this year’s version, which begins Thursday April 10, is no different with five channels of online action available both at CBSsports.com and at the Masters.com site. Live video and other features will also be available through the free Masters apps for iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch, and Android-based phones and tablets. Mind you, this is all on top of the extensive live TV coverage, which is also the best for any major sporting event simply because of the lack of commercials.

HERE IS THE FULL MASTERS TV AND ONLINE BROADCAST SCHEDULE FOR THE ENTIRE MASTERS WEEK

Even with Tiger Woods missing this year’s Masters due to recent back surgery, there’s still plenty to like about this year’s field and with Tiger removed from the equation maybe some other golfers will get more time to shine in the spotlight. But seriously, if you can’t get your fill of live golf action next week you’re simply not trying. The online part, which we like best, will have five different channels, four of which are truly live on-course action, plus one from the range with the usual talk-show type analysis and blah blah blah.

But the action channels are mesmerizing: One will focus on “Amen Corner,” the stretch of holes 11, 12 and 13 that may be the best three-hole sequence anywhere; another channel focuses on holes 15 and 16, which would be signature holes at maybe any other course other than Augusta. The third and fourth channels will simply focus on “featured groups,” following top groupings of players over the last 9 holes each day. If you’re an addict like I am you will be sitting with your laptop on the couch, watching ESPN coverage Thursday and Friday which you supplement with the online stuff.

We tracked down some of the infrastructure that makes the Masters online tick a couple years ago, and we can only imagine how it’s grown since. The good news is, the team of The Masters, IBM and CBS seems to have this thing nailed down, and truly we can’t wait for what is usually the best weekend of online sports-watching anywhere.