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.”

Who Will Build a Kindle for Sports? Millions of Fans Await the Answer

One great comment I heard at CES in Las Vegas this week was that tablet computers are “the killer app for watching video.” To that I would add a caveat: Tablets could also become the complete killer app for watching sports in a mobile fashion, if and only if the leagues, cellular providers and broadcasters could come to some workable agreement on viewing rights. What could make all that happen quickly? Why not something like Amazon’s Kindle, but instead of books, have it devoted to sports?

The real revolution started by the Kindle isn’t the cool technology behind the device itself. Instead it’s the simple pricing and content procurement method which eliminates the need for consumers to care about the cellular connection and simply allows them to pay for the books they want to read. If only sports could be so simple.

In the real world, we know it’s far from easy to get sports content on your mobile device. Just trying to definitively describe how you could get Monday’s BCS Championship game to show live on a mobile device took a weekend’s worth of reporting and numerous email exchanges with the supremely helpful ESPN folks. It’s not all ESPN’s fault that its mobile offerings are so constricted, but the fees ESPN charges cable providers play a part in the snarl of rights and access barriers that make mobile sports viewing such a pain in the rear.

The hope here at MSR is that all parties concerned learn some lessons from the digital music business, where a simple store and powerful simple device — iTunes and iPod — led to an explosion in sales of music, videos, podcasts and now books too. The Kindle is an extension of the iPod/iTunes simplicity to the mobile ecosystem, eliminating the concerns about how much data you’re downloading and whether or not you are exceeding your monthly mobile limits. Why not build one tailored for sports, with the connectivity costs and rights fees built in? If half a million people went through the maze of tasks necessary to watch the BCS game online, what could the size of that audience be if folks could walk down to Best Buy, pick up a “KindleSports” and start watching immediately?

At another CES panel I heard representatives from the major motion picture houses talk about how mobile video is no longer a future thing, but a booming business already grabbing millions of viewers and the associated advertiser interest. It’s time for sports entities to get into the game in a similar big way, and a KindleSports would be a great way to start. I would be just one of the millions waiting in line to buy one.

AT&T Provides Assists to Mobile Sports App Developers

Joe Tafoya giving a demo at the AT&T Developer Summit. Photo courtesy of Unsocial.

LAS VEGAS — CES 2012 — How can a big, established company like AT&T put itself at the center of mobile apps innovation? By giving smaller companies hooks into the cellular giant’s extensive wireless network and back-end operations, making it easier for developers to reach a wider audience and earn money faster.

For entrepreneurs looking to break into the exploding world of mobile sports application development, having AT&T as a BFF is a no-brainer, according to Joe Tafoya, a former NFL player who is now heading up a mobile content company called Viva! Vision Inc. Viva’s still-in-development app for Dallas Mavericks star Jason Terry was highlighted on stage at the AT&T Developer Summit here Monday, with Tafoya giving a quick demo of the forthcoming app’s ability to give fans lots of content centered around Terry, including training videos that will be available for purchase.

Where AT&T comes in is via links to the cellular giant’s network and payment systems, which will allow people to purchase items from the Jason Terry app by simply clicking and having the charges appear on their monthly cellular bill. In the not too distant past, having access to services embedded deeply into the cellular infrastructure was something small developers could only dream of. Now, up-and-coming players like Viva! Vision can theoretically gain easy links to AT&T’s millions of wireless customers as part of a big push by Ma Bell to help find and partner with the people who are truly innovating on the app development front.

“We looked at a lot of payment systems but being able to use AT&T was a no-brainer,” said Tafoya in a quick interview following the AT&T presentation, citing both the ability to have a quick, easy payment system in the app as well as access to AT&T’s millions of cellular customers.

And while sports and gaming are always at the top of the list of popular mobile apps, AT&T is of course extending its new programs to developers of all stripes, from in-car applications to enterprise apps to apps that let you compile grocery lists. Part of the company’s push Monday included new programs to make using its APIs (application programming interfaces) easier for developers, as well as programs to help developers get their apps noticed by more consumers and companies.

“Our goal is to make it easier for [developers] to navigate the mobile ecosystem,” said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, during the Summit’s keynote address. For some developers like Viva! Vision’s Tafoya, that’s a goal that’s already happening.

Friday Grab Bag: Google vs. Amazon in Tablet Wars?

Pending Google Tablet to rival Kindle Fire?

Multiple reports are claiming that the long pending tablet from Google will be targeted more at the Kindle Fire market than the iPad market. While there is some overlap in the two markets currently I see them as serving different groups of primary users, although that will change.

The Google Tablet is expected to be in the 7-inch form factor and will have a $200 price tag upon its expected delivery in late March or early April. The web company is expected to first create a web site that is designed to specifically cater to expected customers of its Android-powered tablet and will make apps. Movies, books and music will be made available at that site.

This will make an interesting battle as Google’s deep pockets and ubiquity of its browser will enable it to reach a wide audience via advertising on its pages as well as in other media. A similar thrust by Barnes & Noble for its Nook has cost that company dearly but the impact for Google should be significantly less due to its much greater resources.

Twice as many Americans own 4 TVs as opposed to 1
The latest State of the Media: Consumer Usage Report from Nielsen has a number of interesting facts across the broad markets that it surveyed, with the one quoted above being just one of them.

The number of people age 13 and older that own a mobile phone is fast approaching the number of people that own at least one television- 232 million to 290 million. Satellite did much better than I had expected when compared to digital cable- 95 million compared to 145 million.

The full survey covers usage and trends across TV, mobile, online and social media and can be downloaded from the company’s site.

TiVo Delivers Android version of its App

TiVo has had an app for customers using products powered by the Apple iOS and has now greatly expanded its audience with the delivery of the app for the vast Android space as well, according to a piece in Cnet

The free app is designed for use with both smartphones and tablets and enables a user to participate in social media such as Facebook and Twitter while viewing programs that are currently playing from a TiVo box.

TiVo has also announced that it has settled pending patent litigation with AT&T. In the deal AT&T has agreed to a mutual patent licensing agreement and will be making payments to TiVo that include an initial payment of $51 million and reoccurring payments that will run until June, 2018.

Apple files for patents that cover photos and fitness.
Patently Apple has reported that Apple has won patents for Photo Booth and a sports related one that covers a fitness center app. The site has a great deal of information of the Fitness Center App and said that it covers a range of issue facing exercisers including motivation and how to use equipment.

Apple also appears to have a range of additional related patent claims pending that could help it gain a strong presence in this market, or a future in additional litigation as others imitate its direction. I wonder how all of the makers of fitness apps in the iTune store feel about this?

Additionally Apple has been awarded a patent for Photo Booth so that users of Apple devices, initially just the iPad but expected to cover both other iOS devices’ as well as OS X products to manipulate images that have been taken with the devices’ built-in camera.

Other Apple News

Apple has also filed for a pair of patents that indicate that it is seeking to develop a hydrogen fueled battery that it is speculated could power its devices for weeks between recharges. I would be happy to make it through the day right now.

According to the latest from iLounge new code found in the iOS 5.1 release points to a future that has devices powered by quad-core chips. The site said that it believes that products with quad-core chips could be delivered as early as March of this year.

CrowdOptic Seeks App Opportunities via Mobile Fan Analytics

CrowdOptic's technology was used at the Bank of the West tennis event this past summer to give fans instant data on any player whose picture they took.

When it comes to mobile advertising, everyone seems to agree that someday the market will be huge — if only the participants could figure out a way to bring reliable analytics to the incredibly complex and highly random act of using a cell phone. Until we know what people are looking at, advertisers often say, we’re not spending on mobile.

For the mobile sports market, a company called CrowdOptic is trying to crack the code with a technology base that can offer real-time mobile analytics about what people at a game are watching to advertisers, teams and other interested parties — while also providing a real-time communications stream back to mobile phone users that could significantly enhance the sporting event they are attending.

Though the San Francisco-based startup doesn’t yet quite have a shrink-wrapped product or service, it has already demonstrated its ability to use its unique triangulation algorithm and augmented-reality app to give fans at a tennis event real-time info about the player they’ve just snapped a picture of. On the back end, CrowdOptic was able to give event organizers detailed information on exactly what the most fans were looking at through their cell phones — a practice the company calls “hyper targeting,” which theoretically could provide incredibly granular sets of data about what exactly is catching people’s attention at a sporting event. It is all wrapped under a banner the company calls “Focus-Based Services,” in an attempt to move the discussion beyond location based services and to a place where you can determine what people are looking at, and not just where they are.

While the augmented-reality app, which was tested at the Bank of the West Classic in Palo Alto this past summer, is one cool way to use CrowdOptic’s technology, the company isn’t yet limiting itself to just one app or service. Since the system can detect, in real time, where a crowd of mobile-phone users is shifting its attention, the possibilities for the platform to support other applications such as stadium security, in-seat advertising or ticketing may be partially why CrowdOptic was able to raise $1.5 million in funding, including a $500,000 round led by Bowman Capital this past October.

“The crown jewel that we have is the algorithm of triangulation,” said Jim Kovach, a former NFL player with the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints who is CrowdOptic’s chief operating officer. With a small app installed on a phone, CrowdOptic takes info from the phone’s GPS service and its camera, and feeds it into a system that can then provide what Kovachs calls “Google style analytics” to show what the fans are pointing their phones at. While there is still work to be done to build workable apps on top of such a platform, it’s easy to guess that an app bolstered with CrowdOptics-type analytics would be more compelling for teams, advertisers and others than a standalone app that only could broadcast info to fans but provided no back-end aggregate of where fan attention was directed.

As stadiums become better connected — say via the Cisco Connected Stadium approach — a CrowdOptic-type app running above the network plumbing could provide many ways for teams, advertisers and fans to interact in a fashion that not only delivered the best advertising to the most eyes, but could conceivably also assist in matters such as stadium security. For instance, if there was a fight or a safety situation inside the stadium, the incident could be immediately “reported” via fans pointing their cell phones at it. During incidents like the recent blackouts at Candlestick Park, CrowdOptic-connected fans might get a safety message from the stadium telling them what was happening. On a more sane level the app could help teams figure out where to best put advertising banners, and when to change messages for optimal viewing.

“Our system really goes hand in hand with stadiums that have networks like the ones Cisco installs,” Kovach said. “With that kind of connectivity we can jump in there and really raise the bar on the kinds of analytics and capabilities that can be offered to advertisers and to the fans at the game.”

So far, CrowdOptic has only announced tests with sports that are easier for the technology to isolate the participants — like tennis, where athletes are separated across a court, and motor car racing, where the vehicles stay inside discrete boundaries. Kovach said that a sport like football doesn’t lend itself well to CrowdOptic technology (the players are too close together, and move too rapidly and randomly) but baseball is a potential perfect fit (players widely spaced, lots of “pause” time and fans deeply interested in statistics).

Founded by longtime entrepreneur Jon Fisher (who met Kovachs when Fisher was on the board of a non-profit health concern Kovachs was running), CrowdOptic has a small list of paying customers, including IMG Reliance, Bank Of The West, Andrews International and Infineon Raceway — and Kovachs expects that to list to grow before 2012 ends. Clearly, just like the athletes targeted by fans using its apps at sporting events, CrowdOptic is worth watching.

NFL: Thursday Night Games Average 450,000 Online Viewers

In case you were still wondering whether or not online access hurts regular-television audience numbers, here’s another data point to confirm that it doesn’t: The NFL said Monday that TV views of its Thursday night NFL Network games is up 8 percent over last year, while its online audience is averaging 450,000 unique views per game.

The 450,000 number isn’t broken down between viewers of the streaming coverage at or folks watching via Verizon Wireless’s NFL Mobile app, but either way the aggregate total is impressive, and a signal that there may be even more of an appetite for NFL content than was previously thought.

With the Super Bowl slated for online streaming, it is the guess of MSR that the days of online access being a novelty have ended and now an online outlet will become the norm rather than the exception. How that plays into rights contracts and teams’ marketing campaigns is something still in its infancy, but it will be a compelling story we’ll follow closely in 2012.