Monday quick thoughts: Livestreaming comes of age on fight night; PGA’s digital moves confusing

Some quick thoughts on a Monday where yours truly is recovering from a week-plus as stage crew for my daughter’s musical, a much more physically taxing job than originally thought:

Livestreaming comes of age during Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

We’ve been pounding the drum a bit lately about livestreaming apps like Twitter’s Periscope and its twin Meerkat, which allow people to become personal broadcasters, relaying live video of whatever their phone cameras can see to their “followers” on the livestreaming services. Earlier this year we wondered if the services would cause a problem for sports like baseball (which is not worried about livestreaming just yet) but the big breakout in livestreaming and sports came this past Saturday night, when lots of people used Periscope and Meerkat to give others a free, completely illegal look at the closed pay-per-view fight by holding their phones up to TVs showing the live action.

The fallout still hasn’t hit in any official or legal way yet, but after HBO’s quick lawsuits trying to stop people from livestreaming episodes of Game of Thrones, you can bet that similar legal attempts to constrain the services from showing exclusive sports footage won’t be far behind. I also just saw a photo of the live crowd at the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight that showed multiple fans holding up phones, no doubt some of them livestreaming. While Major League Baseball’s Bob Bowman thinks that most fans don’t want to hold their phones up for long stretches of time, my thinking is, that before long someone’s going to figure out how to link a GoPro helmet cam to their phone for HD livestreaming that’s hands-free. Then what?

I just think this is going to be a much bigger deal than leagues and sports think right now. The weird coolness factor of being your own broadcaster is strangely compelling, and is a step up from the ubiquitous selfie. While Twitter CEO Dick Costolo might think it was cool that Periscope “won the fight” Saturday night, let’s see how smug he is when lawsuits start showing up at the door.

And while the terms of service for both Periscope and Meerkat clearly state that the services may not be used to show copyrighted content — and while the services have made noises about being ready to kick off users who do so — the fact that you can sign up instantly makes the policing after-the-fact a fail before it starts. Nobody wants the return of phone and camera police at big events, a kind of enforcement that never really worked and won’t work now that videocameras can fit inside pockets. Twitter, which clearly wants to play ball with sports leagues — witness its deals with entities like the NFL to show approved replays — needs to get out in front on the livestreaming/sports issue or risk legal wrath. And we haven’t even talked yet about how livestreaming might affect bandwidth on stadium networks, a topic sure to be discussed at the upcoming SEAT Conference in San Francisco this July. More on livestreaming soon, you can bet.

PGA sends confusing message with credential pull

When I wrote an editorial suggesting that the PGA embrace livestreaming as a way to attract more fans with innovative use of new technology, I had no idea that earlier that day the Tour had pulled a season credential from reporter Stephanie Wei for using Periscope to show some live video of practice rounds from the World Golf Championships Match Play event at Harding Park last week. Coming just after the PGA announced a deal with MLBAM to produce an over-the-top service to show live Thursday and Friday morning rounds, it was thoroughly confusing: Was the Tour embracing new media, while slapping the wrists of other media who dared use the same technology?

In a quick call Friday with Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president for communications, we heard the Tour’s claim that Wei had a “long history of [policy] violations,” and that the suspension of her credentials was due to the long history, and not just her use last Monday of Periscope. Wei posted her own version of the story on her blog, Wei Under Par. As far as we know, Wei is the first major-sports reporter to get a credential pulled in part because of Periscope use.

While we clearly understand the need to protect copyrighted broadcasts, it’s our opinion that the Tour needs to lighten up on quick-hit video content, especially for coverage of things that the TV broadcasters don’t show, like practice rounds or range action. As we said, such content could attract a young golf-geek audience and reward hustling reporters like Wei, who we’ve been following mainly because of her fresh take and embrace of social-media methods of communication. For a deeper look inside the whole issue, you should read this column from Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck on the incident, and why he thinks (and we agree) that the losers here are golf fans.

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.

MLBAM to power new PGA Tour live action online service

MLBAM's Bob Bowman (L) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announce the new PGA Tour Live service at the WGC Match Play event. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image)

MLBAM’s Bob Bowman (L) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announce the new PGA Tour Live service at the WGC Match Play event. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image)

SAN FRANCISCO — Finally, golf fans will get a chance to see those early morning Thursday and Friday rounds that are never on broadcast TV, thanks to a new online live-action service announced Tuesday by the PGA Tour.

At a press conference held on the scene of this week’s World Golf Championships Match Play event at the Harding Park course, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the tour is partnering with Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media entity (MLBAM) to produce a service called PGA Tour Live that will bring live Thursday and Friday golf coverage to any digital device for a small fee.

“I think you can see the possibilities” for such a service, said Finchem, who jointly presided over a press conference announcing the service with Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Finchem noted that at several recent PGA events there were some early rounds that fans couldn’t watch since they happened before the scheduled broadcasts came on air. With PGA Tour Live, he said, fans will be able to use phones, tablets or laptops and desktops to watch live action via the Internet.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth gets in some practice shots at Harding Park Tuesday.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth gets in some practice shots at Harding Park Tuesday.

According to MLBAM and the PGA the service will eventually be available from more than 30 events per season, and will show two “featured groups” from each event, similar to how many of the bigger tournaments like the Masters currently use online outlets to show live action. The service (you can sign up to get notified about its launch) is expected to launch sometime later this summer.

When asked the key question — how much this would cost — Bowman replied that the price wasn’t yet set, but that he thought it would be in “single digits” per event, meaning less than $10.

“Great content is not free, but I think this should be in single digits,” said Bowman, looking across the podium at Finchem to see if the tour’s boss agreed. “Lower is better.”

Bowman said in an interview after the press conference that the PGA would handle the content capture part of the service, and then would send the content to MLBAM for coding and processing on the Internet. While MLBAM already makes hundreds of millions showing live baseball action online, there are some extra hurdles to jump over to get content out from golf courses, which typically don’t have as much installed infrastructure. But Bowman also noted that at major events like the WGC tourneys, having mobile equipment isn’t a problem.

“If you look around here, you’ll see something like 40 [equipment] trucks,” Bowman said. “These are major media events, and it won’t be a problem [getting video from the courses]. This isn’t your grandfather’s golf tournament anymore.”

AT&T: Golf fans used 3.286 terabytes of traffic at Pebble Beach tourney

AT&T social media sign at the tourney, 2013. Credit: @James_Raia.

AT&T social media sign at the tourney, 2013. Credit: @James_Raia.

It’s not really a stadium, but fans at the Pebble Beach golfing kingdom used 3.286 terabytes of data on AT&T’s cellular and Wi-Fi networks during the recent Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am PGA tour stop, according to AT&T.

With two cell trucks on wheels (aka COWs) to supplement the Monterey Peninsula cell sites, as well as the Wi-Fi network in and around the golf course, AT&T said it saw an 104 percent increase in wireless data use from the previous year’s tournament. With clear skies all weekend and Bill Murray back in the entertainment-participant category, it’s perhaps no surprise that more selfies, videos and other messages were sent forth. But it’s still amazing to us that the wireless numbers from each big event just seem to keep growing. Is there no top in sight?

At the Pebble Beach tourney (which included play at several different courses over the Feb. 12 to Feb. 15 weekend) AT&T said it saw 2.296 TB of traffic on its cellular networks, and another 990 GB on the Wi-Fi networks it deployed. And all that without any public complaints about camera-phone clicks! Now if we could just convince the Masters to allow cell phones on the course…

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.

The U.S. Open’s last hurrah on NBC, ESPN — last chance for good online golf?

If there’s one thing that’s been a bonus of ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship, it’s the fact that for those of us on the West coast, coverage starts at 6 a.m. local time. That means that by the time most of us are at our computers Thursday or Friday, there’s already live golf to be found. For one last time, we’ll enjoy it as the lads tee it up at Pinehurst No. 2 starting Thursday morn.

Will it be the same next year when Fox takes over? Though Fox did a decent job of the Super Bowl online this past big game, there’s no telling how good or how bad Fox’s golf broadcasts will be, and much less how much Fox will devote to online efforts. If the past is any clue, we may see a regression of sorts when it comes to online options from Fox. For this year, anyway, we’ll still have the rich options usually available from ESPN (including the WatchESPN app) as well as the above-decent online offerings from NBC for the weekend play.

You can, of course, also use the official U.S. Open apps or mobile websites to get mobile/online coverage of two featured groups and featured holes, a la the Masters but with less depth. And if you can stand the amount of time it takes for all the dumb features to load, the PGA’s new home page will certainly be kept up to date with scores and video highlights, as well as pointers to where you can watch live stuff.

NBC, which earned all kinds of honors recently for its online coverage (especially its Olympic streaming efforts) still, in my book, is learning how to do all this. Yes, there was lots of Olympics stuff online, but you had to hunt really hard to find the actual live programming late at night from Sochi — and when you did, the NBC window could spoil the results for you, since the integrated Twitter feed was usually a minute or two AHEAD of the NBC “live” online broadcast. Still, NBC and the NBC-owned Golf Channel should have more info and analysis than you could possibly want all weekend.

If you are watching on an actual television set, the ESPN coverage on Thursday and Friday goes from 9 a.m. Eastern to 3 p.m. ET, then you switch over to NBC for two hours, and then back to ESPN for the last two hours of coverage. On the weekend, it’ll be the last call for Johnny “63” Miller as lead broadcaster, as NBC covers things from noon ET to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and Sunday from noon until the winning putt drops. Or until there’s a tie and an 18-hole Monday playoff.