Is mobile access to live NFL games the next battleground for AT&T and Verizon Wireless?

NFL Mobile screen shot of server fail during Week 1. Photo Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NFL Mobile screen shot of server fail during Week 1. Photo Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Today’s news that DirecTV has signed a $12 billion deal with the NFL — priced at $1.5 billion a year for 8 years — to keep carrying its Sunday Ticket package has me thinking: Are we on the verge of a battle royale between the country’s two biggest cellular providers over mobile access to NFL games?

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to claim that mobile access to sports content and live NFL games are two of the hottest things going. Go look up any list of the most-watched live TV shows, and you will find various big NFL games dominating the list. Add that to stats like today’s news out of ESPN where the worldwide leader claimed it had 61.3 million unique mobile users during August and you can perhaps see another reason why AT&T might want to buy DirecTV: Because with Sunday Ticket, AT&T has a possible way to trump Verizon’s stranglehold on smartphone access to live NFL action, which it now shows via its exclusive contract with the NFL for its NFL Mobile app premium service.

Judging by traffic and search terms on our humble little site, people looking to find ways to watch live NFL action on their mobile devices is a pretty hot topic these days. Right now, the only way for most people to see any live action at all on a smartphone is to be a Verizon Wireless subscriber, and have the premium service for the company’s NFL Mobile app. Free to “More Everything” data plan customers and $5 a month for others, the premium NFL Mobile package provides access to Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games, as well as local Sunday games.

Sunday Ticket vs. NFL Mobile?

You can also watch the RedZone channel via NFL Mobile, but confusingly if you are on the More Everything plan you need to pay an additional $1.99 a month, a new process that helped mess up Verizon’s NFL Mobile access earlier this season. Non-Share Everything customers who pay the $5 a month fee have RedZone included for free. (For many true NFL fans, RedZone is often even better than having games streamed, since you get all the best action, even from blacked-out games or games not televised locally.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 2.37.08 PMWhere the battle might be joined is in the tablet space — since Verizon’s $1 billion agreement with the NFL only provides live game access to “phone-like devices” and not to tablets or computers, it will be interesting to see what happens if and when AT&T becomes the new owner of DirecTV. One of the more interesting options from DirecTV this year was the NFLSundayTicket.TV option, which allows a type of “cord-cutting,” providing all the options of Sunday Ticket without having to have satellite service. Right now the option (pricing starts at $199 for the season) is only available in a few cities, universities and apartment buildings, but with the heft of AT&T behind it who knows what might happen to both that deal and the regular Sunday Ticket package.

Though far pricer, the $329.94 Sunday Ticket Max plan offered by DirecTV currently allows for mobile viewing of all games, on “computer, tablet, phone or game console.” Anyone else see the possibility of AT&T offering free Sunday Ticket plans to purchases of new phones or tablets?

Verizon, which provides information about NFL Mobile subscriber stats just like Bill Belichick provides deep insights on the inner machinations of the New England Patriots, has not recently stated how many subscribers it has on the NFL Mobile premium package. But for $1 billion over 4 years you can bet the number of users is well into the millions, maybe even more than 10 million — and the exclusivity of NFL live action has certainly been a big selling point for Big Red. The good news for NFL fans is, if any battle begins, it will likely include more access for lower costs — that’s the kind of competition we can all cheer for.

MLB streaming comes to Google Chromecast

You can now add Google Chromecast to the platforms that stream Major League Baseball broadcasts in the U.S. Subscribers of MLB.TV who own one of the Chromecast sticks that plug into the back of many modern televisions will be very happy.

MLB.TV enables fans to watch home and away games of out of market teams and once subscribed can use not only the Chromecast but also smartphones and tablets to watch games. Be sure to check what qualifies as an out of market team since some areas such as Las Vegas are claimed by multiple teams.

English Premier League gains additional network partners for finals
The Premier League will now be available on additional channels as NBCUniversal has opened up its family of stations to the broadcast of the league’s finale that will consist of 10 matches held on May 11.

It now plans to simultaneously broadcast the games not only on NBC and NBCSN but also on Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, USA, CNBC, MSNBC, Esquire Network and E!, channels better known for broadcasting anything but exciting soccer.

Rate the MLB announcers
It may be a bit late to join all of the fun but over at Awful Announcing they are having a contest to rate all of Major League Baseball’s individual broadcast teams. It has been ongoing for a few days but is still worth checking in to see how your favorite, or least favorite voices are doing. Do you like or detest homers, are some too bland, off message or just plain head scratching? Time to make your opinion known! The national broadcast teams on stations such as ESPN and Fox Sports will not be included in this poll.

Google lays out details for modular smartphone
Last year when Google first started talking about its “Project Ara” we did not pay that much attention since it was basically just some mockup photos and not much detail. Last week the company put meat on the Ara bones and started explaining what its intentions are in that area.

The goal of the project is simple but grandiose; it wants to revolutionize the smartphone market, and in 1 year. The idea is very simply, a phone that has a number of replaceable components that a user can select to include in their version of the phone. Think of a Lego phone as a comparable. Users could swap in processors, memory, storage and even type of connectors.

USA Today offers rare sports prints
USA Today has launched an endeavor called the USA Today Sports store and to kick it off it is offering customers a chance to buy a select number of images taken of Muhammad Ali early in his career that originally came from the Courier-Journal in Louisville.

While these images will be available for a silent auction fundraiser to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute this weekend there are a large number of images available at thestore.

ESPN sets mobile consumption records; why do you think we started Mobile Sports Report?

According to this stunning press release from ESPN the Worldwide Leader in sports is now also the worldwide mobile leader, with sports fans consuming 4.1 billion minutes of ESPN content in November on smartphones and tablets.

Read that again: 4.1 BILLION minutes of content consumed in November, on smartphones and tablets. With mobile usage accounting for 54 percent of all ESPN digital traffic — and with 28.6 million fans only hitting ESPN through mobile devices — you are now getting stats to back up the reason why we started this here Mobile Sports Report site. Sports is not just going mobile, it’s already there. And it’s not coming back.

Neither, apparently, is ESPN. We’ll just let ESPN brag with the money quote from its release, vis-a-vis its digital platform competition:

“ESPN Digital Media accounted for 35% of all sports category usage across computers, smartphones and tablets in November, more than the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 sports properties combined (Yahoo! Sports-NBC Sports Network, NFL Internet Group, and Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network), according to comScore Multi-Platform data.”

For stats freaks there’s a lot more to dig into here — like, the fact that ESPN is claiming 26.5 million Twitter followers of all ESPN Twitter handles, but only 2.6 million interacted (liked, shared, etc.) with either the ESPN or SportsCenter Facebook pages. Does that mean Twitter is killing Facebook in sports?

I also like this factoid: “ESPN videos were viewed 39.2 million times on YouTube, up 66% from a year ago.” I guess ESPN isn’t too worried about losing viewers to YouTube. Instead it got another 39.2 million ad views. Cha-ching!

Bottom line: People still want to watch sports on TV, but when they’re away from the TV they still want sports. And more often than not — already — they’re using a tablet or smartphone to get that sports content, not a laptop or a desktop computer. Make sure you understand that fact: ESPN’s mobile site usage is ALREADY bigger than desktop traffic. Mobile sports, people. Mobile sports.

Verizon Suffers NFL Mobile Failures on Opening Day

Did you have problems connecting to the Verizon NFL Mobile app Sunday? If so, it’s not your phone — it’s Verizon, which once again proved that it wasn’t ready for the opening day of the NFL season.

As a Verizon customer and a longtime NFL Mobile customer as well, I’ve experienced much frustration over the past couple years due to glitches with the app and programming for it. When it works I am amazed at the ability to watch live football on my phone. But how can two companies, the NFL and Verizon, which make billions in profits each year, have such consistent failures? Does anyone there care if the app actually works or not?

On Sunday I downloaded the new version of the NFL Mobile app, then tried to connect to watch RedZone for the afternoon game endings. I got an authentication failure, which surprised me since I had done everything possible beforehand (turned on all location services, turned off Wi-Fi) to make sure Verizon knew where my phone was.

After going through a half-hour of support hell waiting (including, ironically, a Drew Brees commercial telling me how great NFL Mobile is) I finally got a technician to tell me that because “so many people” were using the NFL Mobile app, Verizon’s network basically went kablooey, and that massive amounts of NFL Mobile users weren’t able to connect. Imagine that! People wanted to watch the NFL today! That’s like not stocking Elmo toys the week before Thanksgiving, or any similarly stupid move. The Verizon rep also told me that “because of high call volume” Sunday there weren’t enough technical reps at work to handle the NFL Mobile outage.

I will give the Twitter reps at NFL Mobile customer support a small bit of respect for finding my tweets and trying to respond, but really — this just shouldn’t happen. Not when the NFL itself says that more people are going to its websites via mobile than via desktops. The biggest app for the biggest sport simply shouldn’t have network failures. And reps shouldn’t be whining that too many people are trying to use it as the reason why it failed. Unless we all get a month’s credit on our Verizon bills.

Is “hiccups” on a server a new technical term? Is there a “hiccup reset” button?

As of 5 p.m. Pacific Time, it still wasn’t working for me. But the support folks found time for humor.

So — Verizon can pay the NFL a billion bucks for NFL Mobile rights, but can’t keep enough engineers on staff on Sundays to make the thing work? That’s fail with a capital F. Which is the grade we give Verizon for its performance on what is probably the sports world’s most-used app. And they’re locked in for four more years. Now I know what a Cleveland Brown fan must feel like.

UPDATE: At 5:42 p.m. Pacific Time NFL Mobile finally authenticated my device. Just in time to watch Tony Romo be Tony Romo.

Firefox Powered Phone Here- Tablet on the Way


Developers now have another platform to write apps for in the mobile device market as Mozilla, the organization that is behind the free Firefox web browser has started rolling out smartphones that run a Firefox operating system.

Mozilla is claiming that by using Web technologies it has an original take on how smartphones will operate. On first glance it sounds like a lot of other OS that are available. It will include the ability to make calls, messaging, email, camera and has built-in social features with Facebook and Twitter.

One interesting new feature is an adaptive search app that finds a range of related components to a search topic- the example give being you search an artist and find not just songs but concert tickets, song and album purchase and more. The OS has the ability to enable users to create customized apps for single or long term use as well.

Users can look for global and localized apps at Firefox Marketplace that will include everything from business apps, games and news and media offerings.

The rollout will be regional in nature with devices soon to hit the market with the Alcatel One Touch Fire and the ZTE Open phones offered by Duetsche Telekom and Telefonica. Telefonica is expected to start selling the phones in Spain and then move to South America.

Executives for Telefonica said that the company expects to have a range of smartphones running Firefox OS by the end of the year with a range of price points as the company will seek to aggressively go after the Android and Apple iOS market.

According to Mozilla the platform will be supported by approximately 20 hardware and operator backers globally with carrier Telenor set to launch their first Firefox OS phones in Central and Eastern Europe this year.

So that is what we have today, and Brendan Eich, Mozilla’s CTO has said that tablets that will also be capable of running the operating system are on the way, and while declining to give a timetable for when customers can see the devices, he did say that it would be soon.

This will be interesting. When the Firefox browser came out many thought it was dead on arrival and yet it has wrested away a huge chunk of market share from the established power, Microsoft. Now it is attacking another market, one that does have more diversification that the web browser space did but still fairly insular. The failure or success will obviously be determined, at least in part, by developer support because users are not expecting a wide variety of apps for their phones and its hard to see any mobile OS survive without a wide variety of offerings.

Friday Grab Bag: Apple Refutes Multiple Product Rumors

Market research firm Strategy Analytics is reporting that Apple had a 48% market share of the estimated 40.6 million tablets that were shipped in the first quarter of 2013, followed by tablets that ran the Android operating system which own a 43% market share. Tablets that ran Windows had a 7.5% market share.

Overall the market has seen tremendous growth, surging 117% compared to the 18.7 million tablets that were sold in the same period a year ago.

Will Windows 8 Refresh Refresh Microsoft?
Microsoft has taken a beating in recent weeks as analysts and OEMs have pointed a finger at the company’s Windows 8 release as being a disaster and hurt both PC and tablet sales by Windows licensees.

The refresh of the operating system, called ‘Blue’ is reported to have changes to the UI and some subcomponent fixes. How it does will be very important, analysts told IT World, but it also needs to address a host of other issues including app shortage, pricing and enterprise adoption rates.

Apple’s Cook fries rumors
Apple has long been one of the companies that is always surrounded by a host of rumors. Will there be a new, cheap iPhone, is a new tablet coming out this month? You know the drill.

Now the company’s CEO Tim Cook refuted a few during his comments during Apple’s Q2 earnings call. So do not expect a new iPhone or iPad release soon, don’t look for a cheap iPhone and don’t expect a large format iPhone any time soon. For a fuller explanation of his comments head over here.

Speaking of Apple the company’s most recent earnings report showed that profits declined for the first time in almost 10 years. While that is bad the company did have $9.5 billion in profits from a total revenue of $43.6 billion. Last year’s first quarter saw the company report $11.6 billion profit on $39.2 billion in revenue.

LG becoming a factor in the smartphone world
While most of the talk in the smartphone market centers around a rare few, you can now add LG to the list as a player making an impact. The company reported that it sold 10.3 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year. It could see strong additional sales in the near future as it plans to ship its flagship Optimus G Pro in the U.S. next month.

Will 2013 be the year of the Android malware app?
An interesting piece in Forbes talks about how the slow rise of malware on smartphones is starting to gain momentum and all of that momentum appears pointed at the Android market. One security company reported that the Google Play Store had 35 apps that were infected with by a malware called BadNews.