June 25, 2017

Ballmer’s energy, enthusiasm will push fan-viewing technology for Clippers, NBA

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (L) talks with John Ourand at the Sports Media & Technology conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (L) talks with John Ourand at the Sports Media & Technology conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

As a longtime tech reporter it was a bit of a flashback to see former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer holding center stage at a conference, even if this one was centered around sports and not anything to do with PCs or Windows.

There was no dancing through the spotlights, but even in a sit-down setting you couldn’t hide Ballmer’s enthusiasm for technology, now focused on improving the fan experience for watching NBA basketball games, specifically those involving the Los Angeles Clippers, the team Ballmer now owns.

“I am excited for the future of technology and how it could make it REALLY more fun to watch sports,” Baller said to interviewer John Ourand, a writer with Sports Business Journal, the hosts of the 2016 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference held at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. If you’ve ever heard Ballmer speak live you know the voice pitch that escalated on that “REALLY” part, a volume increase guaranteed to ensure you’re paying attention.

Now one of the most visible NBA owner-fans, Ballmer told event attendees Wednesday how his team’s new rights deal with Fox’s regional sports network would help the Clippers experiment with more innovative viewing options, including over-the-top streaming game broadcasts.

Watching the game through a player’s view

But put aside for a moment the concerns about old-school broadcast rights — according to Ballmer what he really wanted out of the most-recent deal was breathing room to try new things, like having game views with statistics and other information overlaid or available in pop-out windows; or different camera views, including a VR-like view of the game from a player’s eyes.

Screenshot of fan-info TV 'overlays' that might enhance NBA broadcasts.

Screenshot of fan-info TV ‘overlays’ that might enhance NBA broadcasts.

“We needed a relationship that would allow us to innovate,” said Ballmer of the recent media deal, one where he dismissed the final dollar figure [worth $50 million to $55 millon per season] as “money is just an arm-wrestle.” Instead of crowing about getting piles of dough for TV rights, Ballmer was clearly more excited about ideas like being able to have player fantasy stats super-imposed over that player’s jersey while live action went on, among other plans.

“I want to watch a game as [Clippers point guard] Chris Paul, to see what he sees,” Ballmer said. “That would be a cool view of a game.”

Meet the new boss, different than the old boss

While such ideas are not completely new — others in and around sports have been thinking up such ideas and even trying them out — what’s different with the Clippers and the NBA is Ballmer’s energy, and the ability to not have to care about making money right away given his uber-billionaire wealth. I never worked for Microsoft or Ballmer but from the outside looking in it was pretty easy to see that Ballmer has never been a sit-around-and-wait kind of guy. When talking about the excitement of working with innovative sports-tech firms like Second Spectrum and NeuLion on his player’s-eye cam idea, Ballmer didn’t hesitate to put a timeline on the project.

“I’m going to be highly, highly, HIGHLY disappointed” if the Chris-Paul view isn’t available in 3-4 years, Ballmer said, laughing that it’s always best to put public pressure on engineers to get them to deliver more quickly. And while he’s frustrated by the delays caused by long-term rights deals, the opportunity to rework the Clippers’ local rights gave him a door to push open. And like always, Ballmer didn’t come in quietly.

“I didn’t want to wait to get started,” Ballmer said. “I’ve got a passion for the technology and we were at the end of the contract so… BOOM! Let’s go ahead and move forward.”

Ballmer also talked about the idea of building a new Clippers arena somewhere down the road, and about using technology to let fans at games have a better experience, like being able to upgrade your seat during the event. Dreaming about a new venue specifically built for basketball, Ballmer thought out loud about the benefits of having fans closer to the action, with an increased list of tech-aided amenities.

“The technology of arena design is advancing, too,” Ballmer said, pointing to such new structures as Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center. “You have to figure out how to serve the modern fan.” Will Ballmer in charge, it’s a safe bet that Clippers fans may be among the first to be so served.

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.

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.

Friday Grab Bag: Where is the MLS TV deal?

For those of you who managed to miss it the Major League Soccer season started recently and its broadcast contract, which many had expected to be finalized sometime last winter, is still unfinished business.

Awful Announcing does a good job pointing out the issues, which have to do with how each side perceives itself. An interesting note showing the increasing popularity of the sport is that the average MLS attendance is greater than the NBA or NHL’s.

Android flaws could make upgrades a danger
System updates are a fact of life for most mobile phone users and a recent report from researchers at the System Security Lab at Indiana University and Microsoft have found a vulnerability that could enable hackers to take over Android systems.

It is not a real threat as they did a proof of concept test only but the threat would be in the form of an app that waits for a system update and then takes gains access for privileges that it had not had previously. Interestingly it only works if you have a fairly old version of Android running.

FIFA Exec paid millions for votes
If you ever wondered how sun-baked Qatar managed to win approval to host the World Cup during its summer this story might help explain it: FIFA executive Jack Warner appears to have made millions off of the deal.

According to a piece in the Telegraph a Quatari company paid Warner millions after the country won the vote. The Big Lead has a list of his apparent transgressions over the past few years that shows a long history of shady dealings.

NBA pondering new TV deal
MLS is not the only sport that is taking its time in finalizing its next broadcast deal as the NBA is also taking a leisurely approach on its current round of negotiations. However the NBA is in a much stronger position.

According to the Sports Business Daily there are a number of interesting options being considered at this time including adding an additional broadcasting partner, bringing its digital rights in-house and moving NBA on TNT off of Thursday night. It looks like big changes are in the works.

Drones can read Wi-Fi messages?

A report in the International Business Times is saying that you should turn off your smartphone’s Wi-Fi because drones that are flying overhead can monitor the conversation, using a pretty simple trick that I think many of us would fall for.

A drone overhead could present itself as a free Wi-Fi network, something that phones are constantly looking for. Then if a user connects it can intercept traffic. Boy would they be bored with reading my stuff.

Love baseball and need a date? MLB has you covered!
Major League Baseball has joined forces with online dating site Match.com to create club-focused singles pages, because apparently there was a need for this. I am not kidding it seems that some rabid fans, say Yankee fans, whose first question is to ask “Who hates the Red Sox?” [editor’s note: insert joke for “getting to first base” here.]

It will be interesting to see how this works; maybe MLB could do the same for the Dungeons and Dragons crowd, or even a dating site set up for stats nerds, which is almost the same as the D&D group.

Friday Grab Bag: MLB to live stream World Series

Taking its digital game up a notch MLB’s Advanced Media has announced that it will start permitting subscribers to its MLB.TV using its At Bat app to watch both the All-Star game as well as well as the entire World Series on their registered mobile devices and computers.

The games will be broadcast over the air by Fox Sports and some details still need to be worked out as Fox’s broadcast partners will be involved in some manner in the vetting process. Still this is a great move by MLB opening up the games to more viewers. Think it will go back to day games for the Series? Me neither.

Samsung teams with Mandalay Sports Media on second screen content
Samsung Electronics America will be working with Mandalay to develop new and original second screen content that will then be made available on select Samsung products. The content will be built around Samsung’s Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology platform to enable complementary and supplementary content experiences for TV programming.

The programs will initially be distributed on Samsung’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 Smart TVs as well as select tablets and smartphones. No word yet on what types of shows will be developed under the program.

NFL to add two more playoff teams in 2015?
The NFL has hinted that it is looking at adding additional playoff teams in the future because, well the owners will make more money. The rumors appear to be picking up steam and the Washington Post has reported that it will happen in 2 years.

This is interesting in that in the last postseason the league had issues selling playoff tickets and the addition of more teams will dilute the value of the regular season and possible create even more issues in selling playoff tickets.

ESPN talks about ESPN
There used to be an adage in reporting that “You reported the news, you are not part of the news.” Well that message has never sunk in at ESPN as the latest round robin of repeating itself has taken on comic qualities.

After one of its analysts reported that he would not take Johnny Manziel as a QB for his team, ESPN’s talking heads then discussed this comment endlessly for the next day or so. Awful Announcing does a great job in dissecting how much coverage the network gave to a comment made by one of its own people.

NFL Mobile users watched 10.3 million video streams during Super Bowl week

Remember the Football on your phone video from last August? Pretty funny, right? Imagine, people wanting to watch football on their phones, no matter where they go. Well last week a whole bunch of them did just that. According to the NFL, more than 10 million video streams were watched on the Verizon NFL Mobile platform during Super Bowl week, a jump of more than 400 percent from the year before.

Football on your phone? You bet!

For some reason we can’t get the league’s media arm or Verizon Wireless to provide the one stat we really want — how many people watched live Super Bowl action on a smartphone? Verizon at least is consistent — they have never provided any kind of statistic on NFL Mobile usage. Today the NFL Media folks issued a press release with all kinds of “record” numbers (we will post the whole thing below if you want to dig through it), but no discrete number for the game itself. We’ll get to the reason for that in a bit. But for the overall stats, we can sum up the numbers quickly: If there was football programming available last week, a lot of people watched it. And if it was available online or to mobile devices, so much the better.

What really drove traffic across all NFL Media properties this year was the NFL Mobile package. Remember, this year the “NFL Mobile from Verizon” app was actually available for smartphones from any carrier; the catch was, you could only get live game action if you were a Verizon subscriber and paid $5 more a month. Everyone else, including Verizon customers, could see highlights and NFL Network video content, like features and reports from Super Bowl week. The opening up of the app is probably the biggest reason why unique users of NFL Mobile properties during Super Bowl week increased 88 percent this year versus last, 11.2 million users compared to 6.0 million, according to NFL statistics.

Here’s where the stats get interesting: While it’s impressive that video streams across all NFL Media properties during Super Bowl week increased 56 percent this year compared to last, 34.0 million to 21.8 million, what’s really mind-boggling is that 10.3 million of those streams this year were consumed via the NFL Mobile app, a 416 percent increase over last year.

To repeat: Almost ONE-THIRD OF ALL NFL MEDIA VIDEO STREAMS were watched last week… on a phone.

One possible reason why neither the league nor Verizon wants to release actual game-day live action viewing numbers for NFL Mobile is that they may not be that impressive. Remember, only Verizon customers who ponied up the $5 extra “premium” fee could have watched the Fox simulcast on their phones, so it’s a smaller subset to begin with. And really, for the big game itself, most likely you were on a couch watching a big screen. (We here at MSR HQ did find the NFL Mobile live feed effective for when we had to roam into the kitchen for more snacks, or for other “breaks” necessary during the game. But we didn’t watch more than a few minutes of the game on the phone.) Plus, the Fox stream was available to tablets using its app or for PCs or laptops watching online, so that probably took away some potential phone-watchers of live game action.

During non-game times, however, smartphones appear to be leading the mobile video explosion. Even though tablets seem to make more sense for watching sports while mobile, it’s pretty clear that people are watching a lot of NFL video on the thing that never leaves their pocket or purse — their phone. Are other sports taking note? And now do you know why the NFL is pushing toward NFL Now? Stay tuned. And keep your phone and checkbook handy.

(full press release content below)

COVERAGE OF SUPER BOWL XLVIII SETS VIEWERSHIP & TRAFFIC RECORDS ACROSS NFL MEDIA

Wall-to-wall coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII produces double-digit spikes for NFL Network, NFL.com, and NFL Mobile

NFL Media’s 11th year covering the Super Bowl produced record-breaking results across all platforms.

NFL NETWORK

Providing expert analysis, the latest news and reports, special guest appearances, and matchup-related programming leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, NFL Network served up 140 total hours – including a record 86 live hours – of programming from 12 sets in eight locations across New York City and New Jersey, utilizing a roster of 40 on-air personalities with a combined 17 Super Bowl rings.

For Super Bowl week*, NFL Network averaged 175,000 viewers in Total Day and 226,000 viewers in Primetime – up +20% and +31%, respectively, compared to last year making this the most-watched Super Bowl week ever on NFL Network.

With more than 41 hours of Super Bowl coverage, SUPER BOWL LIVE averaged 141,000 viewers and up +60% over last year’s average audience (88,000 viewers).

On Super Bowl Sunday, NFL GAMEDAY MORNING averaged 657,000 viewers – up +10% over last year’s telecast (596,000 viewers), making this the most-watched NFL GAMEDAY MORNING ever.

NFL Network’s postgame audience peaked from 10:30PM-11:00PM with an average of 1.14 million viewers, up + 25% over last year’s highest postgame peak (906,000 viewers)

NFL Network averaged 313,000 viewers in Primetime on Super Bowl Sunday – up +52% compared to last year’s performance.

For the entire 2013 postseason, NFL Network averaged 148,000 viewers in Total Day – up +13% compared to last year’s performance (131,000 viewers) making this the most-watched postseason ever on NFL Network.

NFL DIGITAL MEDIA

Across all internet-connected devices, including PC’s, tablets, and smartphones, the official digital properties of the National Football League delivered original video programming, the latest news and information, as well as unprecedented access to players, celebrities and musicians. NFL Digital Media’s offerings included NFL Mobile from Verizon which provided fans access to live, streaming video of Super Bowl XLVIII and NFL Network, including exclusive Super Bowl content and commercials.

For Super Bowl week, visits to NFL Digital Media properties increased 24% versus last year, bolstered by a 149% increase in visits to NFL Mobile.

Unique users of NFL Digital Media properties rose 22% during the week versus last year (27.8M vs. 22.8M), driven by 88% growth in NFL Mobile Properties (11.2M vs. 6.0M).

Unique users and visits to NFL Digital Media properties were driven by an array of content around Super Bowl XLVII. The two highest performing long-form NFL Digital Media features were:

Ø Judy Battista’s piece on Super Bowl XLVIII’s impact on Peyton Manning’s legacy

Ø Mike Silver’s story on the Seahawks dominant defense being fueled by the tight bond amongst the ‘Legion of Boom’

Video Streams during Super Bowl week across all NFL Digital Media properties increased 56% versus last year (34.0M vs. 21.8M).

Video consumption to NFL Mobile from Verizon reached 10.3M streams for a 416% increase over last year’s Super Bowl Week.

The highest performing video of the week featured NFL Network analysts making predictions for Super Bowl XLVIII. The video was viewed more than 800k times.

Seen in 195 countries, NFL Game Pass consumption grew 49% year-over-year across all devices and 57% on desktop.

*Super Bowl Week is defined as January 27-February 2, 2014

— end press release —

And yes, we know the Football On Your Phone video was a promo for DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket, which is neither here nor there when it comes to Verizon NFL Mobile numbers. But the video is funny enough to watch again: