Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Zero Rating

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.5.2016

A week or so ago Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch did his first ever Periscope live broadcast. While he couldn’t talk about specifics (partially because A) why would you and B) Dish was entering a quite period for it’s next earning release) he did point out that Sling TV sees new users every month but a major event like the Olympics triggers bigger pops in the user base.He also mentioned that he didn’t think that going to a ‘zero rating’ was a good idea.

With the recent announcement of AT&T purchasing Time Warner and another AT&T subsidiary DirecTV launching their OTT option this month with a ‘zero rating’ it makes you wonder which path we’ll go down.

‘Zero rating’ is when the backbone provider (AT&T, Century Link, Verizon, etc) allow certain types of content without having it content against you’re bandwidth limit. Now T-Mobile already does a version of this but in their case the content provider (Netflix, MLB, MLS, etc) have to except a lower quality stream in order to keep other content moving through the pipe. In AT&T’s case, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, they say this will increase competition because anyone can pay DirecTV to have a ‘zero rating.’

So what does this mean to you and your ability to watch the Nebraska at Ohio State game on ESPN via an OTT application? Well it means that you have more options to watch the game depending on your device and application. It also means that there is a chance, however remote, that you could not have the ability to see the game.

Being a sports cord cutter for about a year now, I have come close but have not reached my data limit with my ISP. It would be nice if commercials didn’t count against the data cap but that is a technological innovation that isn’t very sexy to build. Not sure how many customers hit the 300GB limit most ISP’s are putting on their user but I would presume that it’s not a lot.

If AT&T wants to go down the road of having outfits like Netflix, MLB and others pay them so consumers won’t have their data caps maxed out then I think they are in for a rude awakening. There is nothing stopping AT&T or their subsidiary DirecTV from raising the price on the content provider and the customer in the name of meeting quarterly earnings. I would venture a guess that this is there plan.

Why is someone like Lynch against this, because it’s not a sustainable path. ‘Zero rating’ is essentially an end run around net neutrality. It would make, by default, the ISP’s the revenue winners in this future of video viewing. It puts the ball clearly in the backbone company’s court and invites a ‘pay to play’ model down the line.

Now back to that Nebraska at Ohio State game. If the backbone companies are able to initiate this ‘zero rating’ then if you are a Verizon customer, there is a chance that Disney (ESPN’s parent company) didn’t want to pay Verizon’s fee and therefore you cannot watch the game. I think that chance is slim but well within this model is a lower quality stream. In other words you are in the back of the bus viewing wise and there would not be much you could do about it.

‘Zero rating’ is not a really fair model for the user or the content providers or distributors. The backbone companies like AT&T are going to make their money because they are a necessity to modern living and they have the ability to put on caps which could also lead to revenue grow however inconsistent that may be. This is not the business model of the future. New models need to arise and they will as more consumers cut the cord, but the ‘Zero rating’ is not it.

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Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Easier To Use and Follow Ups

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.19.2016

As we all know, Twitter is live streaming the NFL’s first 10 Thursday Night games. A couple of games in, you are starting to see some to of the changes that needed to be made not only for the games but for Twitter’s live strategy.

twitterads-they-started-mondayBefore the Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers game I saw more advertisements within the Twitter application further out from the game. I also received an email with a straight forward graphic reminding me about the game. These are both things that Twitter didn’t appear to be during Week 1.

 

twitterliveBy the time the Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers game rolled around the next Thursday, there was a video player inside the desktop application right next to the ‘Trends’ section.This is a big and necessary change especially for new users of the platform. Granted this is only on the desktop/laptop view and not the mobile view but it’s a start.

There are two parts of streaming NFL games that Twitter needs to nail. First show that the platform is stable enough to have the capacity that the NFL and others are going to need. They’ve done that.

The second part is to get users, new and existing, to watch and you can only do that through advertising inside and outside of Twitter.

With the combination of ads within the application running further out from the game and the email campaign, Twitter is getting the second half of this right because the stability and quality of the live stream is great.

Follow Up:

Last week I posted about the low hanging fruit that Sling TV and other OTT providers could pick. Those are the league channels like MLB Network, NBA TV and NHL Network among others. Well in a blog post on Sling TV’s website on October 19th announced that the NHL Network was now available in the sports package.

The Twitter Streaming Plan

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


PAC 12By the looks of it Twitter is trying to become the ultimate mobile live streaming sports platform. They surprised everybody by getting the rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games this fall. Now they have grabbed the rights to the PAC-12.

It’s not all wine and roses however. The deal is apparently mainly focused on Olympic sports like swimming, volleyball, baseball, etc. The football and basketball games are apparently off limits with their current deals.

TWITTERIt is still a nice step to see and one of only a couple of deals that Twitter is working on. They recently signed on CBSN and Bloomberg but Tuner, MLS and MLB could be right around the corner.

It would be a major coup for Twitter to bag multiple sports league and be a huge benefit to the cord cutters like myself. While Twitter doesn’t give you the ’10-ft experience’, providing live game content on the computer or mobile device might just be good enough. It also really helps them corner the market on the younger sports demo.

Time will tell how this all shakes out and if Twitter even has the infrastructure to support such moves. The speed at which they are moving is a great sign that they may have this figured out. It would be even better if the PAC-12 just went ahead and streamed all of their content but at this point let’s take what we can get.

Twitter Winner

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Twitter beat out Amazon and Verizon among others for the right to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games this fall. It comes as a surprise to many but in the end it may be the right move by both the NFL and Twitter.

The deal is interesting for many reasons, one of which is how is Twitter going to pull this off? MLB Advanced Media President and CEO Bob Bowman was at the Code/Media conference a few months talking about how much of a technological challenge it would be to pull off weekly streams of an NFL game. Possible yes but dicey at best.

Maybe the fact that Twitter is primarily a mobile application means that the video will be limited in Mbps and screen size. The games will after all be available via traditional broadcasters (CBS and NBC respectfully) so you would logically think that these live streams would not see the same usage as say a game that was only live streamed and not on TV.

nfl on yahooThe second interesting fact is that it only cost Twitter $10 million or a million dollars a game. Last year Yahoo paid almost $20 million for the Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars. Granted Yahoo was the only place you could see the game and had control over the advertising which is probably why the rights cost them more. Twitter is getting none of that.

One more reason why this deal probably got done, Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto was once the CFO of the NFL. You can’t say that that didn’t play a part.

When you think about it, this deal seems to help both parties. It shows that the NFL is serious about cord-cutting because you don’t have to be a Twitter user to watch the game (which makes sense since you don’t have to have a cable or satellite subscription to get NBC or CBS). It also helps Twitter who has hard a hard time of it lately with flat user numbers and a lack of advertisers.

See SBNation’s Matt Ufford on Nightly Business Report. 

No doubt that there will be a lot of eyes on Twitter come the fall when they begin streaming games. Will the quality of the stream be there? How much strain will be put on mobile carriers and CDN’s? Interesting questions indeed. Almost more interesting than some of the games will be.

BAM

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


A few weeks ago I wrote a post about concurrent streams and MLB Advanced Media’s Bob Bowman. Bowman is a major player if not the major player in live streaming. So when he speaks, it’s important to listen.

Bowman touches on a lot of subjects related to live streaming but he also touches on social media, hiring and narratives.

Super Stream

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


More people watched the Super Bowl via streaming than they did last year. While CBS has yet to release the concurrent number (how many people are watching at the same time) it is suspected that it is above the 1.3 million concurrent streams NBC reported last year.

Super Bowl 50

Re/code has solid coverage of this but the initial numbers do show that there is a growing audience here. These initial numbers along with the growth of the College Football Playoff streaming numbers (WatchESPN was up 38% year-over-year) shows that this is not a trend but a full blown movement.

I am not the only one who believes this, the NFL does too. That is why the NFL is shopping around the streaming rights for Thursday Night Football after selling the TV rights to CBS and NBC.

As prices rise for cable or satellite subscriptions and watching live sporting events like the Super Bowl become more available via devices like Apple TV and Roku my conclusion is that you will see these numbers continuing to rise year-over-year.

NFL Game via Yahoo = Success?

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Yahoo Screen GrabThe Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars was the first ever NFL game distributed mainly via the web. In this case Yahoo! handled the streaming duties. While it is being spun as a success, it wasn’t as big of a success as the powers that be would like for us to believe.

Peter King on MMQB pointed out that the live stream on Yahoo may not have been as awesome as Yahoo and the NFL are making it out to be. For example, King points out that Yahoo is counting a “stream” as anyone who watched for me than three seconds. The stream was on autoplay on Yahoo’s homepage. Not exactly an accurate portrait.

While the stream worked well it was great for everyone. As Business Insider pointed out, some people experienced a less than ideal viewing experience. It was still free and available on a global basis though.

nfl on yahoo

What this game really did, besides being a pretty damn good one, was show why the Internet has not take over TV when it comes to our main viewing source.

While ad space on the Internet is infinite (want more space, create a new page) the bandwidth is not. Unlike TV, bandwidth is finite. There is only so much of it at any given time in a given place. It is, after all, a series of tubes. For example, if you are at a Starbucks trying to stream the game and there are 10 other people there on their various devices doing various bandwidth sucking things then your stream is going to suck at some points. If you are at home in your house in the suburbs and everyone else is i your neighborhood is at home streaming the new season of ‘House of Cards’ on various Netflix connected devices then odds are you may not be getting the speeds you are paying for from your ISP.

So, while the game may not have been as successful viewing wise as some people would like for us to believe, it was a success. Why? People could watch a football via a new distribution channel without borders or boundaries. In Vietnam? No Problem. In Denver? We got you. Normally to get that kind of access you had to fork over an absurd amount of money and in this case, you’d be forking over money for two teams in some of the smallest markets in the NFL.

This is hopefully will not be a one off event. Live streaming is a good thing. It gets back to the fundamental possibilities of the Internet: any content, any where on any device. Remember that? Kind of funny that the NFL is the one trying to get us back to that idea. But hey, as long as we get there do we really care who leads the way?

And now, your Internet moment of Zen.

The Fear Of The New

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

One thing that sports organizations don’t well is embrace new technology. Not many companies do for that matter. Most of the time companies have this knee jerk reaction to new technologies or methodologies and that reaction usually involves lawyers. This is the case with Periscope (and a similar service called Meerkat). Instead of freaking out they should be generating ideas on how to integrate this application as opposed to trying to shut it down.

Periscope at work

The Mayweather v Pacquiao fight has brought in close to $500 million. That’s half a billion dollars which is revenue than some publicly traded companies generate in a year. Yet the winner of the fight may have been Periscope. Not only was it it’s coming out party but the promoters of the fight are threatening legal action which always means you did something right.

While Periscope may seem like a threat on the surface it really isn’t much of one. So some people watched the fight through the app and didn’t pay for it. That number didn’t effect the overall number of buys (which was around 4.4 million) and those people were either at the fight or watching the fight where someone had already paid for it.

While Periscope is a very cool app, it still lacks the video and audio quality that an HD broadcast can deliver. Not to mention the fact that you are relying on someone on the other end to have a steady hand while shooting a TV screen or being at the event.

The PGA and NHL have already banned it’s use. The PGA went as far as pulling the credentials of prominent Golf blogger Stephanie Wei then later streamed content through their Periscope PGA account (read Stephanie’s blog post here). The NHL has banned the use in NHL arenas ‘before, during and after the game’. Oh, the NHL, several of their teams and the owner of their American broadcasting rights (NBC) all have their own Periscope accounts.

Really?

First, if you make a half billion dollars on a fight that went the distance and then it is revealed afterward that one of the fighters had an injured shoulder….you’re not going to find a whole lot of sympathy in the court of public opinion. Second, pulling the credentials of a popular blogger in a slowly dying sport, not the kind of promotion you’re looking for. Besides, she made a conscious effort not to show anything that may have been used in the national broadcast.

Is Periscope and Meerkat a threat? Not really. It’s a video version of Twitter which is why Twitter owns it. The fact is people will watch a sporting event on their iPhone however the quality has to be there and you are not going to get solid quality watching from someone shooting a TV screen on their iPhone.

Are their uses for this technology, yes! Most of them we haven’t even thought of yet so why take drastic steps now to limit the technology? Let it grow, support it and find out how it can help your business vs trying to play whack-a-mole. As far as the ‘piracy’ aspect is concerned, how about not charging a $100 for a pay-per-view? How bout charging half that and making up the difference in volume? It was, after all, the ‘Fight of the Century’.

Periscope and Meerkat are here to stay. How they evolve is the question. That evolution should not be left to entities that see it as a threat. If that were the case then we wouldn’t have airplanes or the internet. Give these technologies a chance to grow and see how they can help vs hurt sports.

‘Change is inevitable, growth is optional’

 

Final Four Exposes Streaming Limitations

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The Final Four was, like usual, one of the must watch sporting events of the year. How you were watching it became a matter of if you could watch the Final Four at all. So is streaming ready for mass viewing? Maybe not.

SLING TV

Sling TV, the new streaming service from Dish, had some issues during the Wisconsin vs Kentucky game on Saturday. Peter Kafka of Recode wrote pointed out that Sling TV saw a lot of signups and just a lot of users all jumping on. This caused some people to get crap video or no video at all. (On a personal note, it sounds like the load balancers were not distributed correctly.)

This game was the highest rate game in 22 years of the NCAA Tournament with an overnight rating of 16.4/30, and that’s just on traditional cable television. In the same PR release, the NCAA Tournament did 77 million live streams through Saturday. That’s up 15% from last year.

The demand is there but is the infrastructure there? There are a lot of variables to this. People have pointed out that streaming services have conked out due to high demand in the past. Knowing this, why wasn’t Sling TV ready? Come to find out that Sling is capping the amount of people who can use the service to two million users. While they are nowhere near that number (they are supposedly around 100,000 subscribers) it’s still pretty shocking to see that they couldn’t handle the influx of traffic and new users.

Streaming big sporting events is not going to stop. It is going to continue and it’s going to grow. The bandwidth has to be there and so does the anticipation. Even if you do not see the a massive influx of traffic during an event you have to be ready for it. It’s the old adage, ‘better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.’ Let’s hope Sling TV and others learn from this and are ready the next time a major event happens.

 

 

The Online Sports Network That Wasn’t

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

It appears that we are at a tipping point with the live streaming of sporting events. While the rumblings have been there for many years it finally seems like we are about to crossover into a world where you will finally have a choice between your typical cable or satellite subscription and an online only version. The surprise shouldn’t be that we’ve gotten to this point but it should surprise people that Yahoo could have led this change.

Yahoo Big

Yahoo is a big company with an enterprise value around $35 billion. It employs over 10,000 people but is has also had enough drama in the C Suite to fill a CNBC special. One direction it didn’t pounce on when it had the chance was the realm of live streaming.

Tracking Yahoo’s live streaming opportunities goes all the way back to 1999 when they purchased Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion and in the process making Mark Cuban a billionaire. Since then Yahoo has been live streaming various types of content from SEC football games on Jefferson Pilot to UFC events (free and paid). Now it is streaming a concert a day with its Yahoo Live platform.

Screenshot 2015-02-23 20.10.00

So why isn’t Yahoo synonymous with live streaming sports? They clearly have the cash, infrastructure, and smarts to pull it off yet here they sit on the sidelines as Dish Network launches Sling.com. Going through three CEO’s in 2012 alone probably didn’t help matters but one has to wonder why a company with a giant user base and brand name didn’t gain the digital rights of various sporting league?

Expense was probably one of the reasons. Look the NFL and Premier League rights are not cheap by any means of the imagination. Even with a presumed 70-30 split you’d have to figure that access to Yahoo’s users and prominent placement on the homepage would have led some leagues or college conferences for that matter to think long and hard about a deal with Yahoo.

Just think where Yahoo would be today if they had thought outside of the box when it came to the live streaming of sports. Imagine soccer matches rom around the globe, collegiate athletics or even something as niche as the Canadian Football League all being streamed via Yahoo. How did Yahoo not lock up the digital rights to the PAC-12 when they launched there network a few seasons ago?  They are in the same zipcode!

Yes hindsight is 20/20 but the opportunities where there. From it’s original purchase of Broadcast.com in 1999 to now with it’s daily live streaming of concerts from across the country. Yahoo has had opportunity after opportunity. Now as the sports landscape shifts to a true anywhere, anytime on any device environment, Yahoo sits on the sidelines wondering why it’s on the bench.