Super Bowl Live Stream: Looks Great But Nothing Innovative

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

It’s 2015 and you can watch the Super Bowl on just about any device you wanted to. Streaming technology has gotten to a place where people now expect great quality. While all this should be expected, what is new is the fact that you can watch the game without confirming your cable or satellite subscription. 

Super Bowl 49  Live Stream

As you can imagine, the video stream did some big numbers as Streaming Media’s EVP Dan Rayburn tweeted out after the game.

Dan Rayburn Tweet about live stream

Even with that many people, the stream quality was top notch. While this is a lot of people, it is well behind the 5.3 million who watched the USA vs Belgium World Cup match this past summer.

The Super Bowl is a free, over the air event. It would make sense that if the event was streamed (which is was) and that anyone would be able to watch the game online.  NBC thought so too and did not require you to have a cable or satellite subscription to watch the game through NBCSports.com which was a first.

NBC didn’t take full advantage of the live stream though.

There was only a stream of the game. There wasn’t a ’22’ angle or a ‘skycam’ angle. The experience lacked in a lot of ways. They could have done a lot more like ESPN did during the College Football National Championship game but chose not to.

Not only was it a great Super Bowl but it was also a well executed one by NBC. The live stream was of quality, was stable and served the cord cutters. While NBC could have done more with the medium, it at least allowed fans to watch a great event for free.

Networks Must Share The Blame

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

There was an article on Yahoo last week talking about the low TV ratings this year for MLS. While the article didn’t dive into possible reasons why (except to point out that NBC had the Olympics last summer) there some major reasons that come to mind and the networks need to share some of the blame.

Last season was NBC Sports first season broadcasting MLS. While they do some by innovative things like having the color commentators between the benches they have some serious flaws that they have refused to correct. The major one being that they, and the league, continue to promote kickoffs a half hour before the actually happen. They have a pre-match show that runs some 25 plus minutes even though the programming guide says differently.

NBC Pre Show

This main reason leads directly into the second, the late night kickoffs. This season their will be 11 games that kickoff at 10pm EST or later on NBC Sports Network. Add in the 25 -ish minute pre-match show and the ball is not being kicked off until 11pm EST at times.

When we look at the other major broadcast partner for MLS, ESPN makes some of the same mistakes. Between ESPN and ESPN 2 they will broadcast 9 games starting at 9pm EST or later and all 9 of those matches are on Sunday evening. The rematch of last seasons MLS Cup Final (Houston at LA Galaxy) was broadcast at 11pm EST on Sunday May 5th. Was there another major event on ESPN 2 that day?

Late Night MLS

To dig the point home, this past month (August 25th to be exact) one of the biggest games of the season didn’t kick off until 10pm EST…on a Sunday night. This match saw US Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey make his home debut in front of 66,000 plus fans in Seattle as they took on arch rival Portland. It wasn’t exactly a battle of cellar dwellers either, this match had big playoff implications.

Did ESPN really expect the casual fan to stay up until midnight on a Sunday? This is MLS. Not the NFL.

An issue that cannot be ignored either is that some of the biggest fan bases and the last 4 MLS Cup Champions are all out west. Let’s face facts, if Columbus and Sporting KC are not playing well it’s not going to hurt the TV ratings all that much. But when major market teams like DC United and Chivas USA are two of the worst teams in the league, that is enough to yellow card any set of TV ratings. Add in the wildfire that is Toronto FC and things may not be looking great north of the border either.

What the article also didn’t touch on is attendance. According to Sports Business Journal (Volume 16 issue 18) as of August 12th there are 10 teams in positive territory year over year in attendance and 9 in decline. The worse? Chivas USA which is down 36%.

Add this up and their should be some concern in the league office but the fact remains that the networks share some of the blame here. Network executives are not as smart as they think they are even though they like to think they are.

MLS needs to take more control over what games are shown and if all possible, when they are shown. They can do this as they begin the next set of TV contract negotiations. Without this change, ratings may continue to decline regardless of how many Clint Dempsey’s are brought back to the league.

NBC Sports Double Standard

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard
NBC Sports owns the rights to a few sports including the NHL and MLS. While they do an outstanding job with the NHL (especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs) the do a very poor job with the MLS.
This past weekend the MLS had three games starting at the 1pm Pacific Standard Time. Two were regional broadcasts and the third was on the NBC Sports Network. One game was Montreal at San Jose. That match kicked off at 1:07pm. The NBC Sports game, New York at Columbus, kicked off at 1:25pm. Both were regular season matches and yet one game kicked off nearly 20 minutes sooner.
If you’ve seen MLS coverage on NBC Sports you’ll notice that this is the norm. They talk. They call it a pre game show but the guide on DirecTV says otherwise. While NBC Sports does do some things fairly innovative (like having their color commentator, in this case Kyle Martino, announcing from the sidelines as opposed to the booth) it still doesn’t excuse the fact that it takes an MLS game on NBC Sports almost an extra 20 minutes to get the ball kicked off.
Contrast this to NBC Sports coverage of the NHL. During the Stanley Cup playoffs they have enlisted the help of all of NBC’s other properties so that they can broadcast each and every playoff game live. This means using NBC’s financial channel CNBC. They also start their games 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. That’s right, they drop the puck 10 minutes after coming on the air with the game.
Why the difference? Why does a nationally broadcast MLS game on NBC or NBC Sports Network take 15 more minutes longer to start as opposed to an NHL game on the same network? It falls under NBC Sports method of operation, talk.
NBCSports.com covers every sport. Their pages are titled PRO FOOTBALL TALK, PRO BASEBALL TALK, and PRO HOCKEY TALK, etc. Does that sound appealing to you? Talk? That may be the most uncreative categorization in the history of the web. It reflects how NBC Sports views itself. It’s not bout the sport for them, it’s about them and what they have to say. In other words, they love to hear themselves talk.
NBC TALK
Can NBC improve the MLS experience? Yes, kick the ball off. It’s that simple. You can still keep a short intro if you want but don’t make it longer than 10 minutes. Fans of the teams and the sport do not tune in to watch people yap and to admire a combo feature. They tune into to watch the game.

“Traditional” Beats “New” When It Comes to Live Sports (Despite Red Bull)

This past fall the Red Bull Stratos jump had at its peak 8 million concurrent views on YouTube. That annihilated the streaming of last years Super Bowl which had 2.1 million uniques which was on NBCSports.com. No one knew what would happen when the streams hit that 8 million mark and there was some genuine concern among the engineers but the system held up. A major part of the system though hasn’t held up well this past year.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is rapidly becoming a leader in the cloud space. According to a Bloomberg report by Cory Johnson AWS will generate $1.6 billion in revenue in 2012. It’s not all fun and games for AWS though. Christmas Eve saw Netflix go down. According a Wall Street Journal article 95% of Netflix computational and storage needs are handled by AWS. Netflix in turn accounts for 33% of peak downstream residential internet traffic in North America so if AWS goes down, which it’s done a few times this year, it’s a problem.

If YouTube (who’s parent company is Google) would have failed during the Red Bull Stratos jump one could argue about the level of consumer outrage it would have received from the public. If YouTube was hosting the Super Bowl or the BCS National TItle Game on the other hand and the stream fails then there is a pretty good chance that the level of consumer outrage would be significantly higher.

SNF-DALvWSH

For all of the the mocking and criticism that goes toward broadcast television, cable and satellite providers they have something that people will continue to pay for, reliability. If the Super Bowl is on you can bet that you are going to be able to find a reliable “old school” way to watch it. The broadcast, cable or satellite signal does not get weighed down by the amount of people using it. It does not need to be ‘throttled down’ just to be able to continue showing you the game or event.

Strip away the economics of this argument and just look at the stability of the platforms and on that alone it is easy to see why live sports will continue to be the lifeblood of “traditional” outlets like broadcast, cable and satellite. While leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS and UFC will continue to offer live streams of games and events they will not be able to deliver the same experience or reliability night in and night out like the “traditional” outlets can.

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Food for Thought: On The Media