Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Hypotheticals

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.8.2016

Recently people began jumping onto the ‘Disney should spin of ESPN’ bandwagon. While I don’t like to deal in hypotheticals, this idea does raise the question about the split we are seeing in content viewing and how that could be a huge benefit to the cord cutting sports fan.

If you examine the media landscape, you have a central divide opening up. On one side you have those who are sports fans and on the other those who aren’t. Yes you have casual fans on both sides but it is becoming apparent that the casual fan is leaning more and more to one side or the other. With the media landscape becoming more and more fragmented and people are being forced to choose with their wallet more so than ever before.

When you look at the rise of OTT services from Netflix to Sling TV, it’s clear that people are choosing more inexpensive choices. If they spend the money on Netflix and a very small cable package, that might be enough for them as opposed to spending on Netflix plus the massive cable bundle just so they can watch the one or two games on the Big Ten Network.

The reasons can be whittled down to two things: 1)people have less money to spend and 2) people just got feed up.

What this means for media is that the days of a central repository for sports, like an ESPN or an FS1, may be less important as the leagues realize that the days of billion dollar sports rights are over. What this also means is that the technology will drive the distribution.

RedZone
RedZone on Sling TV

What if the NFL didn’t take ESPN’s $1.9 billion a year for Monday Night Football? What if they took $500 million and just gave ESPN a playoff game, in game highlights? The NFL could develop their own delivery model with say Amazon and see individual packages directly to the consumer. Keeping all of the ad revenue for themselves, cut down on commercial time and probably deliver a better product. Overall revenue will go down but margins should improve for the league and fans would be happier because there would be more interactivity and less commercials which means more action on the field.

twitterliveThe NFL could help make up the difference by selling rights for a lower cost to Facebook and Twitter. Add in selling through apps like Dish’s Sling TV, Apple, Roku, Sony Playstation, XBOX, etc and the league would make up the difference in the giant contracts and probably improve their margins.

Leagues and conferences are going to have to be like the rest of us, hustlers. Yes you can hope for the big payday but odds are that you will have to work two jobs or more to get where you want to be. The fact is that there is a real possibility that the old economic model will be turned on it’s head and leagues, conference and big level broadcasters are going to have to figure out how the new one works for them. In the end this should be good news for the sports fan and in particularly the cord cutting sports fans as they have more options, lower cost and at the end of the day, a better product to watch.

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Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Amazon Enters The Game

 By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.23.2016

When Amazon.com enters a market, it usually wins. As it’s founder, chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos once said, ‘your margins are my opportunity’. Well now it’s become clear that they are going to enter the OTT live streaming sports realm one way or another. It’s been reported off and on for a couple of months now and it appears that Amazon is very, very serious about getting into this space and it could be a benefit to the cord cutting community if they do.

AmazonAccording to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com made a play to be the sole provider of NBA League Pass. The NBA eventually passed on the idea and so did the NFL when it gave it’s live streaming rights for Thursday Night Football to Twitter. Now Amazon.com appears to be going after less ‘mainstream’ North American sports. Things like the Cricket Premier League and rugby.

This is good news for sport cord cutters. Amazon.com has a history of eating costs for the long term benefit of having you buy more stuff because you are a Prime member. That means that odds are if Amazon.com is able to bag an MLS or NBA or NHL package, it would probably be included your Amazon Prime subscription.

Think about that for a minute. If you live in Chicago and you are an LA Lakers fan, you could see the out of market games via your Amazon and not pay anymore because you have a Prime account.

This, I believe, is far off. I think a closer more appropriate strategy for all parties involved is for Amazon.com to go after the college conferences. For example,  ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12 and Mountain West. These conferences pretty much own their rights, especially the Pac 12, to cut deals beneficial to them and not college football as a whole. Most have signed new deals with the major broadcasters in the past few years but that doesn’t mean that there are not ways for them to join forces with Amazon.com barring the price is right.

Another possibility is that Amazon becomes a MLBAM (BAM) competitor. While I don’t believe this is the case it’s certainly a possibility. Amazon has the backend that everyone uses, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and probably the best, cleanest user experience on the web in Amazon.com. Question really becomes, do they want to go this route because if they do, BAM and NeuLion should be worried.

The fact is that if Amazon.com sets it’s sights on a vertical, it usually enters it and it finds a way to win or be a major player in the space. They appear to want to enter the OTT live streaming market and in a big way. They have the capacity and capital to make it work. It now seems like only a question of time.

 

The NFL’s Bad Media Calls

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.25.2016

rodgersIt seemed like the NFL was getting it when they signed on with Twitter to live stream the first 10 Thursday Night football games. Then they limited the amount of original content with NFL footage that the 32 teams could post on social media outlets such as Twitter. Lately, the media has been abuzz with the ratings decline through the first seven weeks. It appears that the NFL is calling the wrong plays when it comes to media.

Drew Harwell of the Washington Post penned an article a week or so ago trying to explain the possible reasons for the TV ratings decline. There are many variables that are effecting the ratings including the Presidential Election, cord cutting, and an aging demographic.

Harwell made a couple of interesting points in his article. First, during the 2000 and 2008 Presidential Elections, the league saw a ratings decline. Second is that overall TV viewership among those 24 years old and younger is down some 40%.

Another intriguing variable is the cord cutting. While apps like Sling TV and Watch ESPN increase in usage it is not enough to offset the viewership decline on traditional TV. What this means is that, yes people are watching in “non-traditional” ways (via mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc) but these numbers are big enough to say ‘hey, people are just watching this way vs the traditional way.’

One way to embrace those younger fans is to reach them where they are. On mobile devices and on social media. Kind of thought that the NFL was doing this when they signed the deal with Twitter to steam the Thursday Night games. Then they limit game highlights on team social media accounts. The teams have come up with some creative solutions that help feed their fans desire for info but also troll the NFL league office at the same time.

The NFL should be the leaders as far as video distribution on social networks. This should be one of the most important things that the NFL does outside of the game itself. Do bad ratings lead you to not watch a game on a Sunday? Probably not. Does bad social media discourage you from following your favorite team? Probably. If you can’t see the awesome one handed catch by Julio Jones that everyone is talking on Facebook then where do you expect someone 25 years old to see it?

Overall, the NFL isn’t going anywhere but they can certainly stop shooting themselves in the foot. They can do this by getting their content to fans where fans are which is everywhere. Will ratings take a hit? Sure but you’ll make up that revenue and exposure on other platforms and on some platforms that haven’t even been created yet.

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.

Twitter Does The NFL & It Didn’t Suck

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.16.2016

twiterThe biggest name in North American sports, the National Football League, has officially embraced over the top streaming and the experience didn’t suck. Thursday nights game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets was the first NFL game ever streamed over Twitter. While there is some room for improvement, Twitter pulled it off.

The NFL has dipped it’s toe into the live streaming world for a couple of years now. Their streaming only game from London last year between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars was a success but the numbers were not the most accurate thanks to Yahoo autoplaying the game on the homepage. While experts like BAM’s Bob Bowman say that it’s a dicey proposition to go all in and make OTT the only place to see a Thursday Night game, Twitter doesn’t have to worry about that. CBS or the NFL will be broadcasting the games so Twitter only needs to worry about the cord cutter and mobile folks. As Sports Business Journal’s Eric Fisher pointed out, that is a solid number of people but nothing that should put too much stress on Twitter’s system.

Twitter was ready for this amount of users because they did a dry run the opening weekend of college football. The Weber State vs Utah State football game was a low profile way to test their infrastructure. It worked beautifully and they were able to replicated that with a significant increase in users. That should make CEO Jack Dorsey sleep well at night.

twiter2Thursdays game was a solid, stable, and had good quality stream. Finding the game was another issue.

If you were on a phone, there was no clear advertising to find the game. The best way was to search #TNF, #NYJvsBUF, @NFL, one of the teams or go to Moments. On a laptop, you were able to see a LIVE graphic in the trending section. That helped but you’d have to figure that the users were split between computers/OTT devices and mobile devices. For any new users, it would have been hard to find.

Twitter was the dark horse to win the streaming rights for Thursday Night Football. There was a lot of curiosity to see if they could pull it off and they did with flying colors. While things went well, they have to work on alerting people. It’s a challenge all OTT providers face but one that has to be solved soon.

Further Reading:

ReCode

Twitter Jumps Into Live Streaming Sports Fray

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Twitter, very smartly, did a dry run Thursday night of it’s live streaming platform. They streamed the Weber State at Utah State football game. It was a small, off the radar kind of game that gave twitter a chance to do a live test of their platform before the real test comes next week when they do the first of their 10 NFL games. From a user perspective, the test was a success but hard to find.

CampusTwitterWeber State at Utah State started at 6pm MST. It was streamed on CampusInsiders.com and on the Mountain West Conference website as well as twitter. The twitter feeds of both CampusInsiders and the Mountain West Conference promoted the event continuously during the stream in case you were not aware. Overall the stream was clear and stable over an LTE network in a crowded location.

There were some drawbacks of course. The first being that if you didn’t know the game was on it was hard to find, at least on the app on a phone. If you jumped out of the app and went to say Facebook and then wanted to come back to the game, it was even harder to find. Pretty sure twitter has a bigger marketing plan and in app advertising for the NFL games once they start.

Photo Sep 01, 6 19 57 PMThe other drawback was the latency. While watching another game live on ESPN, you would see the score of the Utah State game on the lower third crawl and then not see the scoring play on the twitter live stream for a good three to five minutes. There isn’t much twitter can do about that. There are too many variables involved from the transcode speed to the speed of the network you are on so while it sucks for the user, it isn’t a hurdle easily overcome.

Overall twitter had a successful test run. Being able to find the game, especially for new twitter users, is going to improve. The tougher challenge will be the backend work of compression, stability and decreasing the delay. That’s easier than it looks due to the variables out of twitter’s control but it is something that will get better over time and with better technology.

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.

Will The Games Go On?

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

It’s turning into a busy week on several sports fronts. The latest is how the government budget impasse and subsequent shutdown has left the very realistic possibility of college football games being cancelled or at a minimum rescheduled.

Air Force is scheduled to play Navy in Annapolis, MD this Saturday on National TV. This may very well not happen due to the current government shutdown. Army’s game at Boston College is also on the ropes for the same reason. Although it may seem like a financial issue it apparently isn’t because if it was the Air Force Academy football team would be on a flight courtesy of United and BC would pick up Army’s travel tab.

All intercollegiate athletics have been shut down by the Department of Defense. The question of what funds are available and what funds are not is also brought into question. While Navy funds their athletics through ticket sales and TV rights Air Force and Army do not. This appears to be the sticking point….and that of public perception.

But public perception shouldn’t mean much here. Congress is still collecting a paycheck and the Academy’s played games during the last government shutdown in 1995.

And let’s face facts. While all college football fans, especially those who bought tickets to the sold out Air Force at Navy game, would love to see these games being played, if it was Army vs Alabama or Navy vs Texas or some other big school, the government would have passed a budget a month ago. The fans of a school the size of Bama or Notre Dame or Texas would not have let government, especially the federal government, stand in the way of a football game in the fall.

A decision on these games will be made by noon Thursday despite what Twitter says. Let’s hope that these teams get to play these games and that Congress can finally get its act together. A betting man would probably lay heavy on the games being played and Congress doing what Congress does best….nothing.