Broadcast Sports and the Internet Combine To Fuel Your Addiction

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TV, Sports and the Internet. The addiction grows…

I love sports. To my wife’s disbelief and daily annoyance, I am one of those people who can’t just watch one episode of Sportscenter and who, when there is nothing on, will watch STIHL Timbersports or bass fishing at ridiculous hours of the night. I trace the root of this addiction to my PA days at ESPN. To make my addiction worse, over the past few years, TV rights holders and broadcasters have been complementing their coverage with incredibly robust Internet applications largely inspired from the video game world. If you happen to have a computer near your TV (a laptop being optimal) you are in for a treat! NASCAR and MLB are a few outstanding examples.

I am not a fan of NASCAR but I watch it periodically because I believe it is (along with Formula 1) the best broadcast sport in the industry. As boring as it can be to watch cars drive around a circle, the broadcast itself  (camera angles, use of graphics, sound, etc.) showcases some amazing television work.

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Track Pass

Users who subscribe to the online “TrackPass” service are presented with a plethora of tools to enhance their viewing experience. They can listen to the pit radio of the driver of their choice, watch the race in 3-D graphics, and see a visual representation of any driver’s dashboard. The “TrackPass” service uses the same audio/visual feed used by the TV Broadcast so the quality is extremely high. Even cooler, each car is equipped with a DAPS (Data Acquisition and Positioning System) – a GPS system developed by Sportvision that also gathers the cars’ telemetry.  The data is collected by antennas placed around the track and relayed back to the production unit, where it is then parsed and rendered in the application. Quite a feat!

Outside of motorsports, MLB.com recently released “GameDay Premium,” the perfect compliment for the avid baseball fan. I consider baseball the ultimate sport for Internet applications because it is essentially a game of statistics. “GameDay Premium” provides users with every statistic under the sun. Pitcher strike zone, pitcher tendencies, enhanced pitch identification, pitch effects (the rotation of the ball), in-game video highlights, etc… It is absolutely mesmerizing and completely addicting.

It is reported that on the day of its release, MLB.com saw a 20% traffic increase of visitors to the site.  To put that number in perspective, it is equivalent to an increase of 20 million households in TV ratings (1% = 1 million households).

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MLB's GameDay Premium

One of the fears of TV Broadcasters is that by providing such services online there will be a cannibalization of on-air broadcast audiences. However, statistics have shown that the complete opposite is true. NASCAR reports that users who use “TrackPass” watch the TV broadcast for three times longer than those who do not. I am the perfect example and can relate to that. I keep on watching, as I want to be able to relate the statistics I am given with what is happening live and, moreover, the additional data helps me fully immerse into the experience.  I feel closer to the event and the athletes. Such applications represent a fantastic branding tool and a great source of additional revenue.

Having used these applications, I would like to extrapolate and see such innovative tools applied to my favorite sport: Soccer.

ESPN uses a technology called “ESPN Axis” to analyze soccer plays and provide viewers with the ability to see replays in multiple angles thanks to synthetic imaging. With the addition of player and ball tracking (which I know is in the works) this could mean that I will be able to have individual player statistics at the click of a button and create my own replays. Imagine if I could record my favorite plays and keep an archive of my favorite soccer moments?

For me, the main question is whether or not such a feature will be available at the next FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2010 and, of course, who will build it? The best advantage of such features is that the broadcast rights’ holders will have the option of bundling TV and Internet packages or sell them separately. This would in turn increase the revenue they can derive from the already stratospherically priced broadcast rights.

These applications are a showcase of how TV broadcasting technology combined with video game technology can be seamlessly integrated on the Internet. Agencies should be chomping at the bit to team up with the rights holders to develop them.