The NY Times is currently running a huge, 3-part, page 1 expose on ESPN's transformative role in college football. It's a must-read for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes, in-depth account of how the sports network's massive financial strength has completely changed college football, from game day and time scheduling to conference re-alignments to how star players are created. Even more broadly, the article speaks to the pervasive role college football now plays in American higher education.
A key focus of the first two parts, here and here, is the willingness of particular schools (e.g. Texas Christian, Boise State, Louisville) to play weekday night games in order to provide ESPN live football throughout the week. Various representatives of the schools are quoted recognizing the coverage they received from ESPN as being critical to raising their schools' visibility and profiles. For ESPN, importantly, these mid-week games and assorted promotional activities showcased for still other schools how valuable being a flexible partner for ESPN can be.
The Internet has been buzzing this week with the idea that Google may bid for the NFL's Sunday Ticket package, which is with DirecTV through the 2014 season. The root of the buzz is a story in AllThingsD that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with Google's CEO Larry Page and YouTube's head of content Robert Kyncl and that one of the things they discussed was Sunday Ticket.
Did they seriously discuss Sunday Ticket or was it the last item on a list of things they were spitballing? Who knows. But let's assume for a moment that Google actually WAS interested in Sunday Ticket. Could it happen and does it make sense?
There's certainly no financial impediment for Google. DirecTV pays about $1 billion/year currently. Even if Sunday Ticket's value increased by 50% (which is less than the 60-70% increases the broadcasters and ESPN paid to renew their NFL deals in the past 2 years), it would still be small change for Google. Rather than the money, I see at least 5 big challenges Google (and the NFL) would have to surmount:
A fortuitous confluence of events could give Aereo a nice bump in visibility and adoption in New York City this week. First, CBS went dark for hundreds of thousands of NYC subscribers last Friday afternoon, as the broadcaster and Time Warner Cable were unable to agree on retransmission consent compensation. Then over the weekend, Tiger Woods - by far golf's biggest TV draw - smoked the field to win the WGC-Bridgestone golf tournament, which was televised by CBS (though not seen by New Yorkers). The win makes Tiger the odds-on favorite to win the fourth and final major golf event of the year - the PGA Championship, being played in upstate New York starting Thursday.
CBS has the weekend afternoon TV rights to the PGA, following TNT's Thursday/Friday and weekend morning coverage. Tiger is gunning for his first major win in 5+ years, since his infamous infidelity scandal knocked him off his game. If Tiger is leading or among the leaders going into the weekend, it would set up intense interest and very strong CBS viewership. But with CBS blacked out - and the network blocking TWC New York subscribers' access to online programming - New Yorkers wouldn't get to see Tiger in action.
I had a classic TV Everywhere moment tonight I thought I'd quickly share. I got back to my hotel room in NYC after dinner, flipped on the TV to watch the Celtics try to break the Heat's winning streak and discovered ESPN and many other channels weren't working.
But instead of calling the front desk, waiting for a technician, keeping my fingers crossed, etc. (guessing my fellow travelers know this experience too well), I fired up WatchESPN, entered my Comcast credentials and was watching online within minutes. For the most part, video quality was very strong. The key was being able to watch via the hotel's WiFi network because the stream would have drained my 2GB Verizon data cap.
Last week Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn crashed horrifically in the Super G at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, tearing two ligaments and ending her season. Terrifying though it was, it's exactly the kind of video clip (see below) that the skiing world and Vonn's fans want to be able to see immediately.
In this particular situation, Universal Sports, which had the championship's broadcast rights, was able to deliver, posting the clip, which includes audio of Vonn's agonizing cries, within minutes of the incident. As Universal Sports' VP/GM, Digital Media, Elliott Gordon and Director, Streaming Operations, Gus Elliott, explained to me, fast time-to-market drives numerous benefits for the sports network and is enabled by a relatively new relationship with SnappyTV.
Last week, when Time Warner Cable and the L.A. Dodgers sealed a deal creating a new regional sports network to carry the team's games, the Dodgers' CEO Stan Kasten released a statement that read in part, "Our fans deserve the best - the best players, the best baseball and the best experience - whether that's at the newly renovated Dodger Stadium or on television."
That's a wonderful aspiration, but there's one significant problem with it: the reality is that non-fans (or at least those that don't tune in regularly to watch the team play) will be paying the lion's share for all of these "bests." Given the reported terms of the new Time Warner Cable - Dodgers deal, by my calculations, the non-fans' tab could amount to a staggering $6 billion over the life of the deal, making it the single biggest non-fan "tax" the pay-TV world has yet tried to assess on beleaguered non-sports fans.
Another great example of how video syndication is continuing to deliver results: in November's comScore rankings of U.S. sports properties, Perform Sports edged out perennial leader ESPN in number of total monthly unique viewers. As the chart below shows, Perform had 24.532 million viewers and ESPN had 24.092 million. Yahoo Sports is a distant third with 9.988 million, followed by another syndicator, CineSport, with 8.367 million and NFL with 5.936 million.
If you think your monthly pay-TV bill is already pretty expensive, then brace yourself for rate increases that will definitely be happening over the next several years, particularly in certain geographic areas of the U.S. Why? Because the cost of programming continues to spiral, led by sports. In fact, over the past 24 months, at least $80 billion has been committed by broadcast and cable TV networks to televise sports in the U.S. (note this includes $6 billion, the minimum either News Corp. or Time Warner Cable will likely pay for TV rights to the L.A. Dodgers' games).
The chart below itemizes all of the deals that I'm aware of; no doubt there are others as well that aren't included. Also not included are the expected increased costs of renewals for some of sports' highest-profile events like the Super Bowl and NCAA March Madness in coming years.
Talk to any pay-TV operator executive these days and you'll get an earful on the relentless rise in their programming costs - what they pay to deliver both cable and broadcast TV networks into their subscribers' homes. Programming costs drive up subscribers' rates, in turn exacerbating pay-TV's affordability crisis, which in turn exposes the industry to cord-cutting, cord-shaving and over-the-top alternatives.
As I've written numerous times, scratch the surface of the programming cost issue and the focus quickly turns to sports networks and more specifically Regional Sports Networks ("RSNs") which have the geographic rights to air their local professional teams' games. One pay-TV executive who's attempting to take a hard line on RSNs' escalating costs is Michael White, CEO of DirecTV, who, on the company's earnings call on Tuesday, once again said that "regional sports networks' structure in the industry is broken" and that "we are taxing most of our customers who wouldn't be willing to pay for that content."
These days you can pick any sport and you're guaranteed to find examples of how online video is improving the fan experience. Beyond improved access, through live streaming to multiple devices, and post-event catch-up through highlight clips, another dimension of online video's value is now also emerging - fan engagement and interaction. A perfect example of this is the US Open tennis tournament's first-time use of Google Hangouts during its men's and women's finals matches.
Recently, I caught up with the two US Tennis Association executives responsible for the hangouts, Phil Green, senior director, advanced media and Peter Dopkin, director, strategic and business development, advanced media, to learn more. Listening to the strategy behind the hangouts, and how they were executed, what struck me is that in the digital age, forward-thinking sports executives are able to bring the fan, analyst and game together as never before.
If you were trying to tune out last week, whether lying on a beach or on a family getaway, you didn't miss all that much exciting online video-related news. However there were some items worth noting and below I've highlighted five that caught my eye.
NBC was justifiably crowing late yesterday that the London Olympics was the most-watched TV event in U.S. history with 219.4 million viewers, but a more profound long-term takeaway from this year's games is that digital distribution of most of the competitions did not seem to hurt tape-delayed on-air viewing at all.
That was not a foregone conclusion, and given the billions in broadcast rights fees it paid, NBC made a sizable bet that with most competitions live-streamed and available on-demand, audiences would still tune in during ad-rich, prime-time hours, despite already knowing (or having seen) the results. The impact of digital distribution could have gone wrong, driving lower prime-time ratings, creating disgruntled advertisers and embarrassing NBC Sports executives. The fact that it didn't buttresses the argument that for sports in particular, digital delivery is a compliment, not a substitute, for on-air.
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 142nd edition of the VideoNuze-TDG Report podcast. In this week's podcast Colin and I first discuss NBC's Olympics video streaming. Despite some high profile criticism, we agree that NBC has actually done a pretty good job and has laid a foundation for live streaming to be an expected part of all Olympics coverage in the future.
Next we review Q2 '12 results from some of the largest pay-TV operators. Video subscriber losses continue, although Q2 is historically a soft quarter. Colin notes that recent TDG research shows the pay-TV value proposition is increasingly challenged and he believes that means higher churn is ahead, with bigger opportunities for OTT options.
Speaking of those options, Aereo announced new low-cost plans and both Colin and I agree that they're a clever way to reduce entry barriers and increase viewing flexibility. It's still early, but we like Aereo's odds of success.
Last up, we note the early demise of the Nexus Q media streaming device, a product that both us called a dud a couple of weeks ago.
Listen in to learn more.
Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 43 seconds)
The Olympics is currently dominating the sports world's attention, but have a look at comScore's first half 2012 data (chart below), and what jumps out is that 2 of the top 4 properties aren't well-known branded destinations, but rather little-known video syndicators, Perform Sports and CineSport.
Perform is #2, with 14.6 million average monthly unique viewers, trailing predictable leader ESPN, which has 20.5 million. And CineSport is #4 with 11.4 million average monthly unique viewers, behind #3 Yahoo Sports, which has 12.4 million. Following them are properties you'd expect to see on any top 10 list: Turner Sports, MLB, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, NFL and CBS Sports.
There's a major breakthrough in the TV Everywhere landscape to report - Comcast is "auto-verifying" its Xfinity subscribers' access to NBC's online and mobile video streaming of the Summer Olympics. A Comcast spokesperson confirmed that this is the first time TV Everywhere content is being made available to its subscribers without them having to submit their user name and password credentials to gain access.
This is a real milestone as authentication has been widely viewed as a cumbersome process step for subscribers. That's because many people have not created user names and passwords with their pay-TV operator and/or can't remember them. In addition, authentication systems are not yet stable, often requiring repeated log-ins to the same app, and also across different apps (I've had to repeatedly log-in to every TV Everywhere app I've ever used). Exacerbating things, so much online video is freely available that the TV Everywhere login process feels intrusive for users accustomed to immediately being able to watch.
Adobe announced last evening that the BBC will be using the company's "Project Primetime" video platform to deliver live and VOD streaming coverage of the London Olympics, which start tomorrow evening. The BBC win follows news from 2 weeks ago that Adobe is also powering NBC's ambitious NBC Olympics Live Extra app, which will offer 3,500 hours of video. If all goes well from the NBC and BBC efforts, Project Primetime will gain significant credibility from the Olympics, helping position Adobe as a major player in the intensely competitive online video platform space.
For its Olympics coverage, the BBC is using "Primetime Simulcast" which allows it to live stream events across the web, mobile devices and connected TVs. Specifically, a new HTML5 app has been developed using Adobe PhoneGap, a cross-platform toolset. Video is prepared and delivered by Adobe Media Server for both HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS) and HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) adaptive bit rate streaming formats. The video player uses the Open Source Media Framework (OSMF).
Video technology provider NeuLion is powering China Network Television's (CNTV) streaming coverage of 5,600 hours of live coverage of the London Olympics, via a new premium service called CNTV 5+ VIP. The service, which is free, has exclusive streaming rights in China. CNTV 5+ VIP is yet another example of how central streaming will be to this summer's games, which start later this week.
Chris Wagner, NeuLion's EVP and co-founder, told me last week that while streaming is ubiquitous in China, what's noteworthy about CNTV 5+ VIP is that it is adaptive and will deliver an HD experience, streaming at an average of 1.6 mbps, compared to most online video in China which is 300-500 kbps. NeuLion is ingesting the linear broadcast and specific event video, encoding and distributing via its CDN as well as providing the video player technology.
This summer, England is the epicenter of sports video streaming; a couple weeks ago Wimbledon had multiple online video enhancements, then starting July 27th will be the Summer Olympics, the biggest live streamed sporting extravaganza ever. Sandwiched in between, running today through the weekend, golf takes center stage, as the storied Open Championship from Royal Lytham & St. Annes offers a variety of online video features to immerse golf fans in all the action.
For U.S. viewers, the centerpiece of online viewing will be ESPN's simulcasting of its 73 hours of TV coverage on WatchESPN, including 10 1/2 hours of live play of the first two rounds. Of course WatchESPN is an authenticated TV Everywhere service, so you have to be a pay-TV subscriber to access it (and not all pay-TV providers support it yet either). I've been tuning in this morning and the quality of the video is outstanding. ESPN also has a separate feed for cameras positioned at holes 1 and 18 so you can see all the players come through, plus other "outside the ropes" video and non-video features.
Here's a measure of just how all-important big-time sports have become in driving the entire TV ecosystem: in NBCU's latest court filing against Aereo (embedded here), it cites as one of the harmful consequences of Aereo's potential success that NBCU would be unable to fund its programming. But what single example of expensive programming does NBCU call out? Not its news or entertainment - staples of the traditional broadcast network program agenda - but rather its 9-year, $10 billion Sunday Night NFL rights deal.
Sports are considered so critical to broadcasters because they're primarily viewed live and therefore immune to DVR-based ad-skipping (see yesterday's DISH Network "Auto-Hop" news for more on why DVRs are so threatening). As a result, the networks have aggressively bid for sports rights, led of course by the pursuit of NFL and Olympics deals. But those deals have been partly funded by burgeoning retransmission consent fee payments negotiated from pay-TV operators. These payments give broadcasters another revenue stream beyond just advertising (and just like cable networks, as pay-TV operators pay more in retrans fees, rate increases are passed along to ALL their subscribers, whether sports fans or not).
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 128th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for April 6, 2012. First up this week we discuss another angle of last week's Xbox video launch - whether Comcast will reverse itself and authenticate HBO GO for its subscribers (as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote openly on Facebook asking Comcast to do). Then we discuss the downturn in March Madness online traffic and the effect of Turner's new paywall.
Last week when Xbox launched a number of new video apps including Comcast's Xfinity, HBO GO and MLB.tv, Comcast made a decision not to authenticate HBO GO for its own subscribers with Xboxes, thereby forcing them to settle for HBO content that's available within its own Xfinity app. As Colin points out, that was a continuation of Comcast's (and other pay-TV operators') policy of not authenticating the HBO GO app for its subscribers using Roku.
A vocal group of Comcast/HBO subscribers with Xbox complained, with Hastings's post getting the most attention. This week, the NY Times reported that Comcast might reverse itself and authenticate HBO GO after all. It's confusing stuff, and Colin and I do our best to explain what might be going on behind the scenes with the balance of power between cable operators and cable networks.
We then discuss news that daily March Madness traffic was down 10% year-over-year, likely attributable to Turner introducing a $3.99 app to view the games for which it had broadcast rights (CBS games were still available online for free). There was a paywall up until a few years ago, when the full tournament went free online, causing an explosion of traffic and ad revenue. Colin and I interpret the new data and its broader implications for TV Everywhere.
(For everyone celebrating holidays, enjoy your weekend!)
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (18 minutes, 48 seconds)
Click here for previous podcasts
The VideoNuze Report is available in iTunes...subscribe today!