Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 10:14 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
The college football season hasn't yet officially begun, but the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has already fumbled the ball a couple of times with its confusing new media policy which bans fan-generated videos at games.
The confusion began when the SEC told its member universities that "Ticketed fans can't produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the Event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the Event." As Mashable and others noted, the policy effectively - and bizarrely - barred all social media activity at games. The policy was widely translated to mean that Facebook updates, Tweets, photo uploads and of course YouTube clips would be verboten.
But, faced with a sharp backlash, the SEC softened its stance, allowing "personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event." Further, it allowed photos to be taken, as long as their "distributed solely for personal use..." But while Twitter, Facebook and the like would be allowed under the new policy, fan-recorded game action videos would still be prohibited.
In an interview with The Buzz Manager Blog, Charles Bloom, the SEC's Associate Commissioner of Media Relations explained, "the intent of the policy....is trying to protect our video rights, as they pertain to our television and media partners. So, someone in the stadium can enter Twitter feeds or Facebook entries and photographs, but the game footage video is something that we will try to protect." He added further "We're in the new year, the first year of our television and digital rights agreement, so there was a feeling that we needed to push this through pretty quickly..."
The SEC indeed has two big money contracts - a $2 billion, 15 year deal with ESPN, and an $800M+, 15 year deal with CBS, which includes an assortment of wireless, VOD, and data rights. The SEC also recently announced a partnership with XOS Digital to launch the SEC Digital Network, intended to be the "largest online library of exclusive and comprehensive SEC sports content available anytime, anywhere." With so much on the line, the SEC pursued the hardline path - pre-emptively prohibiting fan-generated video.
Is this a smart policy? Does fan-generated video really "compete" with professionally-captured video? And is the policy even enforceable? I'd argue the answers are no, no and no, making the SEC look both paranoid and out of touch.
First off, fan video serves to enhance the overall event experience, a key goal of the sports-crazy SEC. One can imagine fans at various locations in the stadium capturing compelling new angles that the TV producers may have missed or edited out. A curated collection of these clips could be added to the SEC Digital Network, possibly in a well-marked, "Fan Zone." Note this would be free content the SEC would be getting, that could also be monetized.
Second, it's ridiculous to think fan-generated video "competes" with the networks' feed. The limited zoom and audio capabilities of an iPhone or Flip video camera mean the fan videos captured in a raucous 90,000+ seat stadium are going to be iffy at best. That's not to say these videos won't have value, but please - nobody is going to turn off their HDTV to watch some fan's live stream. At some point technology may evolve so that a fan's inexpensive video camera can produce comparable video to a professional's; but that point is still a ways off.
Third, the video policy is impossible to enforce. Is security at the stadiums going to frisk students before entering and then confiscate phones with video capabilites, while letting others pass through? All while it tries to hustle tens of thousands of rambunctious fans through the gates? Bedlam would result.
While the SEC rightfully wants to protect the value of its TV contracts, its lack of understanding for how its policy plays out in the real world is plainly obvious. If the SEC - and others - looked at social media and user-generated video as an opportunity rather than a threat then the policies they created would make a lot more sense.
What do you think? Post a comment now.