Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Arizona Bowl tech experience and some commentary on costs

* I tuned into the Arizona Bowl for five minutes to check on some of the technical aspects of it.  For the most part I've stayed away from watching bowl games, but since this bowl was being presented differently using syndication for TV and digital platforms, I wanted to check it out and the execution of the technical side.  Here's some brief observations that I made using a Chromecast device, my Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and my Windows laptop:
  • Sinclair's American Sports Network, as the TV partner, provided the base production, graphics, etc.  Campus Insiders provided some ancillary items that were only on the Campus Insiders feed.
  • Campus Insiders, it appears, was only providing the online extras.  They were announced as the original digital partner, but it looks like their infrastructure was bypassed by 120 Sports as they had their branding on the video player at Campus Insiders.  The video feed on the ASN website did not have this branding.
  • 120 Sports uses Baseball Advanced Media's video infrastructure, which is extremely solid, but when using my Chromecast, I could not natively cast it through my laptop where Campus Insiders normal infrastructure (LiveStream) is natively castable.
  • When going to Campus Insiders website on my phone, I clicked on the game and was redirected to the 120 Sports website, which is fine, but a different experience than my laptop.  
  • When casting on the 120 Sports website, which had a video experience that allowed for native Chromecast casting, I had to start the video feed after initializing the casting of the video, otherwise the video did not start at live action, but at the pregame show.
  • For phone app usage, both 120 Sports and the go90 apps had the game.  I can't speak for the experience in the go90 app, but the 120 Sports app does have native casting and seemed to provide the best experience if you did not have a local station carrying the game, which is different than Campus Insiders, who admitted their app is not compatible with Chromecast after they had added the option last March.
To be clear, 120 Sports and Campus Insiders are both part of the Silver Chalice media company, so maybe it was simply a branding exercise with CI being focused on collegiate sports.  Personally, I found it slightly clunky to traverse through multiple websites to get to a video feed on mobile.

* Austin Karp of Sports Business Journal noted that ESPN's starting subscriber count for 2016 will be 91.4 million (my assumption is that this figure comes from Nielsen).  While ESPN and ESPN2 are typically neck and neck in terms of subscriber numbers, I would be interested to see how this affects ESPNU and ESPNEWS.  Are the people who are cutting the cord subscribers of big digital bundles?  Are they subscribing to (mostly) analog packages that often don't have ESPNU or ESPNEWS in them?  I guess what I'm getting at is whether the gap between the number of ESPN and ESPNU subscribers is constant or shrinking.

ESPN, the main channel, is where the subscriber cost is typically stuffed and costs for ESPN2, ESPNU, etc. are usually much lower, maybe as low as five percent of the cost of ESPN.  In some ways, that helps programmers spread the costs of the channel.  It can also help when a channel like FS1 or NBCSN goes to negotiate with a provider and their programming numbers are compared with ESPN2 or ESPNU instead of ESPN, where the cable company may look to negotiate a lower rate.  The website What You Pay For Sports articulates this way better than I can.

For me, it trickles down to that sports package purchase each fall.  I used to purchase it for the extra Pac-12 games and the Big 12 games that I couldn't get on FOX Sports Ohio, later because FSOhio wasn't offered full time in HD on DirecTV.  I won't deny that I probably "carried the water" for DirecTV when I subscribed to them and some of these sports networks.  I've rethought a lot of that.  Not solely because of cost but whether that cost is worth it vs. subscribing to MLB.TV or Netflix, for example.  The cost I used to willingly pay for the ability to see the Pac-12 or Big 12's No. 2 or No. 3 game each week moved to FS1 and I'm now looking at whether paying for one or two C-USA games or the ACC's fifth best game is worth it on U-Verse.

Not to mention paying HD fees on top of that.  I love the clarity of HD and sometimes I grouse over people complaining about graphics being "4:3 safe" but when providers tack on as much as a $10 fee, sometimes for providing a proper aspect ratio, it feels a bit much.  I happened to look at my U-Verse add-ons (HD Premium & Sports) and the after seeing that HD feed of MLB Network was included in HD premium and only the SD feed is standard in the U300 package, and my first thought is "can I cast it from my phone using MLB At Bat since MLBN now has an authenticated stream through the app?" (the answer is yes through casting my phone's screen, not natively through the app) because I'd really like to dump ~$17 a month from my bill for the spring and summer.

And I think many of us are getting to that point.  We're finding alternate means to do things.  We're foregoing the extras, or if you believe that ESPN is with the "basics", we're pushing back there.  In some ways, and I'll gladly admit it if its revisionist on my part, I wish we as consumers fought harder against the SEC Network like we've seem to fought against the Pac-12 Networks, now that we know what we're getting out of each channel (lump BTN in there if you want too).

But while we can push at times, but the networks shoulder some blame too, even if its our insatiable demand for product.  A interesting piece on the Longhorn Nework came out this week and it brought me back to how FOX was originally in the lead for the network through existing relationships at FOX Sports Southwest.  We can say that bidding $15 million per year is a small price (five times what FOX offered) compared to what a conference is offered, but there were other costs that ESPN had to shoulder such as production, staffing, etc.  And these were for events, that for the majority, are secondary or tertiary in nature.  We, along with advertisers, paid the freight.  But did it reset the market for every other school when it came to those events?  Does a LHN at that rate ESPN paid increase the lesser rights at every school?  Is that why we have an SEC Network?  At least with the Big Ten, we know the schools have a skin in the game through equity.  Same with the Pac-12 and the market is, in at least one case, making its choice known.

I can't say.  I really can't.  But I can say that the line items on the bill get more scrutiny each month in my home and sports is now driving that scrutiny.

1 comment:

Morgan Wick said...

I'm not sure "we" as consumers have had much of a say in the success of sports networks, certainly college sports networks; it's the cable companies that have been "fighting" or not against the rise of sports networks. The success of the SEC Network compared to the Pac-12 Networks has as much to do with ESPN's ability to condition carriage of its established networks on SECN and LHN and the Pac-12's lack of a media partner as anything else. I doubt there's been some sort of huge groundswell of people calling DirecTV and demanding they not carry Pac-12 Networks. Probably most people, sports fans or not, aren't that aware of the issue (which *SHAMELESS PLUG* my book tries to change: