Take me out to the new media ballpark

Wednesday morning I had the pleasure of attending, along with Tom Biro, a panel entitled “Baseball 2007: How media and technology will bring fans closer to the sport.” The panel was hosted by the New York Media Information Exchange Group. After NY:MIEG founder started things off, he introduced ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen, who then introduced the panel.

On that panel, moderated by Terry Lefton, were SI Digital Media President Jeff Price, YES Network Director of Business Development Michael Spirito, ANC Sports EVP of Technology Chis Mascatello, MLBAM SVP Joe Inzerillo and Chyron CTO Bill Hendler.

The panel touched on a variety of topics and Lefton continued to return time and again to the question of, with all the ideas floated and currently in various stages of development and execution, “What’s the business model.” For some, like YES Network’s HD broadcasting initiative, there really wasn’t one. Instead Spirito said that presenting games in HD was something they were trying to find sponsorships for. Failing that, though, they were willing to eat the cost in order to build a viewer base by presenting the game in the best possible way.

Mascatello, speaking of the MLB’s various online initiatives, said that subscriptions to the site’s premium content were up with the shift of a number of games over to satellite on TV. He also said that ANC was intimately involved in the renovation of, and I quote, “mid-90′s vintage stadiums.”

I know.


Anyway, one comment of Mascatello’s I thought was interesting was that they were working to make the fan experience at the game as much like that of TV as possible. To me that seemed a bit backwards, since TV is supposed to replicate real life. But now, with so much interactivity available at home, the league is working on ways to provide the same sort of depth of content – some of which I think could just distract from the game – at the ballpark itself.

Speaking of interactivity, Spirito mentioned YES was working on features that would allow viewers to drill down into multiple camera angles, fantasy player stats and more on their TV sets. And Inzerillo said this season MLB.com will host a newly-out-of-beta version of the site’s “Mosaic” product that allows people to create a widget with scores, live game feed and other content, including fantasy stats, of their choosing. Bit rates and more have also been upgraded on the site to provide a more TV-like experience.

Mobile was a big discussion point. While everyone seemed to grasp the importance of the “third screen” everyone had their own ideas of how it should work. Video is doable but not ideal. Text messaging is great but not interactive enough, even if current efforts do have substantially large subscriber numbers. And while other problems are evident in purposing their own licensed content on mobile platforms, everyone agreed it’s a power consumer-generated-content production vehicle. With photos and videos able to be shot and uploaded almost instantly to the web, everyone was looking at ways to harness that power.

A brief aside about CGC: Tom noted it was 35 minutes into the panel discussion before anyone mentioned it. Just that that was worth noting.

Very little was made of the power of just blogging or podcasting, which was a little shocking. Perhaps this is because these two formats aren’t as easily controlled through copyright? I’m not sure, though I told Tom he absolutely had to ask about policies regarding giving bloggers media access. He didn’t have a chance, which was a tad disappointing.

Price, though, did tip his hat to the more newsy nature of the web at one point. Whereas Sports Illustrated had traditionally never been a vehicle for breaking news, the demands of the instantaneous web necessitated their hiring a writer away from the New York Post to break news and write daily weekday columns for the site. That was a break with the publications history of weekly feature reporting but, in order to maintain relevance, it was one they had to make.

There were a few points I disagreed with, though, based either on recent reading or personal experience. For one, the panel seemed to agree that consumers were willing to pay for access to the same content on a variety of platforms individually. I actually think, as moves like Wal-Mart’s video downloading service show, that the trend shows consumers wanting to buy the rights to media that they can then view where and when they want. Most media right now, though, alternates between ad-free and paid and free and ad-supported. Content owners will need to figure out how to provide an all-access pass at some point.

One way these producers of professional content thought they could stand out from the crowd is in the quality of their productions. It’s the translating of that high-quality to multiple platforms, though, that remains tricky, as well as the monetization of that content.

In the end it all comes down to one comment made by Inzerillo, who said consumers will “vote with their eyeballs.” That’s true of the entire media landscape.

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