Or: why the internet can be sweet for watching sports.
Also: how easy it is to screw it up.
I’ve recently become rather addicted to web video, but not in the viral/YouTube sense. In fact, I hardly ever look at youtube without a recommendation from a friend. But with Hulu, Netflix, and iTunes offering such high-quality TV/Movie content, it’s becoming less and less necessary for me to turn on the TV. And I’ll say this about the ESPN.com redesign: it’s using video the way I want a web publication to use video. It loads fast, the videos are clear, and the ads aren’t that obtrusive.
Sadly, there’s a lot of FAIL running around in the web video world, especially on the paid end of things. But there are enough good examples out there that I think even a few months from now, things will be better.
First off, the All-Star game is being broadcast online at TNT.com alongside the Facebook news feed. This is a good thing, if lacking in actual utility. I like seeing the services connect, and there are some interesting implications, but not enough of my friends are watching the game to make it relevant and/or interesting. Most of the updates from “Everyone” involve something like “Jim is LEBRON JAMES” or “Mary is All-Star Game 2009 go EAST!”. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to watching my Twitter stream go by alongside the game.
Yet more concerning is how the experience has been put together. And I’m not talking about the design or the interface, but the overall experience. The quality is fairly atrocious, despite NBA/TNT’s collectively deep pockets and the fact that I’ve seen MUCH better in my NBA Broadband League Pass, which legitimately approaches HD. The problem is that with the four video feeds coming in, I’ve got to try to watch all four, or pick one that I like best. The best option, if you actually like basketball, is the “Arena Cam” (lower left). However, with this camera, you lose the commentary (which can be a good thing, especially since Doug Collins is on the mic), and it appears as though either (a) someone with horrible ADD or (b) an infant with a happy trigger finger is controlling which actual camera is operating. It doesn’t even approach the quality of a regular TV broadcast in this regard.
But the really frustrating thing, from a marketing perspective, is that the paid NBA League Pass Broadband subscription is blacked out for the entire All-Star weekend. I dropped $50 bucks on a half-season subscription to the HD service, expecting (mostly) just to watch Lakers’ games, but I feel like I ought to be able to watch the All-Star game here if I feel like it. Fine, black out Bulls’ games (I’m in Chicago), but not the All-Star game.
Needless to say, it’s infuriating to buy something and not be able to use it. (By the way, why do we say, “Needless to say”? Inevitably we end up saying something.)
Encouragingly, some people are doing things right. For instance, the video interface for the Amgen Tour of California (yes, cycling FTW! large version here) gets the sports-video-internet connection right.
The cool thing about watching sports online should NOT be the quality, or the closeness to the experience of watching it on TV. It should be about the access to information that wouldn’t otherwise be available to the average viewer. Think about the information that’s available to the commentators, and that’s what I want to see surrounding the screen.
And as my good internet buddy Nguyen Duong mentioned today on Twitter, it’d be sweet to see the telemetry on each one of the riders on demand, so we can play armchair quarterback (or is it armchair domestique), urge on our favorite riders, and see how the competitors are faring.
In any case, ToC, you got it right. NBA, I love you, but you got it wrong.