Week in Geek: MMOD is only the tip of the Madness!

By Jonathan Blum and Seth Elkin

As we mentioned last week, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has become the leading showcase for the convergence of sports and new media, a fact that was reinforced to us yesterday as the tournament got under way.
CBS SportsLine, the NCAA and their vendors deserve all the credit in the world for dramatically improving the quality of the online March Madness on Demand package, which delivers live broadcasts of every game in the first three rounds of the tournament. There have been some complaints, but they’re nonsense.
SportsLine said it had 800,000 people registered for MMOD, and the player was accessed 1.5 million times by 4 p.m. on Thursday. We signed in and out a couple of times and didn’t have to wait more than about 30 seconds to be connected. We found the image quality and audio sync-to-picture not quite broadcast TV quality, but not awful either, which is a major step over last year.
We would be very interested to know the click-through rates on the ads that played during the Web cast. The video and banners played very well together. The “Borat” campaign, and the Nike “Second Coming” were particularly effective.
We thought the live game stats were well integrated into the package, and we’d be interested to know how those fared from a traffic perspective.
If this model succeeds, we could be looking at the template for how all major sporting events are covered. At this rate, it really won’t matter what the broadcast version of the Super Bowl costs to advertisers. It will be the interactive version on the Web that will be the big sell.

Meanwhile, EA Sports this week released a download via Xbox Live that lets gamers re-enact the actual tournament bracket on March Madness 07, which we played with as we watched the TV broadcast on a second set. And EA’s competitor, 2K Sports, is doing a very cool virtual tournament, complete with viewable highlights.
These alternate-reality tournaments bring to mind the potential for user-created sports leagues. Simulations based on real-life teams and players are the choice for most sports fans. But we think there’s a space for a fully fledged user-created sports world. Already there is Ultimate Baseball Online, though it’s not all that well executed. We’d be interested to see what would happen if an interactive sports player like EA or 2K lent its expertise to such a game.
Though live in-game immersion is still years away, we think it won’t be too long before the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 will allow gamers to re-play real-life tournament situations virtually in real time. Imagine having your Xbox instantly download the score and situation of the last two minutes of Thursday night’s Virginia Commonwealth-Duke game so you can play it yourself and see if you can keep Duke from the embarrassment of a first-round loss.

While we’re talking video games, let us get on the record as saying that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 for the Nintendo Wii is going to be huge. The game hit stores this week, and we think this is the Wii’s first killer sports app. The motion-sensitive controls, which will force players to stand up to play, will deliver a level of immersion that other sports games can’t replicate.


Multichannel News ran a solid piece on the rise of sports content on the Web. Just this week, the NHL announced it’s making its out-of-market package available online. And, of course, baseball’s MLB.TV package is getting some attention now that its TV counterpart, Extra Innings, has essentially made a move exclusively to DirecTV. MLB.TV is offering an increased frame rate, which makes the video look better than it has in the past. We’re wondering how long it will be before Web video looks just as good as the highly compressed upper ranges of satellite and digital cable lineups.

Now that the TV industry has just made the transition from tape to tapeless production, it’s time to make another change. Get ready to get rid of the spinning disk hard drive. Flash media and solid state media will start replacing the spinning disks. Meanwhile, we think changes might be on the horizon for cameras, too. With storage capacity and performance of still cameras rapidly increasing, we could be headed for a future where there’s no line between still cameras and video cameras. Will a camera just be a camera?

Other tech notes … the CeBIT information technology trade fair is getting under way in Hanover , Germany … TV over USB 2.0. Expect it to go wireless soon … Check out anyON, a new user-created TV software platform … Newsflash: People want better remote controllers.

And finally … predict the next American Idol.