Digital Sport Summit: No Such Thing as Future-Proofing When It Comes to Mobile

As sports-video rightsholders enter the new mobile frontier, several major roadblocks remain, namely deciding which mobile devices to invest their often limited resources in. At the fourth-annual Digital Sports Summit last week in New York, a panel of mobile experts debated the eminent and long-term future of sports video on the go and agreed that the only certainty at this point seems to be uncertainty.

“In this landscape, you have to place a lot of bets across a lot of different platforms and hope for the most value,” said Adam Ritter, VP of wireless, MLB Advanced Media. “If you look at our current mobile products, we’re supporting as many platforms as possible. But you have to be smart and look at the different platforms out there and their distribution [models] and decide what is best for you.

No Consistent Development Model
Digital-content owners and distributors are always looking for future-proof strategies that will allow them to invest now and avoid paying later. However, as a growing number of mobile devices proliferate the market, content owners are finding it difficult to create a consistent development model.

“Traditional [thinking] says to build a production system and continue to leverage it until you get really efficient,” said Michael Adamson, VP of new products and services, Turner Sports. “But, in the mobile space right now, efficiency is not in our vocabulary. It can’t be; it’s just not there yet. It’s too immature, it’s too fluid, it’s too fragmented.

There may be no way to future-proof the constantly changing mobile landscape, but a solid development infrastructure can serve as a base for future products and make that much easier.

“Every time we try one of these platforms, it teaches us how to better create the raw materials so that, when the next thing comes along, we’re more ready for it, said Adamson. “We can jump on those things faster and figure out which ones are going to work for us. It’s not about whether or not we invest in these platforms; it’s about how they can teach us to build better infrastructure for the future.

Free Video Just Tastes Better
Consumers want video on the go. That much is known. The bigger question is whether they are willing to pay for it.

In 2009, Turner Sports offered a low-price PGA Championship iPhone app (Turner manages the PGA’s digital portfolio) that bundled the leaderboard, stats, and live video all in one. The app became the first Turner golf app ever to garner more video traffic than leaderboard traffic. In the past, consumers had simply used their iPhone as a tool to check standings and scores, but this became an early example of mobile video overtaking “mobile snacking.”

This year, Turner decided to test the waters by making the PGA Championship iPhone app available for free with an option to pay for the live-video upgrade. Not surprisingly, leaderboard traffic skyrocketed, and live-video viewing plummeted. This creates an awkward dynamic for content owners looking to capitalize on mobile rights.

“People value video, but they won’t necessarily value it over access to free instant content,” said Adamson. “Only some sports fans consume live video [via mobile], but almost everybody checks scores and headlines on their devices. So this is a very interesting challenge for us. We know, from a value standpoint, people are willing to pay for video when it’s bundled but perhaps not when it is independent [of the rest of the content].”

FLO TV Looks To Capitalize
The escalating strain on cellular networks from data usage will play a key role in the development of mobile video. As carriers like AT&T and Verizon struggle to keep up with rising data usage, mobile-television carriers like FLO TV could be poised to reap the rewards.

“We’re encouraged by the latest data trends as data consumption is a huge wear and tear on the networks,” said FLO TV Marketing VP Randy Satterburg. “That’s why, strategically, we’ve placed a bet on being at the forefront of that data curve and having a dedicated mobile network that can evolve beyond just mobile TV. We can use the network to offload a lot of that data usage from 3G and 4G networks to really accommodate the consumer demand.”