iTV, Networks and The Inevitable World of Convergence

Screen Shot of Michigan Wolverines on Justin.TV

As I embark on the completion of year 2 out East, I remind myself every Saturday and Sunday of the things I’ll never take for granted again. In order of no particular importance:

Ironically enough, the first 3 items’ products I can use the Internet for to acquire. The last one leaves me the most frustrated because believe it or not, it’s accessible and has absolutely zero to do with gaps in technology. Don’t believe me? See the screen shot I took above from the Michigan vs. Notre Dame game that was streamed (albeit briefly) on Justin.TV.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen streaming sports on television. In 2006 CBS agreed to an online experiment which saw the broadcast network stream every single NCAA College Basketball game. They even created the “boss button” which when clicked, opened a faux excel spreadsheet. It was the talk of our office and everyone I know embraced it. But it wasn’t just a local hit, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Collegiate basketball fans sat in queues for as long as 10 minutes to get in on watching the action.

The experiment was such a success, CBS has repeated the exercise ever since. However, why should I stay content with Collegiate sports when there are a myriad of MLB, NBA and NFL games I could be staying on top of if only I had access to them via the Internet.

The NBA has flirted with streaming games online, having agreed to stream the NBA Summer league this past year over the web. Additionally, NBA games were being streamed over Amp’d Mobile phones though I’m fairly certain the NBA wasn’t aware of it as Amp’d was just taking to rebroadcasting the NBA Live channel.

As for the NFL – you can watch games via Yahoo Sports but only if you log in from overseas. Yes I’ve tried the anonymous proxy services to no avail.

With all the trouble I’ve gone through to try and catch a Lions or Pistons game, you’d think I was in the minority. Alas, that isn’t so as I assure you based one what I’ve factually read, I’m in the silent majority. Need proof?

Nearly 80 percent of U.S. internet users will watch online video at least once a month in 2008 – that is, 52.5 percent of all Americans, or 154 million people – a great indicator that online video has reached mainstream audiences, according to projections from eMarketer. For all intents and purposes, online video consumption has reached critical mass.

Furthermore, Internet users are multitasking more than ever by incorporating various media into an interconnected media experience – and watching television while online (58.3 percent of respondents) is the most common offline activity connected with Internet consumption, reports MarketingCharts, citing a recent online survey by Burst Media. This study will lead to an additional post, probably for AdAge on hyper-consumption and the fragmented media trail left behind. For now though I’ll stick with getting my original points across.

I quickly reach my boiling point over this topic. My wife can watch Heroes, Lost, or Discovery channel programming. I can watch day after SNL Tina Fey/Palin parodies to my heart’s content on Hulu, yet when it comes to tuning in to watch the Detroit Pistons open their season up against the Pacers, I’m at a loss for words!

Here’s the ultimate hypocrisy: If I choose to listen to games, I can do so with few barriers to access. Internet radio is free, it’s available and I’ve been able to listen for hours on end to the local programs I grew up with. So what gives?

It’s the contracts. The NBA, NFL and MLB sell their rights to broadcast their sports for top dollar and in today’s world of TV-centric mentalities, we are forced to spit in the face of progression and remain locked into a single platform to view. The leading argument heard from TV Broadcast networks? That the greatest ROI they receive for purchasing broadcasting rights remain tethered to that glowing 42″ product proudly displayed in your living room.

But a recent study by Google to prove to CPG companies that online video ads are effective disproves this, finding ad parity between online video and Television advertising. The study found that the commercials viewed performed equally in all the major attributes on each of those platforms, but that embedded video ads might actually perform slightly better in terms of their ability to influence “purchase intent.”

And the biggest joke of all? I’d be willing to pay a nominal monthly fee to watch local streams! Even with the commercials! Just give me George Blaha and Rick Mahorn broadcasting from the Palace of Auburn Hills and I’ll suffer through the Quicken Loans commercials quietly without complaint.

As a focus group of 1 am using this manifesto/rant as a platform to raise at least my own voice as a call to consumer arms. For years we’ve seen the Intel’s, Apple’s, Microsoft’s, Yahoo’s, etc. attempt to deliver the Web to TV. Well I for one would much prefer if the opposite transpired and we saw them work in conjunction with their broadcast counterparts bring the TV to the Web. Untethered, agnostic platforms that can receive signals, a true iTV experience, would make me as happy as you could get and would additionally spare me the costs of putting a television with a slingbox in the basement of my brother’s house in Detroit.

In the meantime, I’ll hop on Justin.TV when available, participating in their online chats while rooting my local teams. This of course will be usurped by jokingly slow bandwidth which will prompt me to eventually jump to another stream, ultimately leaving me with no better alternative than listening to the game via Internet radio while pestering friends on IM for updates.

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