Archive for April, 2015

Quibbles With the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby will take place in two days, but in terms of broadcast availability and on-site consumer technology, it feels like an event from previous decades. Churchill Downs has already banned drones and so-called remote controlled aircraft and selfie-sticks, though most of us are probably happy about the latter. The race organizer’s safety ban list includes plucky and niche devices such as laptops, cameras with a 6” lens or longer and camcorders.

To their credit, mobile phones and tablets are allowed on the premises. There are most definitely legitimate safety concerns at any sporting event, but here you can bring a stroller with you, only if you have a child in attendance. If you bring that same child on a wagon, you’re out of luck though. Maybe I’m wrongfully criticizing the Kentucky Derby; they are by no means the only sport to to ban drones. It didn’t take an FAA act like the Super Bowl nor a county-wide ban like The Masters, however it’s hard for me to be lenient on a sporting event that ranked in the top-10 in brand value last year at $99 million.

brandvalue

It’s tough to make excuses for the Derby when they’re not even making an attempt to embrace new technology like other race events. Despite my complaints — and animal treatment concerns — viewership for the Kentucky Derby is in a better place than both 10 and 20 years ago. Television views for the Derby have been up and down over the past few years, though they have seen a distinct uptick since NBC took over from ABC in 2001 (click to embiggen).

kentuckyderby

NBC does allow streaming of the race via their Sports Live Extra service, thought that option  demands a qualifying cable subscription. AppleTV and Roku users now have the option to view the race among other NBC Sports exclusives (again with a cable package), though Sling TV, Chromecast and FireTV cord cutters are still left with zero options.

(Header image via NBC)

How a Tech Company Can Influence the NFL Draft

When the 2015 NFL Draft kicks off tonight in Chicago, Michael Weinstein’s technology and analysis will serve as one of many measurements, scores and notes front offices will consider when selecting the future of their franchise.

Weinstein founded and owns Colorado-based Zybek Sports and five years ago began working as a backup timer in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. For the first time this year, the NFL Network utilized Zybek’s laser sensors and computer set up in its broadcast and displayed the automatic time of the 40-yard dash, along with 10-yard split times, on screen during the race to produce instant results for viewers. Weinstein’s the man in the red jacket at the first table in every YouTube clip of the 40-yard dash from this year’s combine. His times are unofficial, however, as the NFL continues to use a hand start electronic-finish method for official scores.

He also developed what he calls a Power Index, an evaluation metric used to allow cross-position and cross-sport comparisons based on athlete power output. It measures his 40-yard dash times and the official results of the the vertical jump, shuttle, three-cone drill and the broad jump. Weinstein said coaches always talk about explosive power. But there isn’t a good definition or measurement of it. So he took the same methodology as the power-to-weight ratio used to calculate sports cars and applied it to all the tests. The athlete’s weight and combine scores are calculated to determine the final score, with a max possible score on each drill of 100. So if a running back that weighs 215 pounds makes the same time on the three-cone drill as a 315-pound lineman, because of the lineman’s additional weight and ability to run the same time, he earns the higher score on the Power Index.

“This is better to look at in terms of power,” Weinstein said. “You can compare different styles and body shapes. It’s the basis for science behind performance.”

The 40-yard dash has been a staple measurement for years that can shoot or drop a draft prospect following the combine. Accurate times are essential. Meanwhile, the ability to quantify raw atheltic ability in the form of the Power Index helps paint a picture for scouts and coaches that they can use differentiate the talent under review.

Last year, the first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney scored the highest on Weinstein’s Power Index with a score of 444. From February’s combine, defensive end Frank Clark out of Michigan led all athletes with a 452 score. Tied for second with 447 were three more defensive players: Vic Beasley (Clemson), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA) and Preston Smith (Mississippi State).

For those wondering, Brett Hundley (UCLA) edged Marcus Mariota (Oregon) amongst quarterbacks, 410 to 408. Jameis Winston, the projected number one pick out of Florida State, finished ninth in the quarterback group.

clowneypowerindex

It’s worth noting that Weinstein, who has a mechanical engineering degree from Colorado State, does not include the bench press in his results.

“The test isn’t applicable,” Weinstein said. “But what do I know. I didn’t even know who John Fox was.”

And he didn’t. Three years ago, stuck in the middle seat after missing his original flight heading home, he chatted with Fox. Fox, now the head coach of the Chicago Bears, and at the time, the Denver Broncos – the beloved team in Weinstein’s home state – had to introduce himself.

“He’s the nicest guy ever,” Weinstein said.

Rather than the bench press, Weinstein prefers one push up as hard and as fast as an athlete can muster. A pad measures the force put in to the earth, the rate of force development and the rate of change of acceleration. It determines how you can accelerate your acceleration.

Zybek Sports began as an off shoot from Zybek Advanced Products four years ago when Weinstein decided to push forward in a market place he saw as wide open. There was a need for accurate but affordable equipment used to measure athletic performance. Eight years ago the Olympic Training Center approached Weinstein at his Zybek Advanced Products site to develop a better way to measure the vertical jump and 40-yard dash. NASA picked Weinstein about six years ago to make a lunar stimulant so it could test anything it might send to the moon.

Today, other than working for the NFL, Weinstein takes his equipment to college pro days, high school and youth football camps and he’s copied his model to other sports, including basketball, lacrosse, soccer and softball. In the last 35 days, while working with rivals.com, he’s ran 6,700 tests on high school football players. His goal is to standardize athletic tests, which don’t have any procedures, guidelines or protocols and often include hand-timed scores, which deceive kids with unrealistic, biased numbers. In his research, timing can vary up to .205 seconds on a 40-yard dash. A five-second 40 could mean a lot to a high school athlete telling college coaches he ran a 4.8.

Will Weinstein watch the draft?

“Probably not,” he said. “I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl.”


How to Make a Sports Podcast That Doesn’t Suck

Podcasts – like blogs, I suppose – are one of those things that get harder to make well the easier they are to produce. Yes, technology has made it MUCH easier to produce serialized audio content for the Internet, but it’s made it that way for everybody (well, everybody with a couple hundred bucks to spend). In the matter of a few years, the amount of people dipping toes into this pool has exploded. Businesses have been built around podcast hosting. There are now advertising houses that cater specifically to podcasters. There are podcasts about other podcasts. There are podcasts about making podcasts. Earlier this month, I paid $30 to watch three dudes tape a podcast live. Slowly yet surely, this medium is penetrating popular culture.

Recently, a true crime podcast called Serial breached the news cycle. I won’t make my opinions about that program known here, because it’s honestly too late to do that. We’ve all moved on to … I don’t know, something else. But a combination of podcasting’s obscurity and general lazy reporting lead many people to believe that Serial was not only telling an interesting story, but telling it on an entirely new medium. This, of course, is silly. Tell this to Jimmy Pardo or Leo LaPorte or Adam Curry or Jesse Thorn. Hell, most of the people who worked on Serial came from WBEZ’s This American Life, a public radio show that had also been a very successful podcast for years.

Podcasting has served different purposes for different content creators. Popular radio shows will often just release recordings of an episode as a podcast so that people can listen any time they want. Tech journalists got it on podcasting early to enhance their cred by talking nerdy things with other nerds over a nerdy distribution channel. Comedians have used it as an alternative means of creation and self-promotion – sort of a SoundCloud for comedy before SoundCloud existed. And then, there were the sports podcasts.

Podcasting lends itself to sports well for the same reason blogging does – new stuff always happens and everyone has opinions about it. There is never a want for content. There are certainly #HotTakes to be considered, but there is so many other things that can fall within the spectrum. Podcasts can cover a whole sport, a specific team, a specific league, or can attempt to cover all major sports if they so choose. The best thing about sports podcasting is the best thing about podcasting in general – you can kind of do whatever the hell you want.

But just because you can doesn’t mean you should, or, more specifically, doesn’t mean you should without giving it some thought. Yes, podcasts are pretty easy to make now, but anything worth doing is worth a little extra effort. To be honest, there are some pretty sucky sports podcasts out there. Here’s how to make one that doesn’t suck.

A note to begin: While I’m not a famous podcaster by any means, I do kind of know what I’m talking about. I have worked at radio stations. I have created material for national air. I have my own sports podcast that, while episodes come far too sporadically, still gets well-reviewed on iTunes. I’m not an authority by any means. But I listen to a lot of podcasts and make my own and think about it quite a bit. These are suggestions, but they’re still suggestions from a somewhat qualified source.

1. Come Up With a Good Idea

Sports podcasts, not unlike comedy podcasts, are chock full of “two white guys talking”-styled offerings. This is not to say that if you are Caucasian or male that you should just give up, but it’s important to consider what’s out there and what you can do to differentiate. It could be a simple fact of the only current podcasts about Local Sports Team aren’t very smart or well produced or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with just making a better mouse trap. But if you want to discuss or cover a popular topic, you might want to try to break from norms a bit.

Comedy podcasts already saw this coming, and many new ones centralize (even if loosely) around some sort of bit or structure. Professor Blastoff mixes intellectuals and comedians to answer some of life’s biggest questions. Who Charted deals with pop culture charts and a funny and irreverent way. The Adventure Zone features three brothers playing Dungeons and Dragons with their dad.

None of these are really applicable to sports podcasting, but it’s something to think about. Maybe you want to feature reoccurring segments or regular guests or something I haven’t even thought of. It’s about information, but it’s also about entertainment. Never forget that.

Segments and pre-determined topics also help eliminate the awkward “so … yeah”s and “um … what else?”s. Those are show killers. There’s nothing wrong with some natural dead air, but it’s heartbreaking to hear two people dance around the fact that they don’t know what they should be talking about. A little research and a little planning goes a long way.

That being said, if you do something that you later realize isn’t really working, don’t be afraid to jump ship. There’s nothing wrong with ditching a segment or bit that wasn’t really jiving in the first place. Change the format little by little until you find something that works.

2. Make Sure You Really Want to Do This

So you’ve come up with an idea and maybe found a cohost. The plan is to have a one-hour podcast every week. Here’s how a one-hour podcast breaks down.

  1. The recorded conversation will be at least 90 minutes.
  2. There will be at least 10 minutes of technical difficulties that need to get ironed out before recording (at least for the first two dozen episodes).
  3. It will take time to lock down a guest. Between all the emails back and forth, let’s say that counts for 30 minutes of work.
  4. You’ll need to listen to the whole 90 minutes to make sure no audio weirdness (mic dropouts, lawn mowers, loud cars, babies crying) happens and to find where and when to cut.
  5. Add 30 minutes to edit, add the intro and outro music, and compress to MP3 form.
  6. Another 20 minutes to upload and write the description.

Your simple one-hour podcast now takes four and a half hours a week to make, and I didn’t even count the time that goes into research and finding topics. This pushes it to around six hours. My podcast, due to its style and format, takes about three hours just to record and edit a 20-minute episode, and about 10 hours total since there’s a lot of research involved.

This is not meant to be discouraging. It’s meant to show you how much effort this project will take. I’m sure some people don’t spend this amount of time on their sports podcasts, and it honestly shows in most cases. Good content takes time, whether it’s graphic art or writing or podcasting. Be prepared to put in the work. If you’re not prepared to do so, maybe think about doing something else.

3. Have a Decent “Studio”

If this list weren’t in a quasi-chronological order, this section would go first. Even if your format is just two-dudes-rambling-about-Local-Sports-Team, you still have a chance if your show sounds decent.

Microphones

The first thing you need is a decent microphone. You don’t need to break the bank, but a good mic is a MUST if you want your thing to be listenable at all. There are two ways to go about this, and they both deal with analog-to-digital conversion.

The first way is to get a good analog mic and an digital audio interface. The mic goes into the interface via mic cable, the interface goes into your computer via USB. I like this method because it gives you a little more flexibility. For up to two people recording at once, the M-Audio M-Track Plus is a great and affordable option for an interface. You don’t need to splurge on a mic either, especially if you’re just starting out. The SM-57 is a good starting point. I started with (and still occasionally use) the MXL 990 which is even cheaper. I’m not going to get into a whole lecture about microphones, but it’s worth doing a little research. People have tested lots of mics for podcasting and even included audio samples. Google “Best Podcast Mic” and look around.

For a simpler (and most likely cheaper) option, you can also consider USB microphones. These do all the converting in one unit, so all you need to do is plug the mic right into your computer via USB. USB mics have gotten much better as far as sound goes, and it’s hard to go wrong even with a mid-priced one. Again, Googling is recommended, but I’ve had success with the Blue Yeti as I know some other people have.

DO NOT use a cheap gaming headset. DO NOT use the headphone/mic cable that came with your iPhone. DO NOT RECORD USING YOUR WEBCAM SPEAKER. This sounds like garbage.

If it’s hard to hear you, or your mic blows out, people will get tired of listening to you and stop downloading. It’s that simple. I’m not trying to be harsh, but if you don’t invest in marginally decent audio equipment, don’t even bother.

Studio Space

No, you don’t need to rent space in a radio studio or anything, but be aware of your surroundings. You probably will be recording at home, so pick the room in your house with the best chance of giving you good audio. If you are using Skype to record conversations (more on that later) picking a room with hard-line access to your router or at least a strong WiFi signal is encouraged. Dealing with garbled audio and Skype dropouts is annoying. If the neighbor’s dog barks all the time, try and pick a room where that doesn’t leak in too much. Finished basements tend to have a nice sound-deadening quality to them. If the room has windows, thicker curtains are better. This is little stuff and sometimes unavoidable, but try and consider it if you can.

Record Skype Calls the Right Way

Skype has its flaws, but it’s one of the better options for recording podcasts if the hosts aren’t in the same city. (If you are in the same city, please record together in person). The technology to record these calls is fairly straightforward. I use a program called Piezo. It’s easy and affordable. It’s Mac-only, but there are certainly options for PC. It may sound complicated at first, but it’s not too bad. Read the instructions. Look for how-tos on YouTube. Get a friend to help you test it so that you have the optimal settings for good sound quality. Whatever you choose, make sure it has the capability to split the recorded call into two tracks, one for you and one for the guest or cohost. This will allow you to edit both people independently. It’s most useful for cutting out the hiss from the guest’s side when you’re talking. It also makes it easy to get rid of coughs, sneezes, dogs, sirens, etc.

If you have your druthers, have the guest use a decent mic as well. You probably can’t force people to buy stuff, but hopefully they have something that isn’t the webcam microphone. Anything is better than the webcam microphone. A gaming/VoIP headset or even (gulp) iPhone earbuds are a step up.

Depending on the guest, the phone might be the only option. Phones don’t sound great, but a little EQ can make them usable (don’t worry about EQ in recording, it can be done in post). The easiest way is to use Skype to call a phone. It costs a little money ($2.99/month), but it will save you a lot of headaches. If you are interested in the free option, consider signing up for a Google Voice account. You can dial right from Gmail, and still use a program like Piezo to record. It’s slightly less elegant, but it’s pretty workable.

If you are going to have two people talk every episode, it’s a really great idea to have both hosts record separately on their own (nice) mics, then combine the two tracks in post.

Say you and Johnny are cohosts of the podcast. You record both ends of the call (you and him), and Johnny uses simple recording software to record just his voice. When you’re done recording, he plops his track into a Dropbox folder or something, and you copy it to your computer. Now, you have a good-sounding you, an OK-sounding Johnny (from the other end of the Skype call), and a good-sounding Johnny. Use Skype Johnny to match up the tracks, but insert Good Johnny instead. It’s easier than I’m making it out to be, and in the end you’ll have a recording that sounds like both of you were in the same room even though you were talking over Skype. This is what professional podcasts do. This is the poor-man’s version of what public radio does. Otherwise, it always sounds like one host is in the room and the other host is talking through a plastic jug.

Learn Basic Audio Editing

You don’t need a $10,000 ProTools rig to make a decent podcast. If you have a Mac, you already have GarageBand, which actually works pretty nicely for basic stuff. I use a program called Reaper. It works on Mac or PC, comes in at $60 for recreational use (so long as your podcast doesn’t gross $20,000), and has a GREAT support section and user forum for helping you figure everything out. There’s also ProTools, Adobe Audition, and a slew of other options. Many have trials you can play around with.

Whatever you end up with, give yourself time to learn it properly. Learn the keyboard shortcuts to save you time in editing. Take a look at the built-in processing options (EQ, compression, etc.) and which settings make your podcast sound best. EQ will help balance the highs and lows, compression helps handle high volumes and even everything out. These are important things to know, don’t disregard them. One solitary hour of playing around with these will help you a great deal.

Learn the proper way to create fades – fade ins, fade outs, crossfades, etc. Learn how to properly mix in music. Audio program companies spend a ton on R&D to make these programs easy to use. Don’t be scared. Save your files a lot and remember that Ctrl-Z is your friend. Think of ALL the people that do this somewhat successfully. They can’t all be smarter than you, right?

Pick Your Hosting

So you’ve worked out all the bugs, and you have a quality-sounding MP3. Now, you just need to post it somewhere. There are basically two schools of thought on this.

There are companies that will host your podcast for you and give you an RSS feed to use (more on this later). For a fee, you can upload your file and let them do all the rest. Libsyn and PodBean are two popular choices, though SoundCloud just got into the game as well. These products sell you on ease of use, analytics, and reliable uptime. There is cost involved, however. Usually bandwidth is included in any package, you just need to pick the storage space you need. Read the options carefully and start small. You can always upgrade later if you want to post more episodes per week/month.

Your other option is to store the files on your own server and create the RSS feed yourself through a platform like WordPress. PowerPress is a popular plugin for creating podcast RSS feeds through WordPress. It’s what we use at The Hardball Times for my podcast. It’s customizable and reliable. The downside here is that you need to host your own files. If you plan to have a corresponding website to go along with your podcast (you should) then you are probably already paying for hosting. Unless your podcast explodes in popularity, whatever hosting package you have should be fine. But beware, if your hosting provider decides that too many people are pulling down files from your server, you may be in line for additional cost. Again, this would most likely be later down the road, but it’s something to think about.

The elephant in the room here is the question of who owns your RSS feed. Your RSS feed is what iTunes and other podcatchers use to see when there are updates to your show. When the program sees an update in the feed, it downloads the new episode. If you host on Libsyn, for example, your feed will be something along the lines of libsyn.com/feeds/yourawesomesportsshow.xml. If you self-host, it will be something like yourawesomesportsshow.com/feeds/yourawesomefeed.xml. If you use the former and decide to move on from Libsyn to another host or self-hosting option, life may become difficult for you. There are ways to “force” podcast apps to update the feed if you change RSS addresses, but it’s not always reliable, and it’s a pain in the ass.

Do your research and make your best educated decision. This is a big question in the world of podcasting, believe it or not, and there’s really no one answer.

And while we’re talking about it, make sure to add your show to iTunes. There are lots of guides for doing so. iTunes is pretty terrible, but it’s still what most people use. In fact, if you’re starting a show, don’t even share via Facebook or Twitter until it’s on iTunes. Wait until people can download the episode. It takes about 48 hours or less to get into the iTunes store assuming you followed all the directions. It’s worth the wait. Hold off on the reveal until you get your podcast into the biggest podcasting platform around.

Listen and Listen and Listen and Listen

If you’re interested in doing this, then chances are you at least have a cursory knowledge of the medium. You probably have listened to a few sports podcasts here and there or may even be a rabid follower of a handful. But even though you want to do a sports podcast, you shouldn’t limit your listening to only that genre. There are lots of great podcasts out there, and some should inspire you and change the way you think about the platform. Don’t limit yourself. Inspiration can come from all sorts of avenues. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some suggestions for non-sports podcasts you should at least check out. See how the other side lives, and all that.

Serial – My reservations not withstanding, podcasters need to hear to at least be part of the conversation. If you say you have a podcast, this is what most people will think of. You should at least know what it is. One million downloaders can’t be wrong, right?

Radiolab – In my opinion, the absolute best radio put out there today. It’s engaging and gorgeous and interesting. And also gorgeous. Please give a listen. One of the hosts won a MacArthur Genius grant for his work on it.

This American Life – The granddaddy of Serial, this show still produces wonderful journalistic storytelling. It’s on the Mount Rushmore of podcasts.

99% Invisible – A podcast about design. It was also behind one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time – successful enough that they started their own podcast network. It’s a great source of “did you know…” conversation starters.

Love + Radio – From the same network as 99% Invisible. Just immaculate radio. It’s hard to explain, but give it a listen.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn – originally called The Sound of Young America, Bullseye went from college radio station show to NPR program. If you want a introduction in how to interview a guest, Jesse Thorn will be your professor. He also has a knack for getting the best and brightest in pop culture.

My Brother, My Brother, and Me – This is a great example of what even a loose premise can do for a show. MBMBaM describes itself as an advice show, but it’s really three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy) riffing and spoofing and transitioning from one bit to another. They are funny guys, but their chemistry is what makes the show. They are cheating because they share DNA, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

The Todd Glass Show – A master course on how chemistry can help a podcast. There is nothing buy silly banter to go along with Glass insisting they redo bits until they get them right. It’s frantic and disjointed, but it’s always fun and a it’s a good reminder of how strong personalities can steer an otherwise rudderless show.

Good luck to you, future podcaster. It’s a rough world out there, but with some hard work and attention to detail, you could be climbing up the iTunes charts in no time. Put in the time. It will seem dubious at first, because it is. But the finished product will be so much better.

(Image via curtis.kennington)

The PGA Partners with MLBAM to Stream Early Rounds

At this point, we should be talking about what businesses aren’t working with MLB Advanced Media to handle their video streaming needs. Nevertheless, we can now add the PGA to the ever-growing list of organizations and companies piggybacking on MLBAM’s logistics and infrastructure for broadcasting live video over the Internet.

During a press conference at this week’s WGC Match Play Championship, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced that MLBAM will be working with the PGA to broadcast Thursday and Friday rounds of certain events over the Internet. This is not meant to usurp traditional TV coverage that kicks in later in the afternoon, but to supplement it by allowing fans to check in on the action before scheduled broadcasting begins.

PGA Tour Live, as they’re calling it, will charge on a per-event fee, and is expected to cost less than $10 per event. There are still some things left to speculation, but the new service is expected to launch sometime later in the summer. Fans can sign up to be notified when the service is available to the public.

MLBAM has already had their fingers in streaming the NCAA Tournament for Turner as well as WrestleMania using their expertise. Oh, and they also worked on a little something called HBO Now. MLBAM is blowing up, as they say, and their hold on the streaming industry is only getting stronger.

(Image via Ryan Schreiber)

NBCSports Teams Up With AppleTV and Roku

The landscape of television programming availability is constantly shifting. Though some networks and cable providers have been giving end users a difficult time, NBC is shifting more freedom towards their cable subscribers. The broadcast giant has now made their NBC Sports Live Extra app available on both AppleTV and Roku boxes, allowing those with qualified cable plans to view NBC covered sports ranging from the PGA Tour to English Premier League action.

Allison Moore, general manager and executive vice-president of TV Everywhere (NBC Universal) was quoted:

“This launch demonstrates NBC Sports’ ongoing commitment to provide added value to loyal fans who can now have more access to the live sporting events they love. Customers love our Apps on iPhone and iPad and we can’t wait for them to experience what we can offer on Apple TV.”

On the Roku side of things, Moore went on to say:

“As we have seen with the success of the NFL and the Olympic Games, real-time sports programming with a cross-device reach is a crown jewel in NBCUniversal’s ever-expanding TV Everywhere initiative.”

While these moves fail to address cord cutters, at least a major content provider is paying attention to the desires of their existing customers. It may not bring anyone who has already parted ways with their cable bill, but it just might keep a few more sports fans in the NBC fold. With other traditional content companies attempting to embrace new broadcast media, namely Cablevision’s recent partnerships with Hulu and HBO Now, it appears as though the old dogs are trying to learn new tricks.

(Header image via Roku)

ESPN Sues Verizon Over New Cable Packages that Don’t Include ESPN

Appearances have proven true, with ESPN filing suit against Verizon in New York Supreme Court yesterday. Details of the suit are scarce, as ESPN hasn’t yet filed a complaint, but the summons (shown below via Ars Technica) indicates they will be seeking injunctive relief and damages based on their breach of contract claims.

Without seeing the agreement between ESPN and Verizon or ESPN’s soon-to-be-filed complaint, we can only speculate as to what ESPN’s breach of contract argument will be. What is clear is that ESPN (as well as 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal) sees Verizon’s new FiOS cable packages that move their programming to optional tiers as a threat to their current business model, which is based on their programming appearing on all basic cable packages, bringing in hefty subscriber fees.

ESPN, in a statement provided to Ars Technica, said, “ESPN is at the forefront of embracing innovative ways to deliver high-quality content and value to consumers on multiple platforms, but that must be done in compliance with our agreements. We simply ask that Verizon abide by the terms of our contracts.”

Deirdre Hart, a spokeswoman for Verizon, responded to ESPN’s statement, saying, “Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want. We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices.”

ESPN’s position in their suit might be that their agreement with Verizon stipulated that their channels would appear on all basic cable packages, thus FiOS’s optional packages are a breach of contract, while Verizon’s defense could  be that Verizon FiOS is a distinct offering featuring new fiber optic technology that isn’t bound by the original agreement.

According to The Washington Post, an ESPN spokesperson added “that the disagreement was not primarily about money, but about sending a message that cable partners can’t ‘unilaterally change deals’ without permission.” Which is of course, nonsense. As Deep Throat said in All The President’s Men, “Follow the money.”

ESPN has over 100 million cable subscribers via the major cable companies who each pay ESPN about $6.10 per subscriber. According to Michael Nathanson of MoffetNathanson Research, if ESPN went fully a la carte, their users would have to pay $36.30 per month. If cable operators are able to shift ESPN to option tiers, their subscriber base would surely fall, hurting their bargaining position when their current agreements expire. In addition, ESPN doesn’t have an opportunity to negotiate higher subscriber fees for these optional tiers, which must have been part of the year long negotiation between ESPN and Dish Network regarding their new streaming service SlingTV.

I would be surprised if this suit went to judgment, as ESPN has already set a precedent with Dish Network for new streaming cable service agreements. It may take a year or so for the lawyers involved in this matter to be satisfied with their billings, but I suspect we’ll see a new agreement between ESPN and Verizon that will account for FiOS and allow ESPN to inflate the sports cable bubble for years to come.


Esports Injuries Are Piling Up

A torn knee ligament, shoulder surgery and now wrist injuries can be added to the list of career threatening injuries to those making a living playing video games. In the wake of the sudden retirement of League of Legends pro Hai “Hai” Lam where he specifically cites an ongoing wrist injury, it may be time to re-examine our thoughts on esports competitors as athletes. Repetitive strain injuries from tennis elbow to carpal tunnel effect athletes and esports competitors alike.

The United State government already formally recognizes some esports competitors as athletes by granting multiple P-1A visas, given specifically to athletes. While certainly not a normal athletic workload, esports at the highest level has nonetheless produced a long list of injuries, most notably in the wrist and neck, for years.

In StarCraft II, injuries have forced out arguably the best player in the five year history of the game, Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun. The four time champion of the Global Star League is the third highest earner in prize money with over $400,000 in the bank for his tournament showings. Mvp’s career was derailed when pains in his neck caused numbness in his shoulders and arms.

Canadian player and at one point arguably the best non-Korean player in the world Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn was temporarily forced away from the game to allow her wrists to recover.

Former competitor Kim “Ganzi” Dong Ju is another victim of wrist injuries, tweeting his retirement announcement and the reason for it.

ganzi

Popular player Shawn “Sheth” Simon was also felled by injuries, citing in a forum post that pain in his hands have prevented him from playing anything more than a handful of matches per week.

sheth

The world of esports is in an awkward position. While getting ESPN2 airtime on a Sunday evening with a Heroes of the Storm collegiate aptly named “Heroes of the Dorm” match is a welcome sight to esports fans as is the emerging scenes across various games, the lack of team infrastructure is alarming. Without any sort of players union or dedicated medical staff, the players lack protection from injuries that have already ended or shortened multiple careers.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

NFL Draft Coverage From 120 Sports

The NFL has been gracious enough to stream the draft itself for the past few years and 2015 is no different. The stream for the draft is an NFL.com exclusive and they are boasting a record setting 53 hours of coverage between April 30 – May 2, though not all of their content is available online. Owners of an XBox One can access the draft through the app, however authentication is required. On the NFL Youtube channel, the first round picks will be uploaded, but if you’re looking for more information before the first pick is announced, there is no shortage of other sources.

For standard coverage such as pre-draft boards and predictions, the normal Sports IllustratedFox, ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS sites do the job, however for someone who is looking to put something on in the background, 120 Sports is the place to go. We’ve taken a look at 120 Sports in the past, however they warrant another go with their impressive schedule of events. The 120 Sports site is already indexed with videos of player information, evaluations and look-ins. Their full press release can be found here, though the following are some of the highlights.

– Beginning on Sunday, April 26 a mock draft sets the tone for the rest of the week as the four-hour event will have insight from former players, scouts and experts.

– The next event isn’t until Wednesday, April 28, however it should be worth the wait as at least five NFL prospects will have exclusive interviews. Some of the scheduled interviews are projected first-rounder Dorial Green-Beckham as well as Ameer Abdullah and Devin Gardner.

– Once the actual draft kicks off, 120 Sports continues to offer programming as a second screen to the NFL.com broadcast. Pre-draft as well as backstage interviews with players are on the docket throughout the three day event as are fan interviews.

Available on mobile for iOS and AppleTV as well as Android and Chromecast, 120 Sports offers plenty of ways to stay up to date on the draft for those without a cable subscription. Seeing such an extensive amount of programming from a non-TV entity is perfect for cable cutters. Hopefully they’ll do the same with the upcoming MLB draft.


A Newbz Guide to Daily Fantasy

I don’t play fantasy baseball. Baseball simulations are more my thing. In 1998 I started a Strat-O-Matic league which grew to a league of 24 of us that play each other online. I’m completely in on Out of the Park Baseball, trying to lead my 2017 Miami Marlins – sans Jose Fernandez, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Santana (acquired) following season-ending injuries – in my second season as general manager/manager after starting my career managing the Pawtucket Red Sox. For whatever reasons, fantasy baseball just never caught on with me.

Then came advertising for Draft Kings and FanDuel. Lots and lots and lots and lots of it. My curiosity grew and finally, after a year of brain washing, the mad men won. Yesterday I threw down a whopping $10 and signed up for Draft Kings to see what the big deal was. It was a fact-finding mission, mostly. But a part of me, say my right pinky toe, wanted it to become a source of income for my beer fund. After my first 25 cent game, I realized that beer fund was going to stay dry.

And now I bring the experience to you, the TechGraphs readers. Learn from me, what and what not, to do.

Grab a promo code

Before you sign up for an account, make sure you have a promo code. It’s free money. I Googled and ran with the first bigger-looking site that didn’t seem sketchy. It promised a matching bonus up to $600 for the first deposit. The one I signed up for isn’t free money, though. It’s contingent upon me earning Frequent Player Points. I earned one point for my one game, and only have 99 left points left before my bonus kicks in. Geesh. So, search around a bit, see if you can find a better deal.

PayPal?!? YES

I wanted a royalty-related username, since the site is about kings and such, and discovered that landgrave is a German title. My last name is quite German, so you can find me at LandgraveK on the site. My wallet sits in the glove compartment of my car, because I roll dangerously. Fortunately PayPal is an option to make a deposit, as are major credit cards. Otherwise I would’ve had to walk outside … where there are people … that might want to wave or talk to me.

Take a deep breath

I was anxious to find a game once they had my money. I landed in the lobby, skimmed my options, and felt completely overwhelmed. It was like walking in to a major casino for the first time. Bright, bold colors illuminated a dark background. My eyes fixated on the big ads. I gathered my over-stimulated self and decided to proceed cautiously.

Slugfest, Perfect Game, Moonshot, Gold Glove. What is going on here? Guaranteed, Qualifiers, Head-to-Head, 50/50 Leagues, Multipliers, Steps. And then I found it. My peoples. The Beginner games.

draftkingscapture

The lowest entry fee was a dollar. I’m stupid cheap and looked around for quarter games. In my search, I found some free games that may appeal to those that want to try it out and keep a buck. One I came across sported a $10 prize spread among five players, so $2 winning each.

Bam. Quarter Arcade. This is where I belong. I joined a game that maxed out at 14,100 players. The first place prize was $150, a 500 percent return. With a $3,000 prize pool, those that finished in the top 2,800 would minimally double their entry fee, or better. Optimism warmed my belly.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Things started off well, actually. Fellow TechGraphs writer David Wiers is a Draft Kings boss and Tweeted a tip.

Dan Haren was my first pick. And then things went totally wrong. I analyzed the pitching match ups, looking for the worst pitchers to draft a lineup against. Trevor Cahill’s a bum, so I drafted Kevin Plawecki in his major league debut and Lucas Duda. For fun I took Mike Trout, because I’m a huge homer, and Jose Bautista. A handy tool is that after each pick, it calculates the cost for average player remaining. For example, if I had five slots left to fill and $24,000 remaining (my funds started at $50,000), then I had an average of $4800 to spend on each player. I filled the rest of my roster utilizing this tool, my own instincts and figuring out best matchups. Without analytics.

Our brethren over at RotoGraphs do a fantastic job providing readers with quality research to help you select players for traditional and daily fantasy sports. Roto Riteup, which Wiers contributes to, and The Daily Grind are daily musts if you want to make educated decisions with your lineup. Or you can trust your guts and guile, like I did, and have Brett Anderson whiff in your face.

Pick your crew

Selecting players to add to your lineup is as easy as clicking a plus button. Each day’s games are listed with starting time and weather. If lineups have been officially announced, a check mark appears next to the player’s name. It’s no fun picking Buster Posey if it’s his off day. Each player’s profile features stats, updates and analysis for easy-access info.

Once you’ve set your lineup, you get the option of joining other games with that same lineup, which is handy if you’re looser with your pocket change than I am, or join other contests with a different lineup.

So how’d I do?

I was dreadful. I finished 11,527 out of those 14,100 players with a final score of 75.9. The aforementioned Anderson went negative on me against a crap Giants offense for -2.4. The Wiers pick, Haren, netted 15.3 points and was only bested by Bautista’s 16. I don’t believe he earned me any extra machismo points, however, after Tuesday night’s game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that I downloaded the DraftKings iOS app, which performed as I’d hoped.

So what say you, TechGraph readers? Do you play? Are you curious? Comment below. All tips/tricks/advice are appreciated as well.


Will Google Save Us From Strict Data Plans?

The tale of two mobile carriers could be at an end. For years Verizon and AT&T have flip-flopped between the being the largest domestic carrier, though not for lack of competition. Soon, perhaps today, Google will announce they’re joining the ranks, but it seems they will be partnered with existing carriers T-Mobile and Sprint. For now it seems as though the Google service will have data priced based on pure usage rather than paying for a set data plan. Still just a rumor at this point and limited to the Nexus 6 phone on T-Mobile and Sprint, Google appears set to dip their toes in the wireless provider market.

For example, the alleged data plan would not require agreeing to anything resembling current 3GB data plans where if you were to go over said agreed data plan, you’d be hit with overages. Both AT&T and Verizon offer data calculators, however  watching five hours of video (maybe two baseball games) with no emails, tweets etc. account for almost 2 GB. Verizon is partnered with NFL Mobile, but on their calculator the same 300 minutes of streaming the NFL Mobile is counted at 625 MB, barely one third the data usage of the 1750 MB 300 minutes of 4G usage tallies.

planatt plansverizon

In select AT&T and Verizon plans a $15 overage for as little as 250 MB can be applied to your monthly bill. If price is a concern in for your next phone, and it is for just about everyone these days, you may want to avoid Verizon as they don’t even want your business. According to Bloomberg and chief financial officer Francis Shammo, Verizon lost about 138,000 postpaid accounts — a standard account and not prepaid — over the past three months, but Shammo didn’t pull any punches on his thoughts during the quarterly earnings call:

“If the customer who is just price-sensitive and does not care about the quality of the network—or is sufficient with just paying a lower price—that’s probably the customer we’re not going to be able to keep.”

Give how well poorly Verizon’s attempt at a tech blog went, the big red telcom could be out of touch with much of its user base. Perhaps if robots were penning the stories, something Verizon apparently wanted due to strict limitations of news coverage, the site would still be up. Whether they’re alienating their consumers or not, as recently as Q4 2013 Verizon was the biggest carrier in the US, though the latest numbers have them tied with AT&T at 34% of the market each. The table below, powered by Statista, displays carrier market share as far back as the first quarter of 2011.

phoneshare
Google is pushing, or more accurately in some cases dragging, the web as their extensions will soon no longer be compatible with older website designs and now YouTube apps are no longer compatible with many older devices. The advances Google is bounding forward on in web development will hopefully be mirrored on the wireless phone service side of things.