Category Archives: Platforms

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Yahoo Sports Has Grown Into a Major NFL Streaming Player

The Yahoo Sports product team gathered in the office for each of the first three NFL Sundays this year. Together with the digital media services of its corporate owner, Verizon, Yahoo is live-streaming up to 16 NFL games per week for a mobile audience. In addition to Thursday and Monday night games, that meant long hours at headquarters on the weekend. Last Sunday, though, after three glitch-free weeks, the team’s senior director of product management, Parker Emmott, finally allowed himself to monitor the technical infrastructure from home.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that we’ve actually had very little to do and that we’ve actually just got to watch football,” Emmott said. Although his team has been ready for troubleshooting, Yahoo’s preparations have put them ahead of the curve.
Yahoo’s first foray into live-streaming happened in 2015, when the media company spent a reported $15 million to be the exclusive carrier of a Bills-Jaguars game in London. (The game was on linear TV only in the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets.) That pilot went well, and Yahoo repeated the endeavor for a 2017 London game.
The NFL and Verizon agreed to a five-year, $2 billion deal last December intended to boost the league’s reach, particularly among younger demographics and cord cutters. The new mobile rights deal, which began with last year’s postseason, allows all users to stream games for free even without authenticating a cable subscription. Previously, only Verizon customers had that option. The Yahoo Sports and NFL apps are carrying all games this year (although viewers will only be able to see what would normally be on in their home market).
Yahoo set records for app usage in each of the first three weeks of the NFL season, inching that mark forward by three to five percent each time, a compound rate of steady growth. (Data for Week 4 was not available at press time.) Emmott said Yahoo built an entirely in-house solution: everything from the signal input, to the live operations manager, to the encoding system, to the video player configuration.
The app adjusts its bitrate based on the complexity of what’s on the screen, feeding extra bandwidth to game action and tapering for studio talking heads. Emmott said Yahoo has been maintaining 60 frames per second of 1080 HD action with an average streaming bit rate of six megabytes per second. Adding the scalability of Verizon Digital Media Services has also enhanced the Yahoo product.
“They’re all purpose-built for one another, and when you sum-total all of the components within a video stack, that really does make a big difference,” Emmott said.
Once football fans are lured to the app for live game action, Yahoo of course wants them to stay. Its companion fantasy football app attracts about seven million users annually and is “a real foundation piece,” said Geoff Reiss, GM of Oath, the Verizon subsidiary that oversees Yahoo and AOL. Since this summer, Yahoo has added complementary programs, apps, and features.
“The video piece is phenomenal, but the idea here is, how do we start to put together an overall network approach to how we cover football and how do we take that approach for other key sports like NBA?” Reiss said.
Back on Jun. 4, Yahoo launched The Rush, a two-minute morning show that covers “the top stories in sports that a sports fan must know matched to the social and viral moments that are peaking,” said head of content Sarah Crennan. An offshoot, The Fantasy Rush, also launched closer to football season. Both are hosted and distributed by Snapchat. A third show, The Spin, offers Yahoo journalists—such as NFL writers Kimberly Martin and Terez Paylor—a video format for their work. A weekly predictions-based game, Yahoo Fantasy Slate, goes live every Wednesday.
Mostly Football also airs Thursday evenings before kickoff and stars retired tight end Martellus Bennett alongside James Davis, Ben Lyons, and fantasy expert Liz Loza. The show lasts 30 to 40 minutes with clips disseminated widely on demand and via social platforms. Mostly Football mixes deep NFL analysis with a range of activities Bennett finds interesting, from sumo wrestling to Quidditch.
“We’re really trying to cover football in a different way than it’s being done right now,” Crennan said.

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Reiss wants Yahoo to evolve along the same trajectory as the rest of the media business, if not in front of it. That means continuing to enhance these OTT streams, produce video content, build games and fantasy sports, and optimize all mobile experiences. (Interestingly, he said more fantasy football drafts have taken place on mobile devices than computers the last two years.)
And then there’s the potential to bid for broadcast rights. Just as Yahoo hosted the London games, Twitter and now Amazon have picked up Thursday Night Football rights in the U.S., and DAZN has snagged rights in other countries. The potential for a streaming partner to air games exclusively is growing. Yahoo is working on the necessary back-end infrastructure that would offer a smooth delivery of that content.
Reiss talked to SportTechie last week, before ProFootballTalk reported the possibility that the NFL would opt-out of its DirecTV Sunday Ticket agreement after the 2019 season. That could add more attractive inventory for Yahoo to snap up. But when asked about Yahoo’s future interest, Reiss was non-committal.
“I think the goal here long-term is to be able to create experiences for folks that are going to be meaningfully differentiated from what they can get from other places,” Reiss said. “From our perspective, the ability to get football regardless of your carrier, regardless of whether or not you have a cable subscription or not, and being able to take that football wherever you are is a decent starting point for that differentiation.
“We are looking to do everything we can over the course of the next couple of years, as we get into the lead-up of when the next generation of sports rights go out there, to give us some degree of optionality as to how we’re going to approach that.
“That’s not a yes, that’s not a no. Our job is to build the business and put us in position to do so if that’s something we wanted to do.”


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EPL, EA Sports Launch ePL FIFA 19 Esports League

Electronic Arts and the English Premier League have partnered to form the ePremier League, an FIFA 19 esports tournament available to U.K.-based gamers. All 20 Premier League clubs will be represented in the tournament to give “players the chance to live their dream of winning a title for their favourite club,” according to an official press release.
Registration for the ePL starts Dec. 3 and opening online qualification matches kick off in January. The top 32 players (16 apiece from Xbox One and PS4) will then face off in the playoffs to determine club representatives for the final, which will be played at the Gfinity esports arena in London on Mar. 28-29. Final matches will take place over two legs in a group-stage format on both PlayStation and Xbox to determine an overall champion.

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The ePL Final will broadcast live on both Sky Sports and Premier League social media channels. Players who perform well in the ePremier League will also earn season-long points towards qualifying for the EA Sports FIFA 19 Global Series Playoffs
“The Premier League’s global reach and intensely passionate fanbase pushes EA SPORTS FIFA competition to unprecedented heights as we accelerate esports growth through traditional sports,” said Todd Sitrin, SVP and GM of the EA Competitive Gaming Division, in the press release. “Through the ePL, this partnership carves a critical path forward in expanding competition not only for players, but for the hundreds of millions watching Premier League games who now can support their club on the virtual and the traditional pitch.”  
SportTechie Takeaway
The ePL will be organized and hosted by Gfinity. (The U.K.-based esports company’s stock price jumped by more than 15 percent in the afternoon following the ePL announcement.) The EPL following the steps of MLS, who partnered with EA Sports last year to launch an eMLS FIFA 18 tournament. The ePL launch is more significant than that of the eMLS, though, because many EPL teams are major players on the global sports stage.


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NWHL Extends Partnership With Twitter to Stream Live Games for Free

For a second straight year, the National Women’s Hockey League has partnered with Twitter for the rights to stream live games. The deal includes 16 regular season games, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game, and the Isobel Cup Playoffs.
Broadcasts will be produced by the NWHL and will stream globally for free on the league’s Twitter account. Users will not be asked to log in to access the live stream according to an NWHL press release. The live stream on Twitter will also include advertising packages with digital ad spots as part of a collaborated marketing and promotions effort between Twitter and the NWHL.

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“Twitter has been an invaluable partner to us, and we’re delighted to present the Twitter Game of the Week for our second season,” said NWHL Founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan in the announcement. “Twitter has helped significantly increase the NWHL audience and given our professional women’s hockey players a deserving global spotlight.”
Last year’s Isobel Cup Final, attracted an audience of more than 900,000 fans on Twitter, and the All-Star Game drew 580,000 Twitter viewers, according to the press release. The 2018/19 NWHL regular season opener will stream on Twitter on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 5:00 p.m. ET when the Metropolitan Riveters visit the Minnesota Whitecaps.
“We are excited for the return of live NWHL games this season to Twitter,” said TJ Adeshola, Twitter’s Head of US Sports Partnerships. “Passionate hockey fans around the globe will continue to be able to view live exciting game action along with the robust conversation all in one place on Twitter.”
SportTechie Takeaway
For sports fans, the ability to stream games via social networks such as Twitter or Facebook has opened up a new type of viewing experience. Users are able to add real-time comments in the game window to chat with other fans watching the stream. MLB has also been experimenting with streaming on social media. This past season, it streamed games exclusively for the Facebook Watch platform, although the initial launch received mixed reviews from fans.
Streaming games for free is a way for a young league such as the NWHL (established in 2015) to build up its fan base. A recent Nielsen report found that 84 percent of general sports fans are interested in women’s sports, and thus the market opportunity is large.


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NFL Could Opt-Out of Sunday Ticket Package, Switching to Streaming

The NFL’s out-of-market games package, Sunday Ticket, has called DirecTV home since 1994. But a new report by ProFootballTalk indicates the league could opt out of that contract after the 2019 season, possibly switching to a streaming partner.
Though most of the NFL’s broadcast deals run through 2022, a source told ProFootballTalk that the agreement with DirecTV includes an opt-out clause after next season. The emergence of several robust streaming platforms provides new competition to the satellite provider for what would certainly be an attractive package.
Sunday Ticket allows fans to see every NFL game every week no matter where they live. AT&T-owned DirecTV renewed in 2014 and pays $1.5 billion annually for the rights. The cost of the base package for consumers is a pricey $300. In comparison, the popular RedZone channel, which shows scoring chances from games around the league, can be purchased along with Sunday Ticket or streamed separately for as little as $4.99 per month for mobile users.
SportTechie Takeaway
DirecTV, boosted by AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, may still seek to re-up the rights. But there will be no shortage of suitors for any NFL broadcast rights, and the Sunday Ticket package is well suited to any of the new digital OTT services on the market that are able to air concurrent streams. That list includes Amazon, Facebook, ESPN+, B/R Live, and DAZN. Amazon already has Thursday Night Football and will carry multiple Premier League games in the same window, and DAZN carries Sunday Ticket in Canada (although its streams suffered some technical difficulties last season). Verizon-owned Yahoo also currently streams all in-market games, and Google’s YouTubeTV is positioning itself as the sports fans’ choice for a cord-cutters’ skinny bundle.


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F1 Struggled to Find Formula for Digital Success in 2017

Formula 1 made just $10 million in digital revenue last year. The tiny output, just 0.6 percent of its total annual revenue, comes despite several initiatives by the league’s ownership, Liberty Media Group, intended to bolster F1’s digital presence.
Formula One Digital Media’s financial report, was released yesterday and details were reported by Forbes. Despite the apparently small take from digital media, the $10 million figure is, however, a 65 percent increase from F1’s 2016 digital revenue total ($6.1 million).
“The directors consider the performance of the company during the year to be satisfactory and in line with expectations as the company continues to invest in the development of its digital platforms, and believe the company to be in a sound position at the balance sheet date and, with the progress it is making, well positioned for the future” detailed F1’s financial statement, according to Forbes
The $10 million digital revenue total accounts for sales of the official F1 app and the licensing of online ticketing and merchandise rights. But it does not yet include revenue from F1’s esports series or the F1 TV OTT streaming platform, which both debuted in 2018. Even with a disappointing proportion coming from digital media, total revenue for the league still grew over the past year.
“Revenue grew strongly, up by $3.9m (65%) despite the company’s primary focus being on planning future products and services, the increasingly successful development of its digital and social media channels, and the development of content and underlying technical platforms to support future growth opportunities,” the report stated.
SportTechie Takeaway
Both the official F1 app and F1 TV streaming service were met with criticism this past year, which may contribute to another disappointing digital revenue total for 2018. The app’s live timing function was so poor that the league was forced to re-launch its older timing app, according to Autosport. F1’s president publicly apologized for glitches in the F1 TV streaming service in May. RaceFans dubbed the service “amateur.”
However, the results for 2019 and beyond are likely to improve, especially with the potential for integrating in-race betting to the F1 experience.


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Major League Triathlon Signs Deal to Pay Athletes With Bitcoin

Major League Triathlon has announced a partnership with Bitcoin.com that will pay top finishers of the 2018 MLT Championship event in Charlotte prize money via Bitcoin Cash. The race will mark the first time ever that athlete prize money will be paid out using cryptocurrency, according to an MLT press release.
MLT Charlotte takes place Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center. As the top five overall finishers step onto the podium to receive their medals, they will be awarded their individual winnings in Bitcoin Cash in real time.

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“This partnership is a really special one for MLT,” said Daniel Cassidy, CEO of Major League Triathlon, in the press release. “Cryptocurrency is a hot topic in the world right now, and there is no question that it provides a significant amount of benefit to the end user. With other major professional sports leagues across the globe beginning to bring Crypto into their sports, it is a huge step forward for MLT to partner with a world leader in the Cryptocurrency market.”
Founded in 2016, Major League Triathlon is the first and only professional triathlon league in the United States. The league consists of nine mixed-gender teams and several MLT triathletes have previously competed in the Olympics.
“MLT is a great partner to showcase the everyday usability of Bitcoin Cash, bearing in mind our goal of worldwide adoption of cryptocurrency,” said Gergo Szoke, Marketing Manager at Bitcoin.com, in the announcement. “We see BCH as the future of money and MLT as the future of sports and triathlon, which makes for great synergy between our brands. Spectators at this great event will be able to experience the security and speed of sending Bitcoin Cash from one wallet to another when we give away podium prizes on the spot.”   
SportTechie Takeaway
While this appears to be the first instance where athletes will receive their winnings via bitcoin, cryptocurrency has made a rapid surge into the sports marketplace through other mediums. The Houston Rockets recently signed a cryptocurrency sponsorship with bitcoin-mining company AntPool for the upcoming NBA season. The closest precedent to what MLT Charlotte is planning with bitcoin could be FanDuel’s experiment to award fantasy football contest winners with cryptocurrency prize money during last year’s NFL season.


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USGA, CISCO Plan to Reimagine Golf Through Multi-Year Partnership

First, the U.S. Golf Association and Cisco will enhance the fan experience through an app. But then, over the next few years, the USGA plans to leverage its newly-minted partnership with the technology giant to reimagine golf innovation and enhance the experience for the players themselves. 
On Tuesday, the two organizations announced a multi-year deal to deliver new fan experiences, such as real-time scoring, mobile ticketing, and cashless payments, across the USGA’s suite of digital properties. The deal also ambitiously calls for the two to figure out how to improve the game itself, including the experience for golfers.
“Philosophically as an organization we recognize there are ways to use technology to lead golf into the future,” said Katie Bynum, USGA’s managing director of partnerships and fan experiences. “Our intent is we work with Cisco to help define what that may be.”
As the USGA’s reimagining of golf is only in its early stages, Bynum couldn’t elaborate on what the two might be cooking up in the future. But she did point to the organization’s last golf symposium in 2017, in which it announced a commitment to innovation and sustainability. The USGA issued a challenge statement to the industry in March 2017 in which it committed to improving golfer satisfaction by 20 percent and reducing critical resource consumption (mostly at facilities) by 25 percent, all by 2025.
“Part of that challenge statement is to help partners like Cisco evolve golfer satisfaction in the game so they stay playing and play more,”Bynum said. “We want to reduce resource consumption, thereby costing facilities less to maintain operations and, ultimately, reducing our environmental footprint.”
Bynum anticipates the USGA will begin to showcase some of the early findings of its partnership with Cisco at the USGA’s Golf Innovation Symposium in Tokyo next March. There, the USGA will begin highlighting its new STEM education programs, partly in an effort to lure new generations of fans and athletes to the game.

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In the near term, Cisco, as the USGA’s official technology partner, will help facilitate a more connected experience for fans at major championships, such as the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. That will include improving WiFi access at the event, creating new opportunities for content distribution on-site and worldwide, and strengthening the local network to enable greater access to real-time scoring, content, and other digital experiences through the US Open app.
“We see a tremendous opportunity to create a strong network that can ultimately enable a bunch of things for the fan that we haven’t been able to deliver,” Bynum said. “Ultimately, we hope to do things like digital ticketing, cashless payments and distribution of content in ways we haven’t done before.”
The USGA’s plans also include augmenting its broadcast studio at the USGA headquarters and creating “unique opportunities for fans to engage with the sport and its players.”


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Suns Fans Can Now Venmo to Pay for Merchandise and Tickets

PayPal has signed a multi-year deal to become the official payment partner of the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury, and Spanish soccer team Real Club Deportiva Mallorca. The deal gives fans the option to pay for Suns merchandise and tickets through PayPal and Venmo via integration in the Suns mobile app.
Both the Suns and Mercury play their home games at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. RCD Mallorca is owned by Suns managing partner Robert Sarver, which explains its inclusion in the deal. Specific terms of the sponsorship were not announced. 
“PayPal will be a payment option at Talking Stick Resort Arena point of sale terminals and at the Suns Team Shop in the arena, while fans will be able to access PayPal through the Official Suns Mobile App,” an official Suns press release states. “The Suns will also make PayPal Credit available for Suns’ SixthMan members to purchase season tickets. PayPal Here card readers will be integrated at point of sale for chip, swipe, and tap payments, and fans will be able to pay with their Venmo balance throughout the arena.”
As part of the deal, the PayPal logo will appear on the front left of Suns jerseys for the 2018/19 NBA season. PayPal has operated a technology center in nearby Scottsdale, Arizona since 2006. In 2013, PayPal acquired ownership of Braintree, the parent company of Venmo, for $800 million.
“In an increasingly digital and mobile world, there’s no better teammate for this extensive partnership than an innovative industry leader like PayPal,” said Suns President and Chief Executive Officer Jason Rowley in the press release. “Through this partnership, we’ll utilize PayPal’s leadership and expertise in technology and innovation to help create a better experience for our fans at home and around the globe.”
SportTechie Takeaway
Venmo blends a mobile payment service with social interaction. User’s see a social media-like newsfeed and can share transactions with friends, and like other’s posts. The company reported $14.2 billion in transaction volume during the second quarter of 2018, representing a 78 percent year-on-year increase. Over a 12-month period, Venmo also reported $46 billion in transaction volume. “Venmo” is becoming a common verb in the technology augmented world, and the Suns appear to be ahead of the curve by integrating the service with their mobile app to facilitate payments. This is similar to what Venmo did through its partnership with Uber.


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How to Stream and Watch the 2018 MLB Postseason

Baseball fans can catch exclusive pregame shows on Twitter before the start of five MLB postseason games this October. The preview shows will air two hours before the scheduled start of the five games, and will feature playoff highlights, matchup breakdowns, and analysis.
Playoff pregame shows can be watched via MLB’s Twitter account (@MLB) or Twitter’s livestream URL. Coverage begins Friday, Oct. 5 with a preview show of National League Division Series Game 2 (COL/CHC vs. MIL) at 2:15 p.m. ET. A preview show for Game 3 of the NLDS airs Sunday, Oct. 7 at 2:37 p.m. ET. The remaining preview shows will stream before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series (Oct. 17), Game 2 of the World Series (Oct. 24), and Game 4 of the World Series (Oct. 27).
Select postseason games can be live-streamed via MLB.TV, starting with Wednesday’s AL Wild Card matchup between the Athletics and Yankees at 8:00 p.m. ET (also available on TBS). Tuesday night’s NL Wild Card game between the Rockies and Cubs is not available with an MLB.TV subscription but can seen on ESPN with the first pitch scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET.
The NLDS will broadcast on Fox Sports 1, with the first six games also airing on MLB Network. The NLCS will air on both FOX and FS1. The ALDS and ALCS will broadcast exclusively on TBS, while the World Series will air on FOX.
There are a number of streaming providers available that give fans MLB postseason access without a cable subscription. For $40 per month, YouTube TV streams TBS, FS1, FOX, and dozens of other channels. Sling TV also offers a variety of streaming packages starting at $25 per month.


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Greg Norman Invests in Alternative Sports Commentary Provider Spalk

Spalk, a company that allows viewers to choose their preferred language, style, or even team bias for commentary, has announced a $1.5 million seed round. Former professional golfer Greg Norman and his business, the Greg Norman Company, led the investment. Stadia Ventures, Ice Angels, and Sparkbox ventures also contributed to the fundraising round according to a press release.
Commentators can call games remotely from a laptop anywhere in the world and Spalk’s proprietary Live Sync technology ensures lip-sync synchronization between their alternate audio and the livestream. Users can access the service using a plug-in.
A New York City-based company with New Zealand origins, Spalk was named the winner of “Greg Norman’s Search for the Next Sports Entrepreneur” held at the University of Miami in March 2017. Since launching last year, Spalk has covered over 5,000 live events with over 100 partners, spanning broadcasters, sports leagues, and OTT providers.

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“As the world becomes increasingly more global, a one-size fits all approach to sports broadcasting is no longer relevant,” Norman said in a Spalk press release. “Demographically targeted commentary is a win-win for both fans and broadcasters and Spalk is leading the way.”
Spalk’s broadcast commentary technology has been used by FIBA, World Rugby, and several Division I conferences in the NCAA. The press release states that the Greg Norman Company’s investment will help grow the company in North America and expand it into golf and other sports.
“By leveraging Spalk’s patented Virtual Commentary Studio, sports leagues and broadcasters no longer have to fly commentators to the stadium or studio to call games—they can do it from a laptop anywhere in the world,” said Ben Reynolds, CEO of Spalk, in the press release. “We place high value on the right strategic partners and are thrilled to announce the support from Greg Norman and our other investors.”
SportTechie Takeaway
Norman’s previous business ventures have indicated that the former player has an interest in technology that can disrupt the sports broadcasting experience for fans. Earlier this year, Norman partnered with the PGA Tour to equip his Shark Experience golf cars with PGA Tour Live streaming capability.
Last year, Spalk told SportTechie that it charges broadcasters $0.02 to $0.10 per viewer hour, based on the total number of viewers. FIBA used Spalk at the 2017 U19 World Basketball Championships. During that tournament, more than 90 commentators in five different languages covered games for six million basketball fans all around the world.


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