Tech Taps Passion for Live Sports

From left: Jason George, Andrew Daines, Stephen Espinoza, Danny Keens, Marshall Zelaznik

Perhaps more than any other programming opportunity, a live sporting event hits a unique sweet spot for content creators and advertising companies: It’s live, compelling, unscripted and unpredictable.

Understanding this dynamic was the goal of the Monday Super Session “Unleashing the Live Experience: How Sports Television Engages Today’s Fans.”

The four panelists agreed on the wisdom of the adage “less is more.”

“Once an event starts, people want most of their attention to be on the event,” not on secondary camera angles or unneces- sary stats, said panelist Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general man- ager of sports and event programming for Showtime.

For events with a lot of downtime — such as baseball, football or boxing — a programmer can consider peppering a broadcast with stats, replays or social media commentary.

But ultimately the event itself is paramount. “You have to be careful that you’re not interfering with the fans’ enjoyment of continuous action,” he said. “The nature of the sport [helps us] figure out the type of social integration and sharing that we’ll be doing.”

Espinoza discouraged the use of flashy statistics or tweets for their own sake or without proper context. “Just because we have the technology or can do it, doesn’t mean we should use it,” Espinoza said. “There are so many [sports] stats that are completely meaningless. It’s one of those things that clutters up the telecast. It’s incumbent on us to think about what is meaningful and relevant.”

Put whistles and bells aside; compelling product is what matters, said Andrew Daines, CEO of FanVision Entertainment. One of its competitors offers a solution that is an audio-only stream — no graphics, no stats. This goes to the heart of what sports fans are looking for. “That really speaks to the desire of the fan to have an uncluttered experience,” he said.

But rich, compelling content is ripe for piracy — an issue that mixed martial arts company UFC must navigate every time a pay-per-view event is broadcast.

“When we have pay per view, the live transmission is everything,” said Marshall Zelaznik, executive vice president and chief content officer for UFC. “We have partners investing a lot of technology and infrastructure, and the Periscopes of the worlds are an issue,” he said, referring to the Twitter app used to live stream events to other viewers.

More than 2 billion Twitter messages are sent out every two days, and as yet, there’s no reliable way to track and report pirated streams. It’s clear there are still issues to resolve.

“It isn’t good for our business if people livestream from their televisions or from the event,” Zelaznik said; but he acknowledged that content creators also exploit a lot of those channels in promoting these events.

“The UFC makes regular use of social media platforms in the week preceding a fight week, such as covering the boxers’ weigh-in and their workouts,” Zelaznik said. “We’re really aggressive in exploiting these social platforms to get that out there. But it’s a fine line.”

The panelists reminded the audience to be thoughtful when it comes to creating content. “You don’t want to shoot the same thing over and over for three different plat- forms, but it’s awkward when you just try to move it over for digital,” Espinoza said. “You have to be cost-conscious, but you also do have to recognize the difference be- tween the platforms.”

The panelists reiterated the importance of recognizing the strengths of each tool, like the NBA player who uses Twitter to communicate directly with fans.

“This is the stuff that really matters,” said Danny Keens, head of North American sports partnerships at Twitter. “People tune in because they care. And [communicating directly with talent] is a big deal for some- one watching at home. It builds long-term relationships.”

The session was moderated by Jason George, CEO of Telescope.