Archive for February, 2015

ESPN’s Online Market Share

ESPN’s dominance of the digital market may not be up for debate anymore. Earlier today the company released numbers from their digital media division and ESPN boasted record highs in unique viewers, hours viewed and mobile viewers.

The press release credits the new NCAA football playoff system, NFL playoffs and the NBA specifically for the rise in traffic. ESPN claims their daily numbers beat out number two Yahoo! Sports (owned by NBC) and number three Bleacher Report even when combining the two companies’ viewership.

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ESPN cites Adobe Analytics, Nielsen SocialGuide, Twitter and Instagram for their numbers, and notes 61% of their total pageviews were done via mobile. It marked the tenth consecutive month where ESPN visitors preferred to check the site via mobile.  A different web page analytic company, Quantcast shows different numbers for views on ESPN’s competition — Quantcast does not claim quantified numbers for ESPN — but the number still corroborate the preferred mobile method.

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quantcastnbcFor both Bleacher Report and NBC, mobile users accounted for more traffic than those on computers. Only in the esport area did PC users outpace the mobile traffic, but given the nature of the exclusive streaming done on Twitch —no article to read, etc. —  and the ensuing mobile data prices, there’s no surprise there.

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ESPN’s grasp on digital media consumption is decisive at the moment. One in three sports fans default to ESPN with not even one in seven going to second place NBC Sports. For now their title of “worldwide leader” remains accurate.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

NHL Announces Partnership with SAP to Redesign Stats Presentation

The NHL is slowly creating a new beat for sports journalists, announcing yet another technology partnership, this time with cloud software provider SAP, who will help the NHL.con introduce advanced statistics and redesign how they are presented.

Coming the heels of releasing 35 new advance statistics to NHL.com and partnerships with Go Pro and Sportsvision, the NHL is quickly storming to the forefront of sports technology.

NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said of the partnership, “Hockey is extremely fast-paced with very little stoppage in play, which results in many aspects of the game failing to show up in the box score. In partnering with SAP and using its best-in-class SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud service, we are now able to capture data points like never before and present existing and new statistics in a visually appealing way.”

SAP was already the NHL’s official cloud partner and this new partnership will further cement their relationship. It also helps that the majority owner owner of the San Jose Sharks is SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

The full extent of these initiatives will be released in phases, the first of which is the redesign of the NHL.com stats page and the introduction of new advanced statistics. For those looking for a proper introduction to the NHL’s new stats package head over to their enhanced stats introduction here.

 

 


The Two-Operating-System Market

Most choices in the world aren’t clearly defined in yes or no terms — option A or option B — but if you’re in the market for a new mobile device, it virtually is. Thanks to the latest graphic by Statista — based on data collected via the International Data Corporation — the decision faced by the vast majority of users is clear: Android and iOS far outpace their competition.

According to IDC, 1.3 billion mobile devices were sold in 2014, with Android accounting for more than one billion on its own. The Google operating system sold to 81.5% of the market with Apple’s iOS placing second with 14.8%. Still on the podium but trailing far behind was Windows Phone at 2.7% and Blackberry held 0.4%. The remaining 0.6% of the market purchased other OS devices such as Sailfish, Tizen and Ubuntu.

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With the two major players dominating the market to the tune of 96.3% last year, up from 93.8% in 2013, the app market and thus app developers have followed the customers. Via AppAnnie, the number of Android apps overtook iOS last year, with Amazon Fire coming in third. Windows Phone, BB and others were not listed.

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The four major sports — plus the MLS — all have official mobile apps for Android and iOS, though after the top two the app market diverges.

iOS Android BB Fire OS
MLB X X X
NBA X X X
NFL X X X X
NHL X X
MLS X X

The situation seems to be a Catch-22 of sorts. Fewer app developers want to go to the non-iOS/Android markets due to the lack of consumer base and the consumer base can’t grow without apps. Amazon Fire OS is a heavily modded version of Android and is cross compatible with some but not all Android apps. Despite getting some support recently in the form of WatchESPN arriving on Windows Phones, sports fans and the public in general are in a two horse race.

(Header image via Kārlis Dambrāns)

Sports Streaming is Safe Today Thanks to FCC Decision

The long-fought fight to keep the Internet as free (as in speech, not beer) and open as possible gained a very significant victory today, as the FCC ruled in a 3-2 decision to implement strict net neutrality rules and reclassify Internet service offerings as a Title II service. This ostensibly means that Internet services will be classified much like utilities are now, and therefor can’t be subject to the general bandwidth and pricing shenanigans that have begun to crop up.  Unless you own an ISP, you can consider this a victory.

The ruling prohibits carriers from strong-arming content providers into ponying up more money to make sure their product reaches consumers. Before today, an ISP — let’s call them Fomfast for the sake of argument — could look at all the traffic that a streaming service like NBA League Pass was carrying across their wires and decide that they were taking up far too many resources to not have to pay a premium. Fomfast would then tell the NBA folks to pay them a fee of some kind, lest they wish their streams to be throttled, creating a poor experience for the customer. This has already happened with Netflix, and could have very well happened to services like League Pass, MLB.tv, FOX Sports GO, WatchESPN, etc. without today’s ruling. What transpired today means less cost for the providers, which means (hopefully) less cost for you.

In an interesting turn, the FCC widened the scope of their ruling to include mobile providers, so while it will still count toward your data cap, you should be able to stream soccer matches on your phone without throttling or slow-down problems.

We talk a lot about streaming sports online on these electronic pages, but in truth, a lot of the services and sites we mention could have looked (and cost) a great deal differently without similar governance in place. There would have been nothing stopping Fomfast or Fime Farner from holding our sports streams hostage in a pixelated prison until the leagues decided to let the providers in on the action.

The Internet has been such a large part of our lives for quite some time. It seems silly that it took this long for this kind of decision to be made. But at least it happened. And in a rare instance, a U.S. governing body made a decision about something before it became a really big problem. It’s a little sad that what seemed like such a no-brainer garnered two “no” votes, but fair-headedness won out in the end.

And just in time for baseball/MLB.tv season. What joy.

(Image via William F. Yurasko)

Gaming Communities Are The New Sports Fans

Earlier today Venture Beat posted an article with polling data on esports fans who have attended live events — not only attended, but as spectators and specifically not as participants. Much like professional sports, the pro scene in esports has a strong following, arguably a stronger (though not necessarily better) social media presence due to the more unfiltered and less politically correct realm of the internet community.

VB (in conjunction with Evenbrite) see over 80% of fans attending live events to be a part of the community and to watch their favorite players and teams live. Many fans, 61%, also go to connect with friends they play with online.

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As a former player — not at the highest level, but relatively close — in both first-person shooters (specifically Counter-Strike 1.5 and 1.6) and real-time strategy games such as StarCraft II, the connecting with friends part is huge. From old LAN centers such as Warfactory in St. Louis, Missouri to CygamZ in Ypsilanti, Michigan, my team(s) and I enjoyed the travel and the live events in a way online couldn’t match.

Back in the day my teams used voice programs such as Ventrilo mostly, though originally we used the even older Roger Wilco to communicate in-game. When we weren’t scrimmaging (aka scrimming) or working on timing strategies, we would often hang out in our mIRC channels and just shoot the breeze. Similar to coaches going over post-game film, our team would often watch demos of ourselves together, take notes, make recommendations and adjustments. We would even scout opposing teams in upcoming matches or swap tactics with other teams in our divisions, and basically have a scouting report. For example, if we knew one particularly member on the opposing team was hyper-aggressive or overly passive, we would adjust our strategies to exploit that.

Living or rooming together to develop strategies and bonds between teammates even has a specific term in the gaming industry: bootcamping. North American CS:GO team Cloud9 often does bootcamps and recorded two last year prior to a major LANs. Other teams live together in literal team houses, mostly in South Korea and throughout Europe.

While my experiences are of course subjective and anecdotal, seeing the vast majority of fellow gamers agree doesn’t surprise. From literally playing games in my parent’s basement to traveling to compete with the best North America had to offer, I wouldn’t change a thing about my gaming career. To see esports take off to such a level that ESPN shows games, media outlets conducting interviews with pro players and the sheer size of prize pools, I may have to get the band back together.

(Header image via ESL)

Will Yo Be the Future of Sports News?

I’ll be honest. I didn’t really understand SnapChat when it first came out. I mean, I understood what it did and what it was for, but I didn’t understand how it could make money or why Facebook would want to buy it for $3 billion. SnapChat has since matured. You can send money over it. You can post whole stories that don’t disappear right away. Organizations are using it to push content. And now it’s worth $20 billion. Shows you how much I know.

The same goes for Yo. The concept was simple, I just didn’t understand why anyone would use it for more than a day. It seemed like a slightly more social fart app. But people are still using it. My wife’s roller derby team uses it to a borderline-unhealthy amount. And now Yo has made the turn. They’ve gone from cheeky fad app to new entrant to the world of news. Yes, you can now get news updates via Yo.

The concept behind the Yo Store is that people will subscribe to channels based on their interests — be that news, listicles, cat photos, etc. But sports-related apps have a fairly big presence in the new store. The NBA is in already, as are some individual basketball, football, college, and soccer teams. CBS Sports has a channel as well. The goal seems obvious — to get every major sports team and league involved, offering full customization for the user. It’s a little odd. It’s a little new. And I think it’s kind of genius.

When you get a new smartphone or tablet, you are tasked with re-downloading all the news and alert apps you had on your old device. I always grab CBS Sports (the best mobile sports app, in my opinion), the Associated Press App, the New York Times, etc. These can all be replaced by Yo in the not-to-distant future. And that’s where Yo can have the advantage. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best sports alert app, because it’s the most comprehensive app to have for everything else. People just might convert for the sake of simplicity — a catch-all for their news, sports, and silly videos or whatever the hell. Surely people will keep their SportsCenter or MLB app for random staring-at-your-phone time, but it’s not hard to imagine that those apps will get used less and less as more options are available in Yo.

Listen, am I going to download the app? Yes. Is it technically for my job? Yes. Does that make it easier to swallow? Not really. I’m 32. I’m probably not in Yo’s demographic. But curiosity has finally gotten the best of me. Perhaps that was their plan all along.


By The Numbers: Sports and Online Viewing

It should be no surprise to hear online viewing is on the rise, but just how dramatically it has risen is another matter. According to the latest Global Web Index poll — where it sampled 16-64 year-olds in 32 different countries — 55% of sports fans watched a sporting event online (a clarification email went unanswered when the question regarding Roku boxes and like counting for broadcast, online or both).

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The ESPN network and self-proclaimed “World-Wide Leader in Sports” did just that, with 30% of the polled users saying they watched a sport on ESPN3/WatchESPN. The second place Eurosport grabbed 18% of the online market. Of the previously mentioned 55% of online watchers, half of them tuned in using a laptop or computer. One in three used a mobile phone and one in five caught sports action on their tablets. In addition to ESPN’s stream viewing, their website also led the way with 20% of sports traffic heading their way on computers, 13% via mobile phone and was tied with Eurosport at 10% on tablets.

Despite the growth, standard television broadcasts still dominate the viewing market. The polled field averaged almost an hour per day of streamed content — not just sports — whereas they stated watching 2.78 hours of TV broadcasts. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that 18% of sports fans are now paying for online streams. The popularity of streaming platforms such as MLB.TV and Fox Soccer 2Go et al has certainly played a significant role in the rise of paid subscriptions and keep in mind this chart does not display some of the incredible viewing numbers esports attracts.

(Source and graphic via GWI)
(Header image via Twitter)

MLB Looking to Spin Off Advanced Media Division

You may have heard the term MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) in the past. They are the folks behind MLB.tv as well as the At Bat app and Gameday feeds. But they’ve gotten so good at delivering digital content, that they have branched outside of baseball. MLBAM now helps power the WWE Network, WatchESPN, and MLBAM technology will soon be providing the long-awaited standalone HBO GO service. MLBAM has become so large and powerful that MLB is looking to possibly turn it into its own business.

The idea is to keep the websites and ticketing stuff with MLB, but to fork everything else over to MLBAM. While it’s possibly a surprising move, it shouldn’t be unexpected. MLBAM makes crazy paper for MLB, and it’s only looking to expand. They took a bet on video streaming over ten years ago, and have since built a solid infrastructure around that technology. They are the mechanic that’s been on your block for decades — others might promise more, but MLBAM has been around forever. They know how to make these things work.

And no matter how much content providers whine and moan, more and more TV is going to be shown on things that aren’t TVs. WatchESPN is expanding all the time. HBO GO’s move will soon inspire other top-tier cable networks. We can every Simpsons episode ever made on our phones, for crying out loud. I feel like I’m in one of those news stories from the 90s that’s trying to tell you what the Internet is. You know these things I’m telling you, but they’re important to remember when thinking about what MLBAM is doing. Through some forward thinking, some early investments, and a little bit of luck, a sports league has ended up being a giant in one of the biggest tech industries around. And instead of sitting on their haunches, they’re being proactive about it. And that’s hard for a large company to do. Startups are nimble, easily adaptable. Big companies with lots of human and financial investment can’t navigate as quickly, but MLBAM is trying their best.

They are succeeding at it, too. And only look to get stronger and richer. Now, if they would return Sports on Earth to its former glory, then things would look even sunnier.

(Image via Geoff Livingston)

A Short History of Video Game Baseball: Tornado Baseball

Part 1: The Magnavox Odyssey

Four years have passed since Ralph Baer brought the thrill and excitement of baseball to your television via the Magnavox Odyssey and its three omnipresent white squares. The year is now 1976, and everyone is playing Pong, listening to Afternoon Delight and mourning the deaths of renowned Japanese electrical engineers Hidetsugu Yagi and Shintaro Uda. Magnavox has released two more home consoles, the 100 and 200, but it’s becoming clear that for the latest games, the burgeoning arcade scene is where, proverbially, it’s at.

We have the first ultra-violent video game, Death Race, based on the movie and rewarding players for running over stick-figure “gremlins” with their cars. Atari, with the help of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, release the iconic Breakout. Meanwhile, Midway Games returned to the grand old game, releasing the two-player arcade Tornado Baseball.

Baseball grew up a lot in those four years. Players are no longer represented by squares, or even one of the more intricate quadrilaterals. Instead they are honest-to-God stick figures with arms and legs and saddle-sore thighs, sometimes locked in rigid half-wave, as though shielding themselves from an unmoving and broiling sun. Also, there are eight of them, the catcher deemed unnecessary for the cause.

Tornado Baseball is still black and white – color arcade games were known by this time, but still expensive and rare – but instead of projecting directly out of a screen, it is cleverly projected upwards onto a mirrored panel that adds grassy green and dirty brown. The game is two-player only still, and certain actions are still automated: runners travel a predestined number of bases per hit, and throws and catches are made by the fielders without waiting for advice from the player. (In the event of a double play, the second out is called before the throw reaches first, in pleasant Frank Drebin-style umpiring). Outfielders, in what will become a common refrain, move with synchronized precision.

Mechanically, Tornado Baseball looks far more like the modern arcade baseball game than the Odyssey’s version: the batter is at the bottom, the fielders spread out above him. I say batter, but we’re not ready for that yet: instead we see a floating bat that swings through the plate at the push of a button. The pitcher selects one of eight different types of pitches and then steers it, in that wonderfully odd Mario-jump way, left and right and slow and fast to deceive the hated bat. After contact, it’s 1972 again: the ball flies off the screen in a given direction, the bat transforms into a runner and gets 0-4 bases depending on where the ball disappears. Quoted from the manual: “The infielders automatically move to make the plays, which adds to the excitement of the game.” Sure.

It’s not a game that aged well. The timing aspect of hitting remains the same as the Odyssey version, but the aiming mechanic on the part of the hitter has been eliminated; now it’s just wait and click. Also, the advanced graphics actually only succeed in underscoring how limited the game is in other aspects. In an interesting bit of flavor, the players run on and off the field between innings, and defenders run to cover bases – the pitcher in particular loves to cover first, even when the first baseman is still standing there – but there’s no animation for throwing a ball, which makes the game look as if it’s being played by little puppets.

Tornado Baseball grew in several directions. On the arcade side, it saw three sequels, each with a new name and a handful of slight improvements. Double Play (1977) added a computer AI but removed four of the eight pitch-types. Extra Inning (1978, not pluralized) restores the lost four pitches and adds a extra-game prize for hitting six letters in the outfield. Extra Bases (1980) finally included a graphical overhaul, including color and rudimentary bleep-blorp sound.

Astrocade

It was also a launch title for the now-forgotten Bally Astrocade, a home console from 1978. The Astrocade sold for a staggering $299 ($1,168.05 in 2014 dollars) and employed advanced technology for its era: the ability to display four of 256 colors onscreen at a time, 4k of RAM, 8k of ROM, and a glorious 160×102 resolution. Compare that to the Atari 2600 (128 colors, 128 bytes RAM, 4k ROM), released in the same year, and you can see why it paid to be rich in the late seventies, as in all other times.

It’s a rare case of the concurrent home port being far superior to the arcade original. Of the Midway baseball family, Tornado Baseball most resembles Extra Bases, released a full three years later. The limited resolution wreaks havoc on the font, and the stick-limbs of the players are a little more stick. It’s perhaps a bit of a disappointment, still feeling more like pachinko than sport. But if you loved baseball enough in 1977 to sink 1,196 quarters into it, the Astrocade was a cost-effective solution.


Southampton FC Announces New Partnership with Healthspan Elite

The Southampton Football Club — which sits a surprising fourth in the Barclay’s Premier League — has just announced a new partnership with Healthspan Elite. Already partnered with the club for vitamins, probiotics and fish oils, the vitamin and supplement supplier will now become the official nutrition partner in the first deal of its kind in the premiership. Healthspan Elite is already official partners with the British Sailing Team, Glasgow Warriors, Edinburgh Rugby, the Scottish Rugby Union and three associations.

Through 25 games Southampton trails only perennial powerhouses Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in the BPL. The Saints’ +21 goal differential is the third best as their defense and goalkeeping has combined to allow a league leading 17 goals surrendered. Since conditioning and health is essential, Southampton has relied on Healthspan Elite to keep their players fit. On the new deal, the Saints’ Head of Sports Science, Alek Gross was quoted:

“We’ve been using Healthspan Elite’s products for some time now and each of our players has a daily intake of vitamins to support the health and wellbeing plans we have in place. This partnership, however, will allow us to explore our strategy even further. By maximising the knowledge and expertise from both parties, we’re aiming to develop supplements that will aid the performance and recovery of our players.”

The deal will allow Healthspan Elite access to make use of the clubs internal player tracking, recovery timetables and the like, with both sides hoping to see gains in the player bounce-back performances. While Southampton plays their league games in the BPL for a total of 38 games, the Saints also participates in the Capital One Cup and Football Association Cup. As the matches and minutes pile up, players inevitably get sore, strained and the like. Any edge that can be had for top tier clubs will be taken advantage of, and Southampton is looking to do just that.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

Wearable Tech and Startups Highlight 9th Annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

The MIT Sloan School of Business will host its ninth annual sports analytics conference at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center next weekend. The conference attracts a host of luminaries from the sports business world, including general managers, owners, players and journalists. But over the last few years, a number of technology companies have made their presence felt as well, giving attendees a glimpse of the present and future of technology in sports.

Last year’s conference featured a number of innovative products and big announcements. The highlight, of course, was Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s unveiling of its StatCast system. A number of wearable sensor companies also made presentations: Adidas demonstrated the miCoach system that the German national team used en route to their World Cup win last summer, Zebra showed off the RFID tags that made its NFL partnership possible, and Diamond Kinetics let attendees try its SwingTracker bat sensor before it hit the market. The multitude of hands-on experiences with the sensors made the hallway outside the panel discussions feel a bit like a carnival midway.

A number of this year’s panels will also revolve around new technology. The Wearable Technology panel on Saturday morning features Zebra’s general manager for sports Eric Petrosinelli and Catapult’s North American president Brian Kopp. These two, along with Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins and Golden State Warriors assistant general manager Mark Lacob, will discuss the adoption of wearable technology, and discuss how teams are using data from wearable sensors to improve training and in-game decision making. No baseball devices are included in this panel, but the American Sports Medicine Institute’s Glenn Fleisig (who also consults for Motus Global) will be speaking on the Tommy John epidemic at the same time. Zebra’s general manager Jill Stelfox will also participate in a panel describing the “next-generation” statistics their sensors have brought to the NFL.

For those more interested in learning about technology’s impact on the fan experience, there is also a panel on “Designing the Stadium of the Future.” Some of the discussion will undoubtedly center on improving the fan experience, a familiar refrain for returning attendees. But stadium design company Populous is sending Jon Knight, a senior principal, to talk about design innovations and new technologies being incorporated into new stadiums. And YinzCam, a company dedicated to “the ultimate mobile fan experience,” will be on hand to silence any grousing about getting fans off their phones.

And there will be plenty of smaller companies making their debut on the big stage. The Startup Trade Show features 11 companies that run the gamut from fan experience apps to markerless motion capture systems to training managers and fitness guides. The companies will also compete in the Blitz Competition, where these startups pitch their business model to a panel of entrepreneurs for bragging rights and a small cash prize.

And there are a number of other interesting components, from the research papers to the conversation with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (which is sure to touch on the new StatCast system slated to be rolled out this season). Tickets for the conference sold out months ago, but Sloan usually broadcasts the conference over YouTube. Those willing to pay for the subscription (or at least sign up for the 14-day free trial) can enjoy the videos without having to brave the frozen wastelands of South Boston.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan)

NHL.com to Introduce 35 Advanced Statistics Today

The NHL will be introducing 35 new stats on their website today, ushering in a new era in the ways fans, media, and teams can measure the game. Adding to the puck and player tracking technology the NHL introduced at the 2015 All-Star Weekend, which TechGraphs chronicled, the 2014-2015 season may be remembered as the year the NHL left the analytics ice age and joined U.S. pro sports leagues in adopting advanced sports technology.

NHL COO John Collins said of the additions, “You’re going to see a big change in the way we present our stats, in terms of the depth and the utility of how to do it. And that’s before the puck tracking [system].” He later added, “We need to create a digital record of what happens on the ice. That’s standard across the league, and goes much deeper than the current real-time scoring system.”

The two most common advanced stats are Corsi and Fenwick, both of which estimate puck possession. For a primer on advanced NHL statistics check out this primer from Sports Illustrated, or for a deeper dive, take a look at Lighthouse Hockey’s introduction to hockey analytics.

In addition to being used by media and fans, the NHL will begin allowing teams and player agents to use these advanced statistics in arbitration hearings, which will change the criteria for how arbitration eligible players are compensated.

In fact, Jimmy Hascup of USA TODAY wrote an article today about player agent Allan Walsh, who brought up puck-possession metrics in a discussion about the value of one of his clients in a meeting with a general manager. After Walsh told  the officials they were missing an important part of his clients value, Walsh recounted,  “It was kind of like, ‘(expletive), he knows.’ It really brought discussion to a different level.”

But these new metrics aren’t being met with open arms by everyone associated with the NHL. Much like the scouts vs. quants stat wars chronicled in the Michael Lewis book, Moneyball, many in the NHL establishment have been resistant to these new metrics. Josh Gold-Smith from Awful Announcing covered this conflict recently, showing that one NHL columnist compared “analytics folks” to terrorists:

We’ve seen this story before in baseball and we know how it will end. Regardless of the opinions of stats-truthers, the NHL has already won by embracing advances in sports technology, which will bring dividends to the league and their fans for years to come.

(Image via Wikimedia)

WatchESPN Now Available to DirecTV Customers

It’s been a good week for DirecTV customers who want to stream sports online. After an announcement earlier this week that FOX Sports GO would be available to customers of the U.S.’s largest satellite provider, ESPN has announced that their expanding online streaming service will be available to subscribers of DirecTV as well.

Channels like ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, Longhorn Network, SEC Network and SEC Network+ will all be available to stream via web browser or apps for iOS, Android, gaming systems, smart TVs, and connected devices for DirecTV customers who can provide a valid login. This also means that, thanks to a partnership between ESPN and TSN, I will be able to watch John Morris’ return to the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship come the end of the month.

Trust me, that’s exciting.


YouTube To Launch Subscription-Based Service

According to CNBC, YouTube could be on the brink of a major makeover for companies and content creators. The service would offer a subscription price to eliminate advertisements in videos. Google — which bought out YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006 — has been experimenting with a subscription based revenue model since 2013, though now it seems the service will launch full-scale in a matter of months.

The ad-free experimental model, starting as low as $0.99 per month, currently features partnerships with National Geographic, PGA, UFC and 26 other channels. After two months the service wasn’t quite what some hoped, at least according to National Geographic’s senior vice president of global strategy. On top of the channels and content, YouTube is also launching their Music Key service in order to bring ad-free content specifically to music videos.

As more and more people are finding ways around the pre-roll and in-video ads — the Ad Block Plus Chrome extension claims over 50 million users — it will be curious to see what demographic this new YouTube service is aimed at. As someone who has cut the cord, I rely on streaming services for information, entertainment and the like. While I turn off ABP for certain websites and for Twitch.TV, for the vast majority of my computer based browsing, I leave it on.

The sheer volume of content on YouTube is staggering: over one billion active users upload 300 hours of content is uploaded every minute. Despite sporting an impressive 50% advert revenue going back to the partners on YouTube, this new subscription-based model for generating revenue could be the cure for people like myself who use third-party options to avoid ads. I certainly can’t speak for everyone using ABP or a similar service, but advertisements are a matter of being an inconvenience and for me, just being impatient.

I for one, welcome our new subscription based YouTube overlords.

(Header image via YouTube)

REVIEW: 100% Food, a Liquid Meal-Replacement

A few weeks ago, I began to explore the idea of the Soylent Athlete. More specifically, I asked: Can an athlete better meet his or her fitness goals by using powder meal replacements?

The catalyst for this line of thinking, the unforgettably-named Soylent, just raised a whole mess of money in the venture capital world and looks to up their production levels as a result. Which is great. Because I ordered Soylent sometime in mid 2014, and I’m still waiting on my first batch.

But in the meantime, there are many Soylent alternatives available. The recipe for Soylent itself is open source, meaning there are a lot of similar and hopefully great product on the market. Today, I’m going to look at 100% Food from Space Nutrients Station.

Grades

Taste: 7
Texture: 6
Nutrients: 9
Packaging: 10
Ego Depletion: 6
Price: 8

Rating: 7.7

 

Taste

I have now tried four variants of 100% Food: The normal vanilla (or “raw”), the normal chocolate, the low carb vanilla, and the low carb chocolate. I have liked all four flavors, and — texture and consistency aside — my favorite flavor might be the Low Carb Raw variety. But the chocolate flavors are excellent, too, and contain Ghirardelli chocolate powder in them. For funsies, you can also add a little chocolate syrup, though that obviously eats away at the health benefits of the meal.

One thing I really wanted, though, was a spicy option. Or perhaps a savory option to which I can add any of my delicious hot sauces. My office neighbor is always dousing his food in Crystals, and it makes eating something mildly sweet almost like torture. I love hot sauces, and I can’t stand by as others eat hot sauces without me.

Overall, are the different flavors of 100% Food suited for everyone? Maybe, maybe not. It really smells better than most of my doubting coworkers expected, and has much more flavor than its gruelish appearance.

Texture

Let me start by saying the texture is difficult. For many people — my wife included — the texture and consistency is a non-starter. There are whole sesame and chia seeds in the mix, and with water, the meal thickens into a kind of paste. Sometimes, especially with the low carb varieties, the powder will clump into thick, tough balls inside the bottle or even leave whole gaps of powder untouched by water (this was never an issue in the normal varieties, just the low carb ones). The remaining combo of water and powder can then create a sort of snotty paste — not fun to look at.

I really don’t throw up much, but after my first 100% Food meal, I nearly did. I ate the majority of the bottle problem free, but then had just a little bit of powder left. I added some extra water and swirled the contents together. I learned from later experiments that the water/powder balance is best when it’s near milkshake consistency, but that first night, I glorged out a mouthful of watery meal as my body said, “Nope! That’s not the consistency we expected!”

That caveat delivered, when I can get the powder whipped into a milkshake or oatmeal consistency — which is about 90% of the time for the normal stuff, 75% of the time with the low carb variety — then the consistency is actually one that I rather like. Sometimes, I’ll make it with hot water and it’s like drinking down some vanilla or chocolate oatmeal of some sort.

Nutrients

This is the part where I’m most jazzed. Let’s compare my life before and during a wholly Space Nutrients diet:

After switching to a 100% FOOD diet, my nutrient intakes went from erratic to stable, if not very healthy.

After switching to a 100% FOOD diet, my nutrient intakes went from erratic to stable — and especially healthy.

Basically: I was getting way too much sodium, not enough fiber, too much fat, and probably an oversized dose of protein (coming specifically in the form of red meat, i.e. burgers). According to the nutrient standards set by the USDA and the NIH, I became a super-prudent eater after I began eating only 100% Food. I was having about 50% more than the recommended daily intake of fiber; I cut my fat intake to appropriate levels; I had sodium under control, probably for the first time in my life; and I consumed almost 0 cholesterol (which corresponds with a 200 Cholesterol-).

I hear it’s important to get some “good cholesterol,” but since the NIH or USDA did not suggest a minimum amount of ol’ cholesty, I guess it’s good I lost it completely from my diet.

I went from typically missing my calorie goals (usually around 2500 on days I run) to landing well under them.

I went from typically missing my calorie goals (usually around 2500 on days I run) to landing well under them.

How did this new diet affect my body? Well, first of all, let’s talk about the gap in the middle of my data. On October 30th, at almost precisely 6:00 a.m., my son burst into our lives. He’s a great little fella, but he does not fit neatly into the pocket of my jogging shorts or the nice jogging stroller we have. So the following data I consider very incomplete because I switched from jogging almost every day to jogging occasionally shortly after his birth.

But here is a sample for how my body reacted to 100% Food:

Despite eating nothing but a milkshake-like paste, I managed to maintain my usual running distances and paces.

Despite eating nothing but a milkshake-like paste, I managed to maintain my usual running distances and paces.

And here is a similar look that show how my runs still clustered with my pre-100% Food performances.

The upper-right orange dots represents one of my best runs in the whole month, but overall, I did not see either a spike or major dip in my running ability.

The upper-right orange dots represents one of my best runs in the whole month, but overall, I did not see either a spike or major dip in my running ability.

Did the liquid diet make me a better runner immediately? Did it give me an instant pep in my step? Maybe a bit psychologically, but not in a discernable physical way. Shortly after this period, I tweaked my ankle (not to mention had a kid) and found myself out of commission for a while. I hope to someday revisit this study, though, and track more physical performance data.

AWFUL AND DISGUSTING, BUT HONEST NOTE: Many people complain about the impact 100% Food’s fiber has on their puny digestive systems. But I’m a fiber fanatic. My body has been training for a spotlight like this, so I did not notice a discernable or at least negative difference in flatulence or bowel movements. If anything, I endured less straining and grunting and praying during BMs. Sorry, but I’m just reporting the facts. Back to the non-poo-related part of the article…

Packaging

Because they come in neat, self-contained bottles, I never spent more than 5 minutes preparing a meal. That’s pretty fantastic.

I understand that Soylent and Joylent and some of the other liquid meal groups require users to make a batch beforehand and parcel out bits of food throughout the day, perhaps in sports bottles or used water bottles. I’m not sure, but I do know this current method of delivery for 100% Food works and works well.

I should mention, though, that convenient doesn’t mean great things for the environment. This 10-star rating for the package has to do only with the user’s experience, not the overall impact of the item. That is a calculus the user must complete (as in, what’s worse: garbage dumps filled with plastic bottles, or gallons of water used on washing reusable bottles).

Ego Depletion

Here’s the biggest problem for me. I didn’t mind the texture, but by the end of the day, all I could think about was whatever delicious smells my wife was microwaving. Could I have maintained an all-soylent diet as a college athlete? Maybe if everyone in my apartment and on my team were doing the same. But in a house where real old-fashioned food is being made and consumed, I think it is near impossible.

I wanted to continue to test the different flavors of 100% Food (thus the gap between my data and publish date), and I found a good process that works for me: Eat 100% Food for breakfast and lunch, then share a traditional meal with the wife at dinner. That works pretty well for me, but I still struggle with matters of ego depletion: After eating really healthy throughout the work day, I find myself splurging on chocolate or popcorn at the end of the day. It’s not a great strategy, and I could very much see this as a problem for athletes who already have a lot of stress on the menu.

Price

At around $5 a bottle (even after shipping), it is certainly affordable, but it once was better. When I started in September, I was paying about $3 for bottle. And I believe Soylent wants to get down to $2 a bottle.

Conclusions

Here’s what I think I’ve discovered:

  1. The product tastes good enough for me. I’m going to keep eating it so I can work through lunch and go home early. At least until a better product comes along.
  2. Eventually, a whole bottle of 100% Food became too filling for me, so I would have half the bottle for breakfast (leaving some of the un-mixed powder at the bottom of the bottle) and then eat the rest for lunch. (This was not an issue when I was still running and needing far more calories.)
  3. In order for this to be a viable meal for 90% of my life, instead of the 66% it occupies now, I need a spicy option. Or perhaps more flavors in general. The current flavors work well for me, but I still need just a touch more variety.

Eat well, my friends!

Check out the for some great resources on liquid meal-replacements.


ESPN Relaunches App, USA TODAY Introduces New One

Last week ESPN relaunched its app, now self titled after ditching the Sports Center name, while USA TODAY introduced a sports app any serious sports fan will want to add to their library. The former features rebranding with some tighter design, along with the first iPad app, but USA TODAY’s spotlights innovations in the form of hot game alerts and a self proclaimed “Best. Scoreboard.Ever.”

Let’s start with the old but new. At first glance, ESPN (which only has updated the iOS version) offers a very similar user experience. My settings translated smoothly with the update. When I receive news alerts, it’s still accompanied by the infamous SportsCenter jingle. But there’s a bigger picture, which ESPN recently explained to The Verge. Along with an updated phone app and its first iPad app, ESPN will launch a major redesign on April 1, the website’s 20th anniversary. John Kosner, executive vice president of digital for ESPN, told The Verge the goal is to create an experience across all platforms that is “fundamentally similar in terms of the look and feel.”

ESPN added a “Now” column, a Twitter-esque scroll of news nuggets, reporter Tweets, images and videos chosen by the editorial staff to enhance the scores and news featured by the app – and not bog it down with redundancy.

espnappnow

Want to watch a game after scrolling through scores? Tap it and the WatchESPN app opens automatically.

For Android users, ESPN said it is still working on that platform and did not offer an estimated relaunch date other than “weeks or months to come.”

Meanwhile, the USA TODAY Sports app is available for iOS and Android. And it has some fun features that ESPN’s offering does not. The hot game alert feature, which can be toggled on or off in the settings, blasts in-progress notifications so users won’t miss those can’t-miss moments.

“Consumers have so many options for news and information, yet so few of them solve a fan’s most basic problem: What do I need to know right now so I don’t miss out on what everyone else is talking about, or will be talking about?” said Mark Pesavento, vice president of digital strategy for USA TODAY Sports in a press release.

Tim Gardner is the director of digital programming for USA Today. The editorial team, which works around the clock, falls under his watch, and is responsible for monitoring games and triggering the hot game alerts.

“If it’s Old Dominion and George Mason and they’re heading to double overtime, we’re going to alert you on that as well,” Gardner told NiemanLab.

And then there’s the Best.Scoreboard.Ever. That same editorial staff lists the most important games of the day. Tonight’s top option is North Carolina (16) at Duke (5). Since it’s not yet March, I haven’t paid attention to college hoops one bit. I had no idea the legendary rivalry kicked off its 2015 campaign tonight. And since I already watched this week’s Better Call Saul, maybe I’ll catch a bit of the game. Or at least wait for a hot game alert notify me when it’s late in the second half.

usatodayeditoronduty

At the bottom of scoreboard it identifies, with photo and Twitter handle, the editor on duty. Poor Evan Hilbert. He’s going to read some harsh tweets tomorrow morning when I realize he didn’t send one hot game alert and I missed the entire Tarheels/Blue Devils slugfest after I fell asleep on the couch.

The app filters news and scores by sport, too, so you’re not just stuck on Evan’s decision making. But compared to ESPN’s app, USA TODAY Sports is pared down. And that’s on purpose. This is for mobile use only. USA TODAY isn’t the multimedia behemoth that ESPN is. It doesn’t need to synergize apps and web and video. Its goal is simple with the app – to fulfill a niche. A niche for the itch of the can’t-miss-moments sports fan.


How and Where to Watch College Baseball Online


Carlos Rodon’s slider simultaneously giveth, taketh away.

Collegiate baseball possesses two compelling qualities even for those who, like the author, don’t have a vested interest in a particular school’s success on the field. For one, it offers the opportunity to consume actual baseball at a time when — like all of February and March, for example — at a time when the professional version of the game remains entirely too obscure. For two, it allows one to watch and become acquainted with no fewer than half the players who’ll be selected in the first round of the amateur draft in June.

White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon, for example, was ranked eighth among all prospects by Kiley McDaniel this morning at our sister site, FanGraphs. Rodon’s repertoire includes a fastball that sits at 92-95 mph and, more impressively, a slider which, by some unusual property, has demonstrated the capacity to repair the ozone. At this time last year, however — months before he was selected third overall by Chicago — Rodon was throwing those sliders for NC State.

“That sounds excellent, but how does one find his or her way to such a game?” is a reasonable question to ask at this juncture — and one I’d like to answer poorly in what follows.

As a resident of a region in which college baseball isn’t widely available — or, at least, not available at the highest level — I’ve been forced to search for either television broadcasts or streaming video. The former is often more expensive than the latter.

If one’s interest is in having access to the greatest number of games for the least amount of money, CBS’s College Sports Live is the best option. It costs just $9.95 per month and is available as an app, as well, for iPad and iPhone and Android devices. As I documented at NotGraphs a couple years ago, I subscribed to an earlier version of this same service called ULive. College Sports Live features three distinct advantages over ULive: a more intuitive layout, accessibility on other devices, and price (ULive was $14.95 per month).

CSL
College Sports Live offers live games and on-demand replays.

This past weekend, I used College Sports Live to watch two ranked teams (Rice and Texas) play each other — and was also able to see possible first-round selection, Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay, make a start against Lamar University. While the feeds for both those games were reasonably strong in terms of video quality and camera angle, one is also at the mercy of the particular university’s resources so far as that’s concerned. A Virginia game featuring top collegiate pitcher Nathan Kirby was also available, but the main camera was an elevated, behind-the-plate one that lacked intimacy and provided almost no information regarding Kirby’s pitches.

I note in that review of ULive from three years ago that I chose to watch Stanford and Vanderbilt — and, indeed, the latter of those schools features probably the best team in all of college baseball at the moment. So far as I can tell, however, watching Vanderbilt by way of College Sports Live is impossible now, since the introduction of the SEC Network a couple years ago, the product of a partnership between the conference and ESPN.

SEC
WatchESPN’s college baseball content is largely provided by the SEC.

The SEC Network is available by way of most digital cable packages, but seems to require one of the more robust subscription levels from any given provider. To receive the SEC Network at my home would necessitate something called Digital Basic, for example, which costs roughly $95 per month. It does include access via WatchESPN online not only to all the normal programming found on the SEC Network, but also to SEC Network Plus, which offers feeds of games unavailable on the the actual channel. If one really is dedicated to the idea of watching of watching the best college baseball, ignoring the SEC poses some difficulties. Right-hander Walker Buehler, shortstop Dansby Swanson, and other shortstop Alex Bregman, for example, were all featured near the top of Kiley McDaniel’s way-too-early 2015 draft rankings — and all play for SEC schools.

The Stanford-Vanderbilt game would be impossible to watch on College Sports Live in 2015 for another reason: the conference to which the other school belongs also has its own network now. Nor is this unique at this point. In addition to the Pac-12 Network is also the Ivy League and even Southern Conference networks.


FOX Sports GO Now Available to DirecTV Subscribers

Pete Vlastelica, head of Digital at Fox Sports, has recently announced that the network’s online streaming service — FOX Sports GO — will now be available to the U.S.’s largest satellite provider, DirecTV.

This means that DirecTV customers can now access the growing amount of sporting events and programming offered by Fox Sports online. I just checked myself, and was able to view multiple NASCAR, soccer, and college basketball offerings.

This, along with the coming ability to access WatchESPN, is a boon to DirecTV’s offering and, frankly, has been a long time coming. With the increasing demand for streaming-service access, DirecTV finally has leveled the playing field with its competitors, at least in terms of sports.

The FOX Sports GO app is available for both iOS and Android, and is accessible via standard web browser.

(h/t Awful Announcing)


New Esports Program Debuts in Norway

Norway’s largest commercial television network, TV2, announced a trio of esports leagues to be aired on their programming. The three leagues will consist of League of Legends, StarCraft II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. TV2 is partnering with House of Nerds, a large Local Area Network (LAN) center with over 100 computer stations, in order to accommodate the new leagues. The House of Nerds arena is over 1,000 square meters and while the infrastructure is there, no announcements of prize pools, distribution or commentators have yet been made.

Norway isn’t a stranger to the esports scene, particularly with the success of Jens “Snute” Aasgaard, currently ties for #21 in the world according to World Championship Series points. Aasgaard finished 2014 as the #17 ranked player and the highest non-South Korean player in StarCraft II. He just qualified for round of 16, sweeping his group without losing a map and winning 4-0.

The country also owns a solid history of competitive Counter-Strike, going back to the days before CS:GO. In Counter-Strike 1.4/1.5/1.6, Norway boasted a strong collection of talent with multiple world champions in players such as Jørgen ‘XeqtR’ Johannessen and Ola ‘elemeNt’ Moum.

The competitions are set to play a 10 week season, though whether the leagues will be decided by an open qualifier, invites or a mix hasn’t been released yet. Matches will be aired on TV2 Sumo, the entertainment network, though TV2 Sport will also feature the games. Corporate sponsorships are nothing new, but a full partnership to broadcast esports matches — similar to the X Games and Major League Gaming agreement in Aspen — to an entire nation grows the popularity and acceptance of esports.

(Header image via eSports Norway’s Facebook Page)

Congressional Republicans Reintroduce Bill To Outlaw Online Gambling

Looking at my Venmo app the past couple weeks one might think that sports gambling in the US was legal. Gambling related debts have shown up frequently in my feed in the aftermath of the Super Bowl on the payments sharing app. But with the reintroduction of a bill to Congress that would make all online gambling illegal, bettors might want to start relabeling their Venmo gambling debts as “groceries.”

With sports gambling legal in only four states, the vast majority of wagers are placed with local bookmakers or offshore gambling sites. Mirroring Prohibition-era legislation and the US war on drugs, American gaming laws are puritanical, archaic, and often counterproductive. Some estimate only one percent of sports wagers are made legally and third-party “runners” often place bets at legal sportsbooks to launder money for criminals.

Which makes it odd that a group of Congressional Republicans would reintroduce a bill titled Restoration of the Wire Act (RAWA), named after the 1961 law criminalizing wagers made over wires. The legislation would outlaw online gaming, save for fantasy sports, which is exempted by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). Fantasy sports are classified as a game of skill (poker is somehow not), so it is legal at the federal level, with 40 states having laws on the books that follow suit.

You may have been able to surmise RAWA hasn’t been met with unified Republican support given this isn’t its first trip through Congress. In fact, in an interview earlier this year Senator John McCain said about legalized sports gambling, “We need a debate in Congress. We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue (sports gambling) so we can build consensus.”

This coming after Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, stepped forward in an op-ed for the New York Times, calling for Congress and other professional sports leagues to explore legalizing sports gambling, writing, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.” Quickly getting past the irony of the fact that the NBA was the last pro sports league to have a point shaving scandal, Silver’s stance is more pragmatic than bold.

It turns out that casinos, who stand to benefit the most from a lack of competition, are the influencers behind the reintroduction of RAWA by Congressional Republicans. As Steven Silver of Above the Law Redline wrote, the ringleader behind the casino industry’s push to pass RAWA is Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner. Silver, a former sports reporter and lawyer, noted Adelson, “has openly admitted that he would be willing ‘to spend whatever it takes’ to halt the spread of gambling over the Internet.”

Adelson has been using his deep pockets to influence US gaming legislation as well as to finance the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which, as the USA Today notes, “warns of children gambling on their smartphones and tablets.” This last bit is nothing more than laughable moralistic cover and obfuscation for the real issue at hand — protection of Adelson’s business interests.

Alison Siciliano, of the Coalition for Consumer and online protection said in response to the reintroduction of RAWA, “casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has relentlessly twisted the arms of members of Congress to pass an ill-conceived ban on Internet gaming.”

With fantasy sports apps like FanDuel and DraftKings predicted to handle more entry fees than all Las Vegas sports books combined by the end of this year, it’s easy why Adelson sees online gambling as a threat to casino gaming. However, with online gambling’s increasing popularity and power players like John McCain and Adam Silver sticking their necks out for legalization, it’s unlikely Sheldon Adelson will have enough firepower to shut down the entire enterprise.

(Header image via flickr)