SBJ conference looks at future of sports media

YouTube, Google, the NFL’s flex schedule and mobile video topped the list of issues facing the sports industry that were part of a wide-ranging panel of top sports executives at the Sports Business Journal’s eighth-annual Sports Media & Technology conference this morning in New York City.

Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and CEO, said that while Google and YouTube have done a great job of getting people to the Internet and that YouTube has been respectful of live-event sporting rights.

But David Levy, Turner Entertainment Ad Sales and Turner Sports president, says that the real lesson is consumers will get the content where they want it. “The question is, are you there legally?” he said. “But we want to be there.”

Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, pointed to the fact that, like with MySpace, the timing is right and the economic model works effectively for a company like News Corp. as a promo tool as well.

As for the valuation of YouTube? Bowman said no. “You can have social networking and user-generated content…but it only takes a few seconds to type in,” he added. That’s one reason YouTube has pulled down MLB clips. “Once you exert and suggest it’s copyrighted they take it down,” he added.

The trick, said Goren, is figuring out a way to monetize rights the way has done. Added Levy, you don’t need a linear product.

With respect to user-generated content Goren said every week there are stories about the latest and greatest technology but it still comes back to the product. At first it was recycling content and the

“People on the Web are accepting bad quality content because it’s there but eventually the quality will be a factor and ultimately you will need quality content,” added Levy.

Goren said that short-form content shot for the small screen could be a way to excite consumers to pay $20 a month. Bowman, whose organization has managed to get consumers to pay, added that his company has just begun to scratch the surface. “Broadband is just now getting out of the embryonic stage and we’re so far behind the rest of the world with true broadband,” said Bowman. “

And then there are condensed games. DirecTV is currently offering them up, letting fans see every play in 30 minutes. “And they say baseball is poorly paced,” quipped Bowman.

The flex schedule also game up with Goren wondering why the broadcasters had to pick their games after week four. “We didn’t know the particulars of the flex schedule and why should our crystal balls be better than the NFL crystal ball?” he added.

“Keep the scorecard the best games of the week will be on Fox and CBS and as long as our crystal ball is working we’ll be fine,” said Goren, One change Goren would like to see is being able to roll out the flexible schedule week after week as opposed to announcing all protected games after week four.

With respect to HD Goren said the only issue has been the cost of ramping up without financial benefits. “It really hasn’t added a viewer but it has improved the quality,” said Goren.

Levy said the challenge for the cable and satellite operator is a capacity issue. “And do they want to pay for it?” he added. “The question is whether we want to get paid for that additional channel. Do we want to be in HD for free or do the operators want more channel capacity?”

Fantasy is also a growing factor. “We envy the simplicity of point spreads,” said Bowman. “True baseball fantasy takes 30 minutes a day and that’s a lot of time.”

So what is the future? Goren said the major events would still attract the largest audience in TV. “What you might see is some of the smaller events that currently have to buy their way onto TV migrating to other areas,” he said.

Bowman added that convergence has yet to become a part of everyday life but that increasingly viewers will move to two-screen experiences. And for broadband providers like that means working with the TV networks to create a total content package where both screens complement each other and add to a richer experience.

“I could see, in the future, an isolated camera on Lebron James,” said Levy. “The linear channel will still be broadcasting the event itself but what the viewer is doing on the side will change thing. And you’ll be able to know whether the audience is clicking on it. It’s all about testing.”

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