Nanogaming takes fantasy sports, TV viewing to next level

By Carl Lindemann

SVG Digital Media correspondent

Barroom banter over sports contests shows the inherently interactive nature of sports media. We naturally want to react and interact with each other while watching. Unlike, say, going to a movie where audience distractions are typically shunned, being with a good sports crowd can turn even a mediocre contest into an engaging experience.

Now LiveHive, a Canadian company, is seeking to systematize and virtualize this by taking cues from the success of fantasy sports.

“Just step into any bar while some contest is in the TV,” says LiveHive co-founder Robert Riopelle. “Everyone wants to prove they have the most knowledge, the best understanding of what’s going on. It’s highly competitive, and what we do is structure this competition that takes place watching an event.”

Riopelle calls it nanogaming. After testing out the concept and software for it in the ’06 NFL season to work out the bugs in the technology and to fine-tune the concept with test audiences, the actual rollout starts with this year’s baseball season. Beginning with today’s Toronto v. Detroit game, visitors to the sports blog can sign in and join in the competitive kibitzing.

The potential for nanogaming is intriguing. This concept follows on the heels of the runaway success of fantasy sports that have likewise formalized and virtualized sports “pools” at the office. In the past five years, as many as 18 million have joined these fantasy sports leagues to take on the role, at least in the participant’s imagination, of playing GM putting together teams. What’s especially intriguing is how the fantasy sports participants represent the cream of audience demographics – affluent early adopters of technology and trends that are the envy of advertisers.

In contrast, nanogaming puts participants more in the role of the coach. By tapping in on an internet-connected computer while watching a game (a cell phone app is in the works), participants can “what-if” to their heart’s delight to demonstrate their prowess. Riopelle estimates that there are 300-400 opportunities for making predictions in an average baseball game so there is plenty of action to engage particular interests.

Riopelle says the time is right for nanogaming because the barriers to entry are minimal. He points to a MLB Advanced Media statistic that showed that some 40% of baseball fans have a second screen operating while watching a game. Wireless connected laptops are everywhere, and why not give fans the opportunity to use them to interact with the game? Unlike set top box schemes that call for a great deal of gizmo-gathering, this just requires a sign-up and software download to turn a PC into a nanogaming device.

It would seem that the natural partners for nanogaming are the sports leagues themselves. But Riopelle says that this can, in principle, be carried out with of without them. While it depends on sports content, this use should not, he says, run into legal issues. It’s no different than blogging about a game or compiling stats. Of course, the leagues themselves could possibly differ in their view of the legal boundaries. The simple solution would be to partner with the leagues. For now, Riopelle has no comment about such discussions except to note that the ability to use the actual team and league logos would obviously add to the nanogaming experience.

While the nanogaming concept seems ideally suited to sports, it may have other viable applications including connecting with reality TV shows. Basically, it’s a much-needed outlet for those who can’t help kibitzing and who want recognition for when their second-guessing goes right. If LiveHive gets it right the first time, it could be a big league hit.

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