Live streaming major sporting events is a tricky proposition for network television. The internet gives limitless opportunities to show events large and small to fans, but there is a still a lingering fear that putting content online will leech the television audience (and it’s advertising dollars).
For example, CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus recently said that his network isn’t willing to risk the loss of television advertising to put the SuperBowl online. He told Paid Content: “We’re not going to do anything to sacrifice the revenue opportunity of the Super Bowl on TV, such as live streaming.”
But those decisions are not always left up to the networks. The U.S. Open begins today and the U.S. Tennis Association is live streaming every match at USOpen.org this year. I caught up with Phil Green, the USTA’s senior director of advanced media, to talk about the USTA’s approach to events this year and what tennis fans can expect to see coming from Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Why did you decide to livestream all of the matches this year?
We came off a record year last year, in terms of ticket sales and online web traffic. As far as live streaming for 2009, this is the next iteration for us. CBS is still our broadcast partner for regular broadcast, but we have a new television agreement with ESPN2 and USA. As part of our new agreement with ESPN, we are able to offer live streaming in the U.S. Our goal is to bring the U.S. Open to tennis fans in any way that they can access it. Offering this live online is a tremendous asset for the fan and the USTA.
Are you worried about losing out on television advertising by having all of the events online?
In essence, you’re not cannibalizing your TV audience by watching online. As CBS’ March Madness or MLB Baseball have shown, you’re only enhancing the product. At the end of the day, if people have a 50-inch plasma or 19-inch computer, what are they going to watch? As good as our video is going to be, a 50-inch plasma will be better. This enhances what’s on TV, and people are more likely to watch when they do get in front of the TV.
What else are you doing in the digital space?
IBM has helped us create an iPhone application this year. We think it’s outstanding. There’s integrated live scores and stats, live radio streaming with USOpen.org radio, which goes to the control booth at Arthur Ashe stadium, with a live tennis play by play. They’re doing commentary whenever there are matches going on. And that’s completely integrated with our “Ask The Booth” feature — you can ask questions via the app or website. The venue map on the iPhone is sponsored by AMEX, which also offers exclusive member card benefits – it’s a great three way activiation between U.S. Open, IBM and AMEX.
There are also new initiatives. We’re launching our first bracket challenge, which is a fantasy game that lets users predict who will win each match onilne. The winner of each draw will win a trip to next year’s Open. We launched The U.S. Open widget last year. There’s a Spanish version of that this year. We also have an entire new embedded video experience this year. We’ve integrated it into article pages to the site, which is huge for us. There are interactive elements, like the “fan zone.” There’s a photo caption option for fans and the “As it happens” feature — one of our reporters will keep a running blog throughout the tournament where fans can ask questions. Plus Facebook and Twitter.
How do you approach advertising in different mediums?
Every experience is different. Television integration is one thing. Online is another. Onsite activation is another. It depends on the advertiser and what their goals are and what they’re trying to accomplish. We have three partners.IBM is our official tech partner for the US Open. They developed USOPEN.Org, and developed our console. On the ground, IBM is doing live scoring. Stonyfield Farm is selling their new Greek organic yogurt. They have signage on the grounds and sampling opportunities, while Westin is strictly online.
How much have things changed since last year?
This is my second U.S. Open. Like everywhere else in the digital space, a very steep growth curve year to year. Going back over each year you giant leaps. We have up to five show courts in high definition, which is huge. Plus the iPhone application. And in six month it will be very different, let alone a year. We had a Twitter account last year. We were on it, but nobody knew.
The Internet has changed the game, with every sport. It’s true interaction. With live scores, live stats and the streaming. People in their office can watch the matches now.
It used to be the only way you could get merchandise from a sporting event was from attending it. Now anyone can buy it. Now we’re auctioning off the opportunity for a fan to be a writer for USOpen.org for a day. None of that existed before. It’s easier to get to the venue and easier to access the event through digital media. Basically, we let you do everything but park your car and buy a hotdog.