MLB.com enters its own spring training phase; looks to improve streaming experience
By Carl Lindemann
What is the secret of successfully sparking social networking on your Web site? Give ‘em something to talk about, and get it to them fast, says Joe Inzerillo, SVP, Multimedia and Distribution, MLB.com. At MLB.com that means slashing the turnaround time between when conversation-provoking plays happen and when they’re available on the various MLB.com platforms for fan scrutiny.
“We’ll be chumming the waters putting as much content out there for discussion as possible,” says Inzerillo. “People’s expectations on the news and information business is not just to post content on the web page, but to put it in people’s hands the way they want it. That means pushing it out in a dozen file formats in less than five minutes.”
Speedy multiplatform distribution is just one of the upgrades coming to MLB.com that will begin with the start of Spring Training this week. The full phase-in includes what Inzerillo promises to be access to a full “TV quality” one-megabit stream of every game for subscribers.
Turbo-charging workflow with new tools and techniques to speed syndication has dominated Inzerillo’s efforts in the off-season with a massive coding effort to automate processes.
“We want to turn around volumes of highlights in minutes and this requires a lot of new work processes. We’ve been in the trenches writing code to carry this out because conventional workflow techniques are not up to the task,” Inzerillo said.
This massive investment is driven by the desire to create the next generation social networking experience. Offering up all this content in searchable form creates the foundation for the evolution of this concept. The first phase of content-driven social networking at sites like YouTube has operated on a mass popularity basis. A particular clip gains currency and is passed along through viral marketing. Viewers don’t find much on these sites through search. Visitors don’t find the hot content – it finds them after being passed by friends.To reach critical mass requires a mass market. More obscure content, however interesting, is easily overlooked.
The next generation opens up the opportunity for micro audiences to extract value from far more content. What this means in practice is simple. Virtually every play has some aspect that at least a handful of those in baseball fandom would find something to kibitz about. Why not serve up all this content in ways that are accessible and searchable so that the audience can extract every bit of interest available? Here, every stat posted will immediately link to video of the action behind it.
What this means in terms of growing an audience is simple. The YouTube concept may find a million viewer looking at 10 clips. What MLB.com aims to achieve is building out small audiences for thousands of clips. Each draws a few thousand views and this quickly adds up to a lot of viewing time. What’s more, these micro audiences connect to compare notes deepening their relationship with each other and with the sport.
Making this work is no easy task. In fact, getting content out is getting more challenging with the proliferation of platforms.
“This requires a lot of meticulous work,” says Inzerillo. “The distribution side is getting worse, not better. Just a year ago, Apple TV didn’t exist. Now, syndicating content to it requires a different methodology. Add the fact that cell phones and TVs are more and more like computers with different standards and networks needed to deliver to each and we must serve our customers on each. That is our challenge as a content provider and what’s required to control our own destiny.”
Another way to look at this is to put each fan in the producer’s chair. They get to pick what highlight they want to see instead of just relying on someone else’s taste. Increasingly, fans are sharing what they want and how they want it with MLB.com. Inzerillo’s task is to turn information of their interests into (almost) instant gratification. Another new product delivering on this is the upgraded Mosaic product.
“We’ve enhanced the quality and flexibility so that fans can build a matrix of games they want to watch in real time. They can switch between the audio feed seamlessly, going from game to game,” Inzerillo says.
Letting fans program their browser to gather content is one thing. Having them provide information about their interests so that content tailored to them is served up involves a trust relationship. MLB.com gains massive market insight on its fans in the process.
“This is a great synergistic give-and-take,” adds Inzerillo. “There’s a trust covenant and we respect it.”