Second Screen Takes Center Stage at DSports Conference

By Carolyn Braff

On Nov. 12, 185 professionals in the digital sports space gathered at the Doubletree hotel in New York City for the second annual DSports Conference. The packed agenda covered topics from HD streaming and low-cost Web production to mobile-device delivery and an exercise in predicting the future, with several presentations from leading technology providers sprinkled throughout the day. Aspera and Move Networks sponsored the event, while Adobe, ViewCast, and Vusion were participating sponsors, and Bexel served as the AV sponsor.

Perkins Miller, SVP, digital media, for NBC Sports and Olympics, kicked off the day-long program with a keynote address on the success of NBC’s digital initiatives during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. His discussion of how NBC’s digital assets drew more viewers to TV screens over the course of the games set the stage for one of the day’s central themes: the power and pitfalls of the second screen.

For the next generation of sports fans, a beautiful HD picture on a 52-inch plasma screen just doesn’t cut it. These viewers want that screen, plus a second one filled with replays, statistics, and on-demand information. Luckily for broadcasters, the growth of the second screen does not mean the death of the first, as detailed by executives throughout the sports-broadcast industry at the conference.

No. 2 Builds Up No. 1

Miller opened up the second-screen discussion in his keynote address, pointing out the success of NBC’s digital initiatives in driving viewers to TV screens during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

“The more time people spent on platforms that were not television-based, the more they watched television,” Miller explained. “People demand an immersive experience today. They want to stay connected, and the more they stay connected, the more they’ll watch television.”

That second-screen-breeds-first-screen optimism is not limited to Olympic coverage. Professional broadcasters working in basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, college football, and NASCAR all chimed in on the potential of the second-screen explosion to drive television viewership.

“As we focus on digital media, I expect that our ratings will rise again,” explained Steve Hellmuth, SVP, operations and technology, for the NBA. “You get an alert that the game’s tied. What do you do? You get up and turn on your TV. This is all positive to TV ratings.”

Defining The Second Screen

What goes on that second screen” and whether the “second screen” itself is a device or a concept” was central to the discussion.

“Our objective is to make the second screen a complementary experience,” explained Clark Pierce, VP, emerging technology, for Fox Sports. “With our affiliates, there’s a percentage of the game content that cannot be streamed online, so everything we have to do has to be alternate cameras, alternate feeds, additional content. Something like 40% of people watch sports with a computer on, so we try to focus on a complementary experience.”

Until recently, Josh Bernstein, VP of communications for the New York Islanders, had no access to game content, so his goal was always to create ancillary programming around the game. Now that the Islanders can stream their games, the second screen has become a primary screen for out-of-market fans, and Bernstein’s coverage has changed accordingly.

“Our goal is to enhance the game experience, no matter who’s carrying the game,” Bernstein said. “People who travel feel they need to be connected to the game all the time.”

For sports like tennis and golf, where multiple players are in multiple stages of the game simultaneously, the second screen allows fans to stay connected to the event as a whole.

“For sports where there are other events going on at the same time, we want to be able to provide that experience,” said Don Colantonio, senior director of original entertainment-media packaging for ESPN. “With our out-of-court feed at Wimbledon, we want to give fans that opportunity to navigate over and check to see what’s going on.”

Added Ed Bunnell, VP, programming, and executive producer for Fox Sports.com, “We’ve concentrated coverage on individual holes to deliver a product that can stand alone yet does not totally take away form the television experience.”

Not only does the second screen provide access to otherwise unseen content, such as additional camera feeds and replays, but its time-delay aspect offers new access paths for fans who cannot watch the game in real time.

“A lot of it is not just the availability of the core content,” explained Joe Inzerillo, SVP, multimedia and distribution, for MLB.com. “It’s packaging now that I’m demanding as a consumer.”

Keep It Personal

With so many opportunities to integrate additional content, producers must use a critical eye in choosing what to provide on the second screen.

“The second screen is not about how much stuff we can throw at you; it’s about personalization,” Bernstein said. “If you want to watch just the score, then that’s all you have to have. If you want more statistics and information, you can do that, too. Our goal is to enhance, with a do-no-harm mentality. We don’t want to harm the game.”

Integrating sponsorship is a necessary evil to any enhancement in event coverage, but discretion is key in this space, because fans are quick to click away from advertising inundations, especially on the second screen.

“Fifteen- and seven-second ads are now the norm,” said Andrew Mika, SVP/EIC of production and new media for NHL.com. “If you stick a 60-second ad in there, the click-off rate is now like 85%.”

The Production Support Balancing Act

Creating any form of second-screen experience requires some production support, the level of which is driven by economics and viewer demand.

“We’ve used everything from a full add-on production truck to a switcher inside the PGA B unit,” Bunnel said.

“In most cases,” Colantonio added, “we already have an on-site presence with multiple production entities, so, for the sake of efficiency and execution, it’s essential that we integrate into the existing workflow. It’s taken a while, but we’ve really refined our approach into a fully integrated infrastructure.”

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