SBJ SMT: Connecting With Fans Through Tablets
Last year at this time, the tablet device did not exist, so Connecting With Fans Through Tablets was a brand-new seminar at this year’s SBJ Sports Media Technology Conference. Executives from Turner Sports, MLB.com, Sports Illustrated Digital, and Sporting News took the stage in New York this week to discuss how the tablet enables new types of fan interaction around sports.
What Is a Tablet?
The biggest challenge with the tablet, the panelists explained, was finding out just what it is.
“We tried to run our iPhone app on the tablet simulator, but you can’t take a phone app and stick it on a tablet,” noted Chad Evans, SVP of mobile product development for MLB.com. “It’s either small surrounded by black, or you end up with a ton of empty space. We tried to think about the cases where people are going to use this, and we focused on live experiences.”
At Turner Sports, the NBA Game Time mobile-application team knew that fans did not want to look at a table of statistics, but they were not sure just how fans would use the new tablet device. The team launched its Game Time iPad application during the NBA playoffs, when every game was on a national network, so the development team had the chance to observe how fans who were already watching the game on TV would use an additional screen to enhance their experience.
“It was absolutely maddening trying to figure out what this tablet experience should be like for sports,” said Michael Adamson, VP of new products and services for Turner Sports. “How do I give the fan information one level in to make it more enjoyable to watch the game itself? What we discovered was simple stuff, like how far of a lead did one team have over the other, so that I can see they came back from a 12-point deficit.”
Not Web, Not Mobile, Not TV
For Turner Sports, Adamson said, the hardest exercise was not determining what to put into the iPad app but rather what to take out. The tablet experience is somewhere between what fans watch on TV, consume on the Website, and enjoy through the Game Time mobile experience. Based on that in-between theory, the development team began to experiment with what the tablet experience should be. Most encouraging to them was the discovery that there was little duplication in the audience that was using NBA.com, the Game Time iPhone app, and the iPad tablet application.
“We had really low overlap between those products,” Adamson said. “I don’t know I would have predicted that.”
Making a Magazine Digital
Sports Illustrated also spent some time figuring out exactly how to translate the way consumers navigate magazines into a tablet format.
“Technology has caught up to the design intent of how we think about putting out products,” explained Ken Fuchs, VP/GM of Sports Illustrated Digital. “The core DNA of our brand around the iconic photography, quality of the writing, and access our writers get is what really comes through. It all comes down to access to live games and experiences that you can’t get otherwise.”
More Video, Fewer Barriers
The tablet device enables fans to get something unique that has opened a whole new market for MLB.com, Evans said. Still, creating a great video experience is difficult in a 3G environment, which can make it difficult to program for the tablet.
“We all want better video experiences,” Adamson added. “Video is incredibly rewarding on WiFi and incredibly not rewarding on 3G. Live basketball is difficult to encode in 3G in any meaningful way. The only thing that we can do is stick with it and continue to make sure that we have experiences that provide value with very little bandwidth. We have to work alongside that as the infrastructure continues to improve.”
The strength of the tablet device, he pointed out, is the ability to eliminate everything between a fan and the content that fan wants to consume.
“On the iPad, we can integrate the social experience into our live-sports experiences,” Adamson said. “For a fan, a screen is a screen. At some point, the fan doesn’t want to have to care what screen they’re on; they want the same resolution, access, and feature sets. We want to get to the point where we no longer make the fan think about what the delineated rights are between devices.”