2nd Screen Summit: First and Second Screens Converge in Multiple Ways To Cover Tent-Pole Sports Events

Want your sports event to draw the greatest number of eyeballs? Schedule it for the middle of the day. Although this comment drew laughs from the crowd gathered at 2nd Screen Summit, it wasn’t off-base; in fact, coming two days before the highly anticipated U.S.-Germany World Cup match that drew an unprecedented number of viewers despite a noon start time, it was right on target.

The industry has come a long way from fears of cannibalization (fears that were never really realized, according to the panelists). Fans will watch sports on the best screen available, be it a 50-in. flat screen in the living room or a 4-in. smartphone propped up on a desk at work. Fans watching at work will then go home and watch primetime coverage, as demonstrated by the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.

From left: Fox Sports’ Clark Pierce, NBC Sports’ Eric Black, and CBS's Patty Hirsch

From left: Fox Sports’ Clark Pierce, NBC Sports’ Eric Black, and CBS’s Patty Hirsch

“What we saw in Sochi — which was interesting, because everything was so time-shifted with the nine-hour time difference — was, people weren’t just consuming when they were at work. What we saw a lot of was, they were going home and consuming it during primetime as well,” said Eric Black, VP, technology, NBC Sports Group. “We’re seeing growth across the industry of not just increased IP-delivered traffic, but it’s driving people back to the big screen on off hours as well.

Cannibalization is not a word we use anymore,” he continued. “It’s engagement.”

Over the course of the Sochi Olympics last winter, NBC Sports Group streamed 10.8 million hours of online video through its Live Extra platform, supported by Akamai. The cloud-services provider built the platform to sustain sudden viewership spikes. The key, said Akamai Senior Director of Media Products Corey Halverson, is keeping an eye on the stream while trusting the software to handle the peaks.

“If you’re doing an event and you don’t have real-time statistics to tell you how that event is going so you know how many people are watching, [you’re in trouble],” said Halverson. “Are they getting a good bitrate? Are they getting any buffering? Are they getting any errors? You don’t want to [answer those questions] ten minutes after the event is over.”

Fox Sports saw great success when it streamed Super Bowl XLVIII ¾ for free, with no authentication required ¾ and ESPN continues to log record numbers for World Cup games, particularly those during work hours. However, these platforms do not necessarily complement the first screen; rather, they offer viewers the opportunity to watch the linear broadcast on their mobile devices.

Omnigon's David Nugent (left) and Akamai's Corey Halverson

Omnigon’s David Nugent (left) and Akamai’s Corey Halverson

Conversely, CBS Sports’ Masters Live is a true second-screen — or synchronous-screen — experience, with alternative camera angles and social-media interaction meant to enhance the first-screen broadcast.

“Everything that we do at CBS when it comes to sports and streaming is to look at how are we going to create a really exceptional second-screen experience, because, obviously in the world today, people are going to navigate to the largest screen if they can,” said Patty Hirsch, VP/GM, CBS Interactive Advanced Media. “There are use cases when that’s not the case, but, generally speaking, what we look at is, how to do we create a really social-engaging experience?”

Second-screen experiences, if they are intended to be truly “second screen” and not replacements for the first screen, should enhance the first-screen broadcast. Successful second-screen experiences, said Omnigon’s David Nugent, are those that support social conversation.

“It should add something to the broadcast,” said Nugent, who serves as partner, business development and client management. “Ultimately, you should be able to get something within a platform like this that doesn’t have streaming content in it that you would not otherwise be able to get. It should supplement and support the broadcast. … If it’s truly second screen, it should serve the broadcast and not be a diversion [from] the broadcast.”

Despite Fox Sports’ streaming one of the most-watched sports events this year, Clark Pierce, SVP, emerging technology, Fox Sports, concurred on the need to also provide a platform that provides easily accessible stats and scores for avid and casual fans alike.

“Whenever we build a product like that, the most important thing is to make it the next best thing,” he said. “It serves a purpose for people that, depending on what they are — whether they’re a cord-cutter or they just don’t have the time to sit down — they can just get a glance and see what’s going on. … That’s a lot of times what people want, and that’s our ultimate goal: make sure people can get the information they want very quickly.”

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