Ebersol’s Experiment May Radically Change Viewing

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

Dick Ebersol has probably changed the way television audiences watch professional football. Earlier this year, Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Universal Sports, along with the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, gave the go-ahead to place the network’s Sunday night football package on broadband at the nbcsports.msnbc.com Web site. In the NFL season opener on September 4, those who opted to watch the Washington Redskins play against the Giants on a computer rather than on traditional television got a glimpse into how broadband technology will be changing the viewing experience.

The NBC Sports Web site is pushing people to watch the Sunday night games (Sunday Night Extra) by telling online viewers that you can see the entire game “with camera angles you can’t see on TV.” The Web site’s webcast allows the computer user to become a director and call the camera shot the viewer wants. NBC has about a half-dozen looks available; additional views to those on television include looks at star players, coaches, and the line.

Ebersol and Goodell will not be the only ones experimenting with webcasting. The commissioner of the NBA, David Stern — who started nbatv.com for the Internet in 1999 and moved it onto cable television four years later — will be making a return to broadband this fall in a big way. The league has directed its 30 franchises to launch digital services, video streaming, interactive television, and video-on-demand. In the New York market, Knicks and Nets games will be available on the teams’ Web sites, the Madison Square Garden Network Web site and the YES Network’s Web site (while, of course, also broadcasting on the MSG and YES networks). The league has a month to get the paperwork done.

The NFL’s and NBA’s decisions to fully explore broadband may come at a cost for NBC’s over-the-air network affiliates and regional cable networks, as there would be a loss of television viewers. Why would a viewer want to watch an NFL game with just one angle? And an NBA broadband webcast would offer features such as up-to-the-second scores and statistics and multiple camera angles.

Regional sports network programmers probably would not mind the NBA streaming online. But cable and satellite operators might have a difficult time with the concept. There is a possibility that they could lose subscribers who only use cable to watch basketball.

The NBA is apparently talking to all parties — the teams, the cable and satellite operators, and the regional sports networks — about the concept. New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago, and Denver own the local regional sports networks. Comcast, while owning the Philadelphia 76ers, also has the cable rights to Washington, Sacramento, Portland, and Boston. The Fox Sports Net affiliates show virtually every other NBA team, with the exception of New Orleans, the Nets, and the Toronto Raptors.

The NBA will more than likely make this concept work, despite having to work harder than NBC and the NFL to put games on broadband. It is unlikely that any NBA team will be hurt financially if games are available at team Web sites or even at a new Web site set up by the league. Highlights of NBA games (along with NHL contests and a library of 25 years’ worth of NCAA men’s basketball games) have been available at the hulu.com Web site, a partnership between NBC and FOX, starting last spring.

All sports leagues, as well as cable networks both in North America and globally, are taking a very close look at broadband in light of the success of the Beijing Olympics on the Internet. Disney’s ESPN has been exploring ways of providing programming to both the Web and mobile phones. CBS put Monday’s U.S. Open men’s finals on the Web and CBS has been streaming the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament for the past few years.

This year’s Olympics in Beijing smashed broadband records in America and in Europe. NBC Universal reported that nbcolympics.com had 1.3 billion page views, 53 million unique users, and 75.5 million video streams. Over 10 million hours of video were consumed. In Europe, the 30-member European Broadcasting Union said the eurovisionsports.tv/olympics site had more than 180 million broadband video streams, an audience of over 51 million that watched over 22 million hours of broadband program during the 17-day Games. TSN in Canada reported record-breaking broadband numbers for the Olympics.

Ebersol and Stern are merely taking the next step in an evolutionary process that started when the Pittsburgh radio station KDKAbroadcast the first MLB game on August 5, 1921, between the Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. Neither American nor National League owners liked radio in those days, because they felt it would cut into stadium attendance. But radio made baseball more popular. Owners embraced television for the same reason. Television certainly killed off a good many Minor League Baseball teams, but it also strengthened both leagues, which at that time were not under the same umbrella. The NHL expanded in 1967 because of television — but the American Basketball Association failed because the league did not have a national television contract.

Ebersol’s experiment might possibly be the most important technological breakthrough in sports since the first-ever televised baseball game. On May 17, 1939, Princeton and Columbia duked it out at Columbia’s Baker Field. The contest was broadcast on the experimental TV station W2XBS, which oddly enough would become NBC’s first television station, WNBC. That station also produced the first telecasts of major league games, an NFL game that year and an NHL contest in 1940. The sports industry changed in 1939 because of a new technology, television, and it may undergo a radical change in 2008 because of a new application of an old technology — broadband video.


The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use