Sports Media Watch visited Turner Sports last week and had a chance to speak with Turner Sports VP, New Products & Services Michael Adamson and NBA Digital Dir. of Technology and Product Development Robert Occhialini. Topics of conversation centered on the development of the NBA Game Time app on various platforms.
SMW: Is there a way to get TNT Overtime on my phone? Is that something that you guys are developing? Is that something that’s out there now?
Adamson: It’s something that’s out there now in pieces. It’s probably not something that will work on [a phone without an operating system], because it takes these independent operating systems to be able to really power a live stream. Not to say it can’t be done, but the operating systems have been built with more of that kind of technology in mind.
On some of the other sports that Turner Sports handles, we’ve done it more recently. During the regular season, we had League Pass Mobile. League Pass Mobile – and League Pass Broadband and League Pass on the TV – is the ability to see every out of market game during the regular season that isn’t on national TV. You still couldn’t see a TNT game on your mobile phone, but if you were a fan of the Memphis Grizzlies – and obviously you don’t live in Memphis – you could watch Memphis games through League Pass, even on your mobile phone. And we did have that on iPhone and on Android phones this year.
Now if you came here during the regular season instead of the playoffs, you could have done that if you had an Android or an iPhone. We ran that all season long this year, and that was a terrific product. I’m a big Bulls fan, but I live in Atlanta. If I wasn’t in front of my computer and could watch League Pass Broadband, I’d pull it up on the mobile phone and watch games. My son and I were watching one of the games from a Chili’s restaurant one night. The Bulls came down to the last couple of games in order to make the playoffs or not, and we were really engaged. We ended up listening or watching them everywhere we could. The other thing you could do with the Game Time app that these guys have developed is that if you didn’t have the bandwidth to watch, you could still listen to it on the radio. We’ve actually taken the radio feeds for home and away, and you could actually listen to those.
Occhialini: It’s a real balancing act deciding which handsets we’re going to support. And even at the lower end of the product line that we have, or the lower end of the handsets we support, it was a big balancing act with the video because some of these devices can’t decode the video as quickly as they can download it, so you end up with not as good a video experience as you would want, given the bandwidth you have access to – especially with the lower end Blackberrys that have been out for a couple of years. The newer ones are fine.
The other lesson we’ve learned there is the more devices you support, the more challenging it is to make sure you’re gracefully supporting all of them. We released all these apps from before the season started to now. So they were available for all 1,230 regular season games and now every playoff game. And at the beginning of the season, when we released the Android app, there were three shipping Android phones. There are 16 or 17 now, and every one is a little bit different. So we’ve had to go back and fine-tune things as the season has gone on.
SMW: I guess the iPad as well.
Occhialini: So the iPad is kind of a totally different project. Instead of just thinking about it as a bigger mobile device, we really went back to the drawing board and read through Apple’s human interface guidelines for the iPad, took those to heart and spent a couple of weeks coming up with a solid plan for what we wanted to do, what the sort of charter of the application was and how we would deliver on that charter. What we’ve ended up with, I’m as proud of as anything I’ve ever worked on.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to experience a live game, so some of the functionality is not available. But [there is] a drawer that shows you all the plays, and it populates as the game goes on. So you can see the last play, the text recap, and you actually get every video we’ve cut for the entire series.
Pomeroy: That was a big differentiation point for us. We didn’t just make a bigger Game Time app. We specifically worked on this.
Occhialini: One of the things Apple really wants you to do though is support both orientations. We had to redesign every screen two times – once in portrait and once in landscape.
At the sort of baseline view, you get a live bracket. This shows you which games are going to be played tonight, it shows you live scoring, it shows you the status of the series. Drilling down into an individual series takes you to the default view for the next game if the next game is tonight, or the previous game if the previous game was last night. You can navigate to the other games in that series, so if I want to see what happened in Game 1, I can see what the points in the paint score was, or what the Lakers’ biggest lead was. You can watch any of the videos from any game of the series, you can see which people on each team led in each of the major statistical categories.
Then we kind of looked at this and said, users are going to spend the majority of their time on the game details screen, but we do want to give them a sense of what else going on. So we built a ticker which has the two most recent news articles on NBA.com, the two most recent Twitter posts from the NBA official Twitter feed, and the two most recently posted videos to NBA.com. That’s constantly updated as you’re using the app throughout the day.
You can go in and look at that stuff anytime you want. Then, the same kind of interaction model that you saw in the mobile app and on the television app, where you can touch the team score and get the baseline information about a team for a particular game. You can also flip over to the player view, which gives you even more statistics that we have about players today. Thumbing on a player gives you their player card and you can actually thumb on the upper left hand corner and see their career postseason statistics.
SMW: Career highlights?
Occhialini: No, we haven’t done any kind of historical video.
Adamson: Not only that, but we right now we didn’t want to. We didn’t see this as a substitute for NBA.com. That’s why you go to the website still, if you want to get the complete fan experience of, here’s what I’d like to find out about.
Occhialini: It really has been a lot of positive feedback from users about watching the game on TV [while using] this app. It lets them see statistics that they only get to hear once or twice throughout the game and helps them not just see more data about the game, but understand the game better. If you do a search on Twitter for NBA iPad, you’ll see there’s hundreds of positive posts about people saying it’s spectacular.
Adamson: So it was a combination of both. We don’t yet know how the business models are going to shake out, we don’t know how people are going to use it. And we don’t know what they’re going to want out of the experience.
You can still go to the browser and go to the website. We think right now – at least, at this point in our evolution – that if people want to go find out the career information and highlights on Ron Artest, [they won't] want to do that during a game. They might do that during halftime or after a game, and so at some point, providing those deeper links might be kind of cool. But right now, it was, let’s focus on what we think they want to do during the game.
SMW: What would be interesting, but probably years down the line, would be if you could put every NBA game since a certain point on here. So if I want to say, ‘I remember that Robert Horry shot against the Kings in 2002, I wonder what that whole game was like,’ you can go back and read the recap and see all the stats.
Adamson: We do some of that today with League Pass Broadband. For the first time, this past season, if I go back into the archive section, I can literally go back in – let’s go look at January 20. There’s all the games that were played that night, and I can go back in and I can watch this game. I’ve got the DVR control, so I can scroll to a part of the game. [Turns on game] And there’s the game.
We’re not replaying all the stats yet, but I can view what the end of game stats were for each player on each team. That’s how Chicago did at the end of the game, that’s how the Clippers did at the end of the game. Now this is a season at a time that we’re doing this, and this is the first season we’ve done it. But I can go all the way back to October 28 and watch those games and look at those stats, and see what other games were played that night. So we are heading in that direction. But going back historically is really difficult unless they’re really amazing games.
[Later in the Q&A]
Adamson: Vizio has just released these TV sets, which are called Vizio Internet Application sets. With this, I can push a button that’s built into the remote and bring up these widgets along the bottom. So much like with Roku, I can do things like access my Netflix account or the weather using an internet connection to this TV. But I can also put a cable connection into the TV and watch regular TV. This doesn’t require a separate box, this is all built into the TV set.
Here’s the difference. You saw how [NBA] Game Time worked on Roku, where it pulled the channel, took over the whole screen. Well, on this, I pull it up and it doesn’t take up the whole screen. It now comes up alongside the video feed that I’ve got.
I can do the same kind of things, I can look at all the games tonight – there they are, there’s the two games; same information we saw in the other apps – with this one as well, I can come down here and I can pick a team I’m interested in. At least for one more night, we’re interested in the Hawks. This will give me headlines from that team, just like we do with the mobile apps, for example. I can do the same thing here with the highlights as well.
Pomeroy: I think that’s important. NBA Digital, we’ve been extremely focused on video and mobile. Those are two things we’ve put a lot of our emphasis on.
Adamson: That’s correct. So now I can go up to Lakers/Jazz Game 3 – and I’ve chosen to watch a video, so it is going to take over my TV. But same kind of deal, in that it’s nice that I don’t have to pull up a computer. There’s not a separate device involved.
In a nice partial screen format, we can now give our fans access to NBA content regardless of what they’re watching. They could be watching the game, they could not be watching the game, doesn’t really matter. We don’t know where this is going yet. There’s not a ton of these TV sets out there – although there will be shortly.
It’s a cool thing. Again, all that was built literally using the same data feeds and the video feeds that you’ve seen from all the mobile products, the iPad product and from the Roku device. They’re all pulling from the same places. It’s great. It accomplishes the two missions we have here, which are reaching the fan where we think the fan is going to be next, but building a common infrastructure that can power all of our new product development.
SMW: So basically, NBA Game Time for everything.
Adamson: Yes. That’s exactly it.
Occhialini: As many places as we can get it.