How Sports Broadcasting Should Work

I was watching the French Open this morning on the Tennis Channel when the live coverage suddenly ended and I was told to switch over to NBC to catch the end of the Djokovic match. Now I understand the two companies must have had some agreement on how to split the coverage at Roland Garros, but it seemed arbitrary and unnatural, not to mention annoying

So this got me thinking: wouldn’t sports broadcasting be better without exclusivity? For starters we won’t have to switch channels in the middle of a match. More importantly, we can actually have real competition over quality of commentary, production values, and most of all price. If you like Marv Albert and Steve Kerr’s commentary over Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen you can watch the game on TNT instead of ESPN because they will both have it. Broadcasters will no longer be able to extort money from cable and satellite providers (I’m looking at you ESPN) because there will be multiple sources for the same content. Overall I think it would encourage more choices and a better end product for users.

Of course, it would be equally silly to have five or six different camera crews all physically competing for the best camera angles and positions. That’s why the actual camera work needs to be decoupled from the broadcasters. At most major sports venues, the camera locations are pretty much set; some of them are even built into the arena or stadium itself. These cameras are always on and there’s little innovation or variety that can come out of how this raw footage is captured. What leagues can then do is license this feed out to broadcasters to overlay with their own graphics, commentary, etc. They can decide which camera to cut to for each play and when to go to commercial. I haven’t crunched any numbers, but financially it may not hurt the leagues that much. Sure they lose out on their current lucrative TV contracts but they could make that up by working out smaller licensing deals with multiple networks. It doesn’t even have to be a network- they could potentially choose to democratize it and provide the feed to anyone who’s willing to pay. That way amateurs can compete with the big boys to provide the best viewing experience.

The only real losers in this scenario would be the incumbents who will have to work for their audience instead of relying on their exclusive contract.  They will most likely see their margins shrink as they will have less bargaining power over cable and satellite companies. However for a network that is weak in sports and wants to air more NFL or NBA games, this could be an attractive way to break in. I understand this is a very idealistic proposition and the status quo benefits a lot of stakeholders. But like anything in sports, there’s always next year, right?

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If I had only listened to you, none of this would have happened

SPOILER ALERT: Although not a summary, the following look back at the series finale of 24 will contain some references to the final episode so read at your own risk!

Yep, those words in the title of this post, spoken in the series finale by President Allison Taylor, basically sum up the 24 series as a whole. If people just listened to Jack Bauer and did what he said, the 8 “days” of the series would have been a lot less eventful and the crises of the series would have been resolved much sooner. Instead, the show brought us a non-stop supply of moles, torture, terrorists, conspiracies, close calls, and in general great suspenseful television.

Sadly though, even these motifs became repetitive after 5 or so seasons and in recent seasons even became a bit of joke. In some respects, the show was a victim of its own success. It packed too much awesomeness into each season that they ran out of new twists (attempts to keep things interesting by moving to a new city, disbanding CTU, and bringing back Tony Almeda flopped). It killed off too many good characters and couldn’t replace them. Even the crazy plot twists (the best part of the show in my opinion) became, dare I say, predictable.

Despite that, I was glued to the final two hours of 24 on the small screen. No, it wasn’t the best season finale they’ve done, but it did a good job of finally wrapping up the various plot threads of this season. It was neat to see Jack and the president go to the brink before finally redeeming themselves somewhat. I’m glad to see one more Jack-Chloe team-up and the episode closed fittingly with Jack on the run again (although the wounds the guy can endure are getting ridiculous). It would’ve been nice if they stretched the events in the finale out a little more for dramatic effect. I understand the quick pacing, but it felt a little rushed (almost faster than real time). This is a small thing but I also would have liked a cameo by Agent Pierce (who has appeared in every season except this one). Nothing big, maybe just a few seconds of him watching a press conference on TV or something. It would’ve been a nice Easter egg for the fans. I also liked the irony that it was a drone that ended up saving Jack, even though Jack criticized Hastings at the start of this season for relying too much on technology at the expense of manpower in the field.

Of course, I also had to keep in mind that this isn’t the real “end” of 24 but rather a segue into a movie. I actually thought it would’ve been neat to wrap the story up in the series finale and do a prequel movie. It would allow the TV show to stand alone and perhaps bring back a few old characters who have since died off or were written out (Palmer, Tony, Michelle, Renee, Buchanan, just to name a few) for a story that happened during the show’s run. To my disappointment though, the producers decided to milk this thing for all it’s worth and the film appears to take place after the series. However, it does appear to at least take place partially in London so I’ll be looking out for some familiar locales!

So 24, I’m glad you didn’t listen to Jack and as a result had a great run. It’s not always that I blog here about TV shows (in fact this is my first) but I just wanted to pay tribute to the excellent writing, directing, and acting of 24. I joined midway through the show’s run and it’s probably the only show that I truly get excited about each week. Sure I look forward to The Office or House, but those shows lack the cliffhangers and the intense serialization that 24 has. I really want to know what happens in the next episode and a spoiler greatly diminishes the show’s enjoyment. That’s why I’m looking for a similar show to replace it next year and so far it’s hard to find anything comparable.

Tech in Britain

So last time I talked about how I’ve jumped on the podcast and netbook bandwagon since coming to London. In part two of my series on tech in the UK, I’m going to talk a little about my observations of the tech industry and tech usage in London. In general, I would say consumer adoption of new technologies is at about the same level if not slightly higher than in the U.S. However, institutional or systematic adoption seems to lag behind the States. Here are some examples to illustrate my point:

The mobile industry here is quite possibly better than in the U.S. I can’t speak to 3G coverage here because I don’t have a smartphone, but regular call services are definitely superior to the U.S. First off, there are more carriers than back home so the industry is much more competitive. The major carriers are Vodafone (parent of Verizon), O2 and Orange, but there are also second tier carriers like T-Mobile and 3 and smaller players like Lyca Mobile. Unlike the duopoly that AT&T and Verizon have in the U.S., these carriers all have about equal market share so they all have very strong networks and consumer-friendly deals. I’m currently on a recurring 30 day contract with Vodafone (who, no surprise, have the best coverage here) with 100 minutes and 500 texts per month for just £10 a month ($16). What’s better is that you don’t pay to receive incoming calls and texts. Therefore, I essentially get 200 minutes and 1,000 texts assuming my incoming and outcoming usage are about equal. There also seems to be a greater selection of fancy phones here outside of the iPhone and Blackberry (although most study abroad students just get a cheap basic phone). The iPhone is going to be on multiple carriers soon (Vodafone and Orange are introducing it early next year) and

Android phones seem to be more popular (although that could change with the Droid). Overall, the competitive landscape of the mobile industry here seems to be a big gain for consumers.

Other technologies are on a similar level to the U.S. as well. At LSE, I see an equal amount of PCs and Macs, although Macs are not officially supported by IT services here. TV is a little different because they don’t really have cable here. Everything is either broadcast (which you need to pay a TV license for) or satellite (Sky box, which gets you lots of American shows and even some American sports). There are some things that they don’t have here, namely the Kindle. It’s also annoying that I can’t access things like Hulu or ESPN360 because of broadcast restrictions. A small aside here: I think going subscription is a horrible mistake for Hulu. If my situation right now is any indication, there’s always a way around if content isn’t easily accessible through legal channels. Any sensible businessman would realize that some revenue is better than no revenue.

One interesting site they do have here that’s not in the U.S. is Spotify. I first heard about it on This Week in Tech; it’s basically a legal, ad-supported peer to peer streaming service. It lets you listen to as many songs as you want on your computer and mobile app and then links you to traditional music stores if you want to purchase the song. Right now, its invite only for free use or you can pay for the premium subscription. Unfortunately, Spotify seems just as bad as Google Wave when it comes to giving out invites, as I still have not received mine for either. This thing sounds more innovative from a technical aspect than a consumer aspect. From what I can tell it sounds a lot like any other streaming service.

I also want to comment briefly on Internet here especially in light of the net neutrality debate that’s been going on recently in Congress. Publicly, there are plenty of wi-fi hotspots around London and the ethernet connections (at least at LSE) aren’t bad. However, I don’t think the UK has net neutrality. LSE’s website, for example, actually states that it prioritizes school related content over “social” sites (although Facebook has worked fine). I’m not sure how exactly they differentiate this or how much this is actually implemented, but I’ve definitely experienced more problems with Internet here. For example, for the first few weeks here I couldn’t get CNN or ESPN videos to buffer at any reasonable rate. Then magically they started working fine. Of course this could be because these are American sites and it has nothing to do with net neutrality. However, I’m still a little skeptical of this whole situation.

The disparity in institutional tech adoption is much wider. LSE definitely weaves less tech into its infrastructure than BC. For example, LSE doesn’t have an equivalent of Eaglebucks or any type of electronic currency. Everything in the dining halls is paid for in cash. Also, if you thought class registration at BC was bad, its a lot worse here. Some universities, such as King’s, don’t even have electronic course selection. LSE does let you add/drop online, but I’m pretty sure the actual adding/dropping is done manually by a person because it only updates about once a day. There’s no Laundryview here (although they have a version of it for computers on campus) and the machines are the old models we had at BC which were replaced this year.

There are a few things they do well here as a school. The library has these cool self-checkout kiosks where you can just pop the book on a scanner and it automatically senses what the book is and checks it out for you. The NHS also uses a touchscreen self check-in system for appointments, thus freeing up receptionists to do other things. Believe it or not they actually do some things efficiently. And like a lot of countries I’ve seen around Europe, the credit and debit cards here have a little chip in them so you can stick it into the machine instead of swiping it. I’m not really sure what the advantage of this is because any time you save from the physical motion is negated by the few seconds you have to keep the card in to verify it, but it looks kind of cool.

I’m sure more observations and comments will come up over the next few months. I will also be doing a post on entrepreneurship here so keep an eye out for that. I’ll try to get back to the strictly travel/London related posts too, but I honestly haven’t been anywhere the past few weeks so there’s not much to say.