Do You Guys Know How to Post Videos to Facebook? Why Mark Zuckerberg Should Buy a Sports Network

As we watch coverage of events at the Olympics that occurred 8 hours ago, social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter happen to be among the largest beneficiaries of the London games. Whether it’s complaining about NBC callously deleting a tribute to victims of terrorism from the Opening Ceremony (and then continuously digging themselves into a deeper hole again and again and again trying to justify the decision) or lauding the record-breaking Michael Phelps, we’ve seen further proof that what was once considered to be a solitary activity of sitting on a computer or checking a smartphone has actually been powered by large events that many of us experience together. Indeed, Bill Simmons asked Mark Cuban a few months ago at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference about whether social media is eroding TV viewership, to which Cuban responded with a strong negative and used a line that ought to be plastered all around Silicon Valley: “Television drives social media.”

The irony in a world that is increasingly geared toward on-demand viewing and the use of time-shifting devices such as DVRs is that the events that are shown live and can draw large aggregate audiences watching them all at the same time have skyrocketed in value despite overall TV ratings being down. As I noted last year, sports leagues have arguably gained the most from this phenomenon since they not only draw large live audiences, but get the hardest-to-reach (and therefore most valuable) demographic of age 18-34 males. Advertisers still pay a significantly greater premium to reaching a lot of people in the same place, which is something that on-demand services and online streaming websites haven’t been able to replicate.

On the flip side, there’s suddenly a whole lot of bearish attitude toward the revenue generating capabilities of social media sites, particularly Facebook. Yesterday, Facebook’s stock dipped below $20 per share for the first time and is hovering around 50% of its initial public offering price. A large part of Facebook’s problem is that its most valuable asset (the exhaustive treasure trove of wide-ranging personal information of its users) cannot be fully and effectively leveraged on the Facebook website itself. Targeted ads based on information that you plug into Facebook always sounded great in theory, but the issue is that clients such as General Motors haven’t found such ads to be very effective. At the core, we don’t log onto Facebook seeking to click on Internet ads, buy products or even glance at banner messages, so no matter how targeted a particular ad might be, it’s ultimately a shot in the dark as to whether we will even notice it. Contrast this with Google, where its ads that pop up in connection with search terms has shown to be fairly effective and profitable since people that are searching for products are often looking for ads. The much smaller social media player of Yelp! has been rewarded by investors on a similar basis, where its content of restaurant and business reviews by users naturally draws in people who are going to notice advertising.

The upshot is that Facebook’s asset of user information is actually more valuable for advertising platforms other than Facebook itself. Hmmmm. What’s the one advertising-delivery technology that we have found to be inextricably linked to the use of social media webstites? Television. Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. of the Wall Street Journal made the argument even before Facebook’s IPO that Mark Zuckerberg’s baby ought to buy ABC, CBS and NBC based on a number of the arguments that I outlined above. I’d take that one step further and say that Facebook’s optimal purchase would be a sports network where live events are able to drive a disproportionate amount of (a) watching commercials as they are aired as opposed to avoiding them via a DVR and (b) social media engagement on Facebook itself, which in turn creates more valuable personal information for Facebook to leverage and creates a self-sustaining profit cycle. As the Internet increasingly becomes the mechanism to deliver programming to television sets as opposed to cable and satellite*, Facebook would receive a further advantage by being able to use its information to have targeted TV advertisements that will surely be coming down the pike and can’t easily be avoided during games (unlike ads on the Facebook site).

(* To be clear, this needs to be distinguished from on-demand viewing and streaming. What I’m talking about here is “form” as opposed to “substance”, where the pipes that actually deliver television channels to your home will increasingly be via the Internet. That doesn’t mean that the Internet will eliminate television channels themselves, but rather your cable and Internet bills will effectively merge together into one at a higher price if you want to receive premium content. This is already an explicit goal of the Google Fiber project in the Kansas City area that will create Internet connections that are 100 times faster than what are currently in most American households. As much as chord-cutting and a la carte options have gained in popularity, those episodes of Mad Men or Breaking Bad that you might be watching on NetFlix or Hulu would never have been produced in the first place if there wasn’t the basic cable subscriber fee model that exists today. Therefore, if we want to continue to receive the content that we see on TV today, it isn’t going to come for free. Those TV program producers will have to raise the same amount of revenue if they want to create that type of content, so I’d envision a shift to “channels” along the lines of ESPN3 that are websites that charge Internet providers a subscriber fee similar to today’s basic cable subscriber fees. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to end up paying the same amount whether it’s for cable or the Internet for the same amount and quality of content.)

Jenkins noted that AOL cashed in its chits to buy “old media” company Time Warner back in 2000. It’s really quite amazing that all of those AOL trial disks that I used for beverage coasters back in college ended up paying for properties such as Batman, Bugs Bunny, CNN, HBO, TNT, TBS, the Warner Bros. studio and the Atlanta Braves. As we well know, AOL went from the most dominant force on the Internet to the Ariana Huffington-run blogger sweatshop that it is today in fairly rapid fashion, so it certainly made the right choice to use its sky-high valuation to buy tangible media assets when it did. With the way that the price of Facebook stock has been plummeting lately, Mark Zuckerberg ought to pounce on Disney (ESPN), News Corp. (Fox Sports) or Comcast (NBC Sports) while he still has the chance.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from The Hollywood Reporter)

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Sports Data From Nielsen: TV Viewership for College Conferences and Pro Sports Social Media Buzz

This blog has been a hub of activity for conference realignment discussion and other issues in the business of sports for the past couple of years, but it has sometimes been difficult to get quantitative data to back up what many of us observe qualitatively (such as the popularity of fan bases and conferences).  So, the following presentation direct from Nielsen (the TV ratings firm) about the 2011 sports year provides a treasure trove of previously unknown (at least to me) and fascinating statistics about pro and college sports TV viewership, social networking buzz and ad spending:
This slide presentation was uploaded by ceobroadband at slideshare.net.  Nielsen analyzed everything from the four major pro sports leagues to the rising viewership of the English Premier League in the US, so there’s something here for every type of sports fan.  It’s key that this analysis is coming directly from Nielsen itself, whereas a lot of other viewership figures that get reported these days come from leagues, conferences and TV networks themselves and are spun to put them in the most favorable light.  As a result, the slide presentation is about as unbiased as you can reasonably get on the subject matters at hand.
One of the more interesting charts is on slide 4, where Nielsen tracked the social media buzz for the major pro sports leagues over the course of 2011 and news events where activity spiked on Twitter and Facebook.  Major League Baseball can’t be happy to see social networking mentions hover around the NHL’s numbers and its 7-game World Series last year didn’t produce a real spike in activity compared to the NBA Finals.  I’m not surprised by the fact that the NBA has more social networking buzz compared to MLB since the basketball league’s fan base skews younger, but I didn’t expect baseball to be on the social media level of hockey.  (Note that there’s no point in comparing any other sport to the NFL in America: pro football blows everything else away on every metric.  The only discussion is about who can take second place.)
For college sports fans, slide 9 presents some extremely pertinent information that few of us have seen before: the average TV viewer numbers per game for each of the 6 power conferences for both football and basketball.  With so many issues in college sports, such as conference realignment and a football playoff, driven by television money, these viewership figures are enlightening (and surprising in some cases).
Here are the average football viewership totals by conference according to Nielsen:1. SEC – 4,447,000
2. Big Ten – 3,267,000
3. ACC – 2,650,000
4. Big 12 – 2,347,000
5. Pac-12 – 2,108,000
6. Big East – 1,884,000
Here are the average basketball viewership totals by conference according to Nielsen:1. Big Ten – 1,496,000
2. ACC – 1,247,000
3. SEC – 1,222,000
4. Big 12 – 1,069,000
5. Big East – 1,049,000
6. Pac-12 – 783,000
Some takeaways from those figures:
A. The Big Ten and SEC deserve every penny that they receive and then some – The readers of this blog probably aren’t surprised by the football viewership numbers, but the proverbial icing on the cake is how strong both of them are in basketball.  ACC alum Scott Van Pelt of ESPN once said, “Watching Big Ten basketball is like watching fat people have sex.”  Well, the Big Ten even tops the vaunted the ACC in basketball viewership and it’s by a fairly healthy margin.
B. The ACC has an undervalued TV contract – The flip side of the Big Ten and SEC analysis above is that while the ACC’s basketball viewership strength isn’t unexpected, the much maligned football side actually has strong TV numbers.  If you take a step back for a moment, it makes sense.  Florida State and Miami continue to be great national TV draws (even when they’re down) and schools such as Virginia Tech bring in large state markets.
C.  Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott can sell ice cubs to Eskimos – The viewership numbers for the Pac-12 in both football and basketball indicate that they shouldn’t be in the vicinity of the ACC and Big 12 TV contracts, much less currently above the Big Ten and SEC.  The football numbers might be a little lower compared to a normal season with USC having the scarlet letter of not being able to go to a bowl this year, but one would think that some of that would have been countered by strong Stanford and Oregon teams.  Meanwhile, the basketball numbers are just awful – the Pac-12 definitely needs UCLA to resuscitate itself to be viable nationally.  The Pac-12 presidents ought to give Larry Scott a lifetime contract with the TV dollars that he’s pulled from ESPN and Fox.
D.  Big East basketball is a weaker draw than expected – No one should be surprised by the weak Big East football numbers.  However, the basketball and large market-centric side of the league actually had fewer hoops viewers than any of the power conferences except for the Pac-12, which doesn’t bode well with the league losing the strong draws of Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia.  The Big East was also widely acknowledged as the top conference in basketball last year, so the league was at its competitive peak in the post-2003 ACC raid era.  This gives credence to the argument that large media markets in and of themselves don’t matter as much as large and rabid fan bases that draw in statewide audiences.
E.  The Big 12 is appropriately valued – For all of the dysfunction of the Big 12, it might be the one conference whose TV contracts are actually in line with their viewership numbers.  The Big 12 is ranked #4 among the power conferences for both football and basketball and the likelihood is that it will end up as the #4 conference in TV dollars after the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC when all is said and done.
There’s lots of other data to chew on here that I may examine in future posts, but for now, the college conference viewership breakdown is something that I haven’t seen before and puts some quantitative backup to what we have speculated was behind conference realignment moves.
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Slides from slideshare.net)

Decent BCS Conference Rankings, Hoops at the Olympics, and Helmets Galore: Land-o-Links for 8/12/2008

When John Danks throws over 6 innings of no-hit ball and the White Sox still lose to the Red Sox, it’s a day when I should avoid writing about baseball. Here are some links on other issues in the sports world today:

1. The Great Conference Debate (Sports Illustrated) – While these types of rankings that sports websites tend to run during the dog days of summer often carry many flaws (please see last month’s ESPN.com rankings of the nation’s college basketball programs), the methodology used here by SI to compare the BCS football conferences is on the better end. I do believe that national title game appearances should be distinguished from other BCS games (and the lack of such distinction partially explains the Big Ten’s drop from first to fourth), but it is a relatively fair assessment overall. As SEC fans continue to bloviate about how even the worst of their teams could dominate the Big Ten (other than what happened in that pesky game last New Year’s Day where Michigan beat Florida in the Gator territory of Orlando, which has been conveniently forgotten by everyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line), it’s important to note that the SI rankings themselves show that the Big Ten was considered to be by far the strongest league during the first part of this decade. College football goes in cycles and the Big Ten is going to be a much tougher conference this year with Ohio State returning almost its entire team and improved squads at Wisconsin and Penn State (and hopefully Illinois). It’s also refreshing to see a balanced assessment of the performance of the ACC (as opposed to a lot of writers that have been very quick to pile on the conference for taking teams from the Big East five years ago while proclaiming that Rutgers is all of the sudden some type of powerhouse after its first two winning seasons since the school gave birth to college football over a century ago) – Florida State and Miami have simultaneously performed about as badly as possible over the past few years, which has masked the increased depth of the conference (while also providing the ACC much more upside if and when those schools get back on track).

2. So far, so good for NBA at Olympics (Sports Media Watch) – For those of us real Americans that don’t live in the Pacific and Mountain time zones and are able to watch many Olympics events live, we know that the most important development from NBC’s Olympic coverage is the resuscitation of John Tesh’s NBA on NBC theme song for basketball games. (If there’s one thing that you should know about me, it’s that I will find every opportunity possible to post old NBA on NBC intros from the 1990s Bulls dynasty. This golden classic from 1991, where Marv Albert speculates whether Michael Jordan would go down as one of the greatest athletes to never win a championship, with footage of Ernie Banks and, of course, O.J. Simpson in the days when he was simply a high-profile Hertz salesman, is the sole reason why YouTube was established.) At the same time, with over one billion people watching the U.S.-China basketball game on Sunday, there’s empirical evidence that Asians love basketball almost as much as they love gambling. Being half-Chinese, I can attest to that fact since every time I see a pop-a-shot machine, my hands start to tremble uncontrollably until I’m able to spend twenty bucks on the game to win 5,000 tickets (which I subsequently redeem for a couple of Tootsie Rolls or, if I’m lucky, a plastic dreidel).

The interesting thing that Sports Media Watch points out is the irony that interest in Olympic hoops in the United States has probably increased because of Team USA’s losses to other countries over the past few years. This is right on the mark – I’m truly going out of my way to watch the basketball games this year for the first time since the original 1992 Dream Team and this is speaking as someone that’s a monster hoops fan. For all of the issues that David Stern has had to deal with over the past few seasons (the Tim Donaghy scandal, the Pistons-Pacers brawl, etc.), the one thing that he’s got going for him is that the NBA is the only American professional sports league that has made legitimate inroads on the international landscape in a broad sense. Baseball has been very popular in a few Latin American countries and Japan for a number of years yet has struggled to break out of those regions, while basketball is being more widely adopted as the second major team sport after soccer on all of the continents (as shown by the fact that five countries, including Yao Ming for the host nation of China and not including the United States, chose current or former NBA players to carry in their flags in the opening ceremonies). The other sports leagues talk a lot about international expansion and may play a game here or there overseas, but the NBA is really the only one that is positioned to become a truly global league as opposed to a curiosity in other countries.

And finally…

3. The Helmet Project – This site has supposedly been in existence for quite awhile, but I just stumbled onto it today (which resulted in me canceling all of my meetings during the afternoon). The comprehensiveness of this site is astounding, as it covers the helmets from all of the various professional sports leagues since 1960 (i.e. USFL, CFL, XFL, etc.) as well as all levels of college football. (Even Minneapolis Red Sox can check out his favorite St. Norbert helmets through the years). As much as I love the Illini, the helmet designs throughout our history have been pretty lackluster – our current helmet, which has been around since 1989 with some minor color adjustments, is essentially an orange version of the New York Giants helmet from the 1980s (which they wisely scrapped a few years ago). The old “Illini” written on the side used through much of the 1970s and 1980s was never really impressive, either. An orange helmet with a blue Block I would be simple, clean-looking, and an exponential improvement, in my opinion.

(Image from New York Times)

Chicago’s Global Perception and the 2016 Summer Olympics

chicago-2016-olympics-logo.jpg 

The big news in Chicago this past weekend was that our fair city bested Los Angeles to represent the United States in bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics with Tokyo and Rio De Jianero probably being the main opponents.  Winning the Olympics, which won’t be decided until 2009, certainly won’t be a slam dunk, particularly with the fact of Rio bringing the prospect of the first Games ever being held in South America.  That being said, Chicago is well-positioned since Brazil might be putting more resources into a probable hosting of the 2014 World Cup while Tokyo will be at a disadvantage with the close proximity in geography and time to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Also, the U.S. television broadcast rights are the single largest revenue source for the Olympics and just happen to be up for bid starting in 2016 – something tells me that NBC or another network would pay a hefty premium if the games don’t need to be shown on tape delay in prime time.

There are certainly a number of horror stories that suggest that losing cities often end up winners compared to the hosting cities, ranging from financial problems (Montreal taking nearly three decades to pay off its debt for the 1976 Olympics) to terrorism (Munich in 1972 and Atlanta in 1996).  In Chicago, the talk also naturally turns to traffic problems, which are bad enough without the additional crush of hundreds of thousands of extra visitors.

Still, for all of these potential pitfalls, I believe that being able to hold the Olympics would be a fantastic opportunity for the City of Chicago and could finally change the perception of our city once and for all.  Anyone that loves urban environments (I’m not talking about the yokels that complain about how there are too many people and a lack of hunting venues) and has visited Chicago knows that it is on par with any other large city in the world in terms of architecture, culture, economic strength, and vibrant public spaces.  For all of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s crazy power trips, he has been relentless in transforming a previously gritty town into a glimmering city with a gorgeous lakefront.  Unfortunately, it continues to amaze me in dealing with people that haven’t visited Chicago from both coasts of the United States and foreign countries that they perceive the city being more like Detroit or Cleveland – as in a declining, industrial-based, boring, and unsophisticated Midwestern town (I’m not trying to pile on our Michigan and Ohio neighbors, but that’s just the global perception).  I can understand the fascination with New York, which is a world center on so many different levels, but it continues to boggle my mind that places such as Boston and San Francisco, while certainly being beautiful cities, seem to be romanticized in the general public mindset in comparison to Chicago even though I consider the Windy City to have a more energetic and vibrant urban atmosphere than those two towns (and Boston definitely doesn’t have better weather).

What I hope an Olympics would do for Chicago is to provide the city the widest platform to showcase its assets and give it a final push to attain the international stature that it has deserved for a long time.  The key here is that I don’t believe that Chicago has much to prove, unlike, say, Atlanta did in 1996.  Chicago’s world-class urban infrastructure is already in place, so it just needs the attention in a world that largely perceives the space in between New York and Los Angeles as flyover country.  The best model of this is Barcelona, which was similarly perceived as an old industrial town prior to the 1992 Summer Olympics even though it had already gone through an urban renaissance.  For those that attended those games, Barcelona completely blew them away with its sophistication and beauty to the point where, as opposed to being a largely ignored stepchild to Madrid, it is now a must-see for all visitors to Spain.  My hope for Chicago if it gets the opportunity to host the Olympics is that the city can leverage the games to transform its international image for way beyond 2016.

(Image from Repeat – Writings on Architecture)

Snowboarding Showboat Gaffe = No Gold Medal but Lots of $$$ for Jacobellis

You’ve probably seen by now the footage of Lindsay Jacobellis showboating before the end of the snowboard cross event at the Olympics and blowing a sure-fire gold medal(sidenote: I’m not really into the X-Gamesification of the Olympics, but I’ve got to say that the snowboard cross is an awesome event.  “Incidental” contact is allowed while snowboarders have to jump hills and ride out sharp curves in a race with a clear winner – that’s stuff a traditional sports fan like myself will watch).  Minnesota Red Sox wondered why she seemed completely unfazed by the unbelievable choke job (other than the use of weed).

Here’s why: this was the best thing Jacobellis could have possibly done for her career.  If Jacobellis had simply won the gold medal, she would have just been another American who dominated yet another X-Games-style snowboarding event and be forgotten after the Olympics were over.  By blowing the gold medal in such spectacular fashion, however, Jacobellis has become a household name with her story plastered across the front page of every newspaper in the United States.  Her image is also going to run on ESPN Classic next to shots of Leon Lett and Greg Norman until the end of time.

At the very least, Jacobellis can parlay her fame (or infamy) into a boxing match on Fox with Tonya Harding in the next ten years.  That’s more attention than a snowboarder could ever hope for.