“I’ve never seen such beautiful work… I was enchanted.”

We’re looking at an interesting battle ahead, pitting the SEC’s new media policy against… well, the new media.

… At the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, Brand put his finger on a central paradox about digital information that is causing us so much trouble today. “On the one hand,” Brand said, “information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

Twenty five years later, nothing’s changed.  On the expensive side, you have the big, new ESPN contract leading to new ways to pay for it.

… While SEC member institutions will benefit financially from the new 15-year television deals signed with CBS and ESPN, the fan bases of the 12 universities must adjust to more night games than ever before. ESPN now has rights to every SEC home football game not selected by CBS, and ESPN’s highest ratings always have been at night.

But information wants to be free.  That’s how you get to the irony of a Seinfeld episode about bootlegging appearing on YouTube.

And that’s how you get to what’s coming over the broadcasts of SEC football games.

“The exclusivity that can be secured in the domain of television cannot be guaranteed online.”

Go to YouTube. Search pretty much any game anywhere. Some of what pops up are clips taken by fans with their phones from the stands. They’re almost always grainy, or jumpy, and generally low-quality.

They’re not going to be that way forever.

The only certainty in technology is that it gets faster and cheaper, exponentially, always.

Imagine, then, a day not too far away when fans from their seats will use their phones to stream onto the Internet a video feed, for free, that conceivably could approximate the images for which ESPN and CBS have paid billions of dollars.

And at that point, where does the SEC go?  Does it prohibit cell phones at games?  How do you catch every device, when tens of thousands are being carried in by fans and are likely to be incredibly small and powerful in a few more technological generations?  Or do you ban the fans from the games altogether?  Don’t laugh; it’s not that far-fetched.

“If it reaches the point where it’s not just 15 people doing this, it’s 1,000 people, it gets more and more difficult to stop,” he said. “At which point you either stop letting fans into games or you figure out a way to deal with the fact that fans are going to do this.”

And then?

“The days of the multibillion-dollar exclusive contracts are possibly in jeopardy,” said Gillmor, the author of We the Media.

The current SEC TV contracts run through 2024.  What do you think a cell phone will be able to do by then?

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16 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, Science Marches Onward, SEC Football

16 responses to ““I’ve never seen such beautiful work… I was enchanted.”

  1. Great ?

    I predict something like what Sprint has going on at Nascar races. Some kind of interactivity with the spectators, subscription required…..

  2. Dawg19

    The technology is available to scramble phone signals so that a cell phone is useless in certain areas (It’s something that restaurants, doctor’s offices, etc. will all employ some time in the future). I’m sure something will come about to render all cellphones in a stadium useless one of these days.

  3. This is a non issue. No matter how awesome cell phones get, there will still be a wide variety of painful interruptions and issues. What happens when the guy making the video wants a hot dog or has to take a piss. Or when he decided there is a hot chick with big boobs 4 rows away, and misses a great play.

    Plus, the sheer micromanagement that would be required to make sure you find a variety of good angles won’t happen.

    The network broadcast will be better because they will have the best camera angles, replay, professionals making sure the cameras catch the action, etc. They even have those cameras strung over the field.

    Sure, the announcers often suck, and sometimes their analysis sucks, but sometimes those on screen graphics are really interesting and some announcers are good.

    So I don’t think the networks have ANYTHING to worry about here.

    • I would think your first point would hardly be a factor if you had one or two thousand fans contributing to the feed. Not everyone goes to the bathroom at the exact same moment.

      As for micromanagement and broadcast quality, who knows where technology fifteen years from now takes us? How much could your cell phone do in 1994?

      I think Brand would say that the winning strategy for the networks would be to come up with better information than what you could get on a free feed. One thing the guys with the checks buy is access – to the sidelines and on the field. That won’t be any different in 2024.

      • Kevin

        I can think of an angle that the NFL and College Football STILL don’t have that would be very accessible for a fan with cheap seats, a steady hand or mini elastic tri-pod, and a cell phone that takes video. An angle that is very controversial in games. I’ll never understand why there is no camera directly on the goal line, why they put them on the 1 and 2 yard lines.

        And the Senator makes a great point, cell phones will be able to stream video to the internet in the future, the will be able to hold HOURS not minutes of video at HQ.
        Hell, i just bought a Flip Mino HD camera for 180 dollars. It holds and hour of HD quality video on a device smaller than my iPhone. Where will that technology be in 2 years, 5, 15?

      • Are you seriously going to have 100 windows open to 100 different random people’s taking video from their crappy vantage point?

  4. Dawg19: that scrambling technology is illegal for anyone other than the government to use. Barring a MAJOR change in the telecommunications laws, it won’t be employed in restaurants, doctor’s offices, or even football stadiums.

  5. DawgPhan

    I dont think that this is of any concern right now. This summer I witnessed this happening at Phish shows across the country. I could go to a twitter webpage that would collect all of the streams live from the phish concert that was being video’d and streamed via iPhones. They used 3g service to upload the stream and it was basically “live”. This however did not limit the number of tickets sold, folks didnt stay at home to watch it on the stream and in general nothing changed.

    Now here is the interesting twist…ESPN could actually use these types of twitter streams(ustream) in aggregate to provide a more “complete” experience for a fan at home. Imagine watching the game on the majority of your screen and having several feeds of your choice as options that are streaming live from fans in the stadium. A stream from a phone is NEVER going to complete with the quality of high end equipment.

    So don’t worry, this is already happening and it isn’t affecting anything in the slightest except allowing me to catch phish shows that work and family precludes me from attending.

    • Kevin

      “A stream from a phone is NEVER going to complete [sic] with the quality of high end equipment. ”

      NEVER? I would have told you in 1994 that a phone would ‘never’ be able to take video, connect to the internet at, oh i dunno, 1000 times faster than my modem in my house (that year) could, never replace the land line, never hold 10000 songs at a conversion rate that wouldn’t exist yet for another 10 years (MP4).

      As I stated above, you can already take HD quality video with a device smaller than a phone:

      http://www.theflip.com/store/MinoHD.aspx

      How are we to know that this won’t just be another APP in a few years. From there, the quality only gets better. Remember video cameras before the insta-stabilizer? Yeah.

      • ElectricSweater

        He’s right, cell phones will NEVER match high end equipment, because, even though cell phone technology is evolving, so is the technology involved in creating the high end cameras, mics, etc.

        Think about all this little things that go into a live broadcast. ESPN has access to plenty of things that the average fan doesn’t: expert commentators, multiple moving cameras to catch every angle, a staff dedicated to research, great graphics that amp up the excitement level, access to instant replay that matches what the officials see, THE FIRST DOWN LINE for crying out loud. Can you even imagine watching a broadcast without those lines superimposed across the screen anymore?

        No matter how good the technology gets, a fan livecasting from the stands won’t be able to compete on a scale that matters. I work in video production, so I know that there is a limit to how good your end result can be without money or time. Big productions take big budgets and big coordination. Fans want to watch the game, not spend all their time trying to coordinate multiple angles, add live commentary etc.

        It’s not just a question of technology, its a question of budget, preproduction, and coordination that ESPN does on a level that even the most knowlegable fan can’t compete with sans a huge budget.

        Heck, look at the difference between an ESPN broadcast and a CSS broadcast, and extend that all the way down the food chain.

  6. Chuck

    While you all have mostly focused on the technical issues (ban cellphones? scramble signals? what about interruptions?) my issue is whether they (ESPN, CBS) have the right to expect their property rights to extend beyond television – i.e., original broadcast and rebroadcasts over television. They are purchasing broadcast rights. The reason that they are willing to pay such large sums is because they can sell advertising, and lots of it. The ratings are up and growing. When all I have to do to watch live is have basic cable or dish service, why would I watch on anything but my big screen TV? I don’t see the networks harmed. Do they plan to have my TiVo disabled? So long as I do not charge others for watching, can they stop me from re-playing a game in my own home, even if I have some buddies over to watch? It isn’t my specialty by a long shot, but the extent to which they are trying to limit what in a copyright case might be considered fair use seems wrong on a philosophical level.

  7. I think we can all agree it’s time for the glowing football (circa NHL hockey pucks 1996-1998)…cell phones will NEVER be able to do that.

  8. Marcus

    This year I was all prepared to watch all my CFB on ESPN 360 (thus saving $50/month for the “Standard” cable package that includes ESPN). I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I signed up for Uverse and will be watching and DVR’ing my CFB on an actual TV like a good, red-blooded American.

    Still, the future is here. I have friends who don’t even have cable TV (I drop mine to the basic service during the offseason) and watch all cable shows on Hulu or download them via torrents. You can watch live, MMA fights on a site called channelsurfing, which is essentially people uploading their PPV feed. I’ll no doubt be watching some games on ESPN 360 since it shows the same games I would pay for via ESPN’s Gameplan, cause you know I can’t live without watching some exciting Kentucky vs. Citadel action or whatever SEC game would not garner one of the 100 ESPN spots now available for SEC games!

  9. Keith

    NEVER, NEVER, will they keep fans from coming in games. NEVER. I don’t care what kind of technology they come up with for cell phones. Fans make college football what it is. That aint NEVER gonaa happen. There isn’t many thing I will say never to, but this is one of them. Thats laughable.

    NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. NRBQ

    Damn, Marcus.

    Don’t go confounding us veteran UGA fans.

    PS. If there’s a game I can’t get on my cable television set this year (32 inch, weighs 90 pounds!), I’m giving you a call.

  11. ElectricSweater makes the killer point:

    No matter how much cell phone technology improves, the high end video equipment is improving as well.

    By the time you have high quality cell phone video, and some way to aggregate it, ESPN, CBS, etc. will have Super High Def where you control your own zoom and camera angle.