Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> The Future of Entertainment, College-Baseball Style About the author, Boyd Nation

The Future of Entertainment, College-Baseball Style

Publication Date: March 11, 2003

What's On Today?

This started out as a look at the current trends in broadcasting college baseball, but it turned into more of a long-term look at the future around, say, 2015. Bear with me, since this will be as much science fiction as fact, but I think this is what things will look like in the long run.

First of all, a look at the state of the world today. For the majority of Division I teams, there's no way to find out what's going on during the game other than being at the game (or calling the pressbox or a friend with a cell phone, I suppose, but that would annoy them fairly quickly). So far this year, I've found audio feeds for fifty teams. I'd estimate that another twenty-five teams have some sort of live stats access running online (by the way, the OCSN live scoreboards look great this year; they've done some nice work on them), which will get you reasonably-near-to-real-time access to the score and some play-by-play information. When you add in the schools that have radio broadcasts at some level, even just the campus radio station, I estimate that you get a little over one-hundred schools that have some way of giving game updates away from the ballpark. I would guess that this doesn't represent a significant increase over two years ago, although it is an increase over five years ago; right now, concerns over revenue streams are slowing progress.

If you actually want to watch the games on TV, there are fewer options, although there are more each year than there ever have been. A quick look at the SEC baseball TV schedule shows over fifty regular season games are being broadcast at some level. In addition, there will be a reasonable, although smaller, number of regular season games from other conferences broadcast, a couple of the conference tournaments will be broadcast in part or full, some of the regionals will receive coverage, and ESPN will broadcast all of the super-regionals and College World Series. In an interesting experiment, this week's Texas-Rice game was carried on HDNet, the experimental channel dedicated to providing programming specifically for high definition television owners. Anyone who says, "Why isn't there any college baseball on TV?" is mostly really asking why ESPN doesn't carry the game nationally as much as they'd like, and that's probably the wrong revenue stream to chase.

My original thought was to talk about the future of each of these broadcast streams -- TV, radio, online access, and live stats -- but as I've thought it through, I think that the actual medium-term future (10-12 years) lies in convergence of media, and that that's the actual future we need to focus on in the long term.

Right now, we think of access to television programming, telephone service, radio, and the Internet as separate things. That's a historical accident, though, and technically, there's no reason to expect it to continue. Already, access to the Internet from my house and access to television programming both take place through the same wire; differentiating between the two is a matter of what equipment is hooked to the wire. Right now, all the television (or VCR or whatever is connected on the entertainment side; I don't have digital cable, but most of my neighbors do, and a digital cable receiver connected to an HDTV set is essentially just a very specialized computer) can see is the television broadcast content that comes down the wire, and all the cable modem can see is the data stream, but that, too, is just a historical carryover. There's nothing stopping anyone today from building a combination computer/television that takes advantage of the features of both. For that matter, a TiVo box is just the first step in this direction; it's essentially a Linux box with a hard drive for storing television broadcasts for later viewing. Some of the models actually come with an Ethernet port.

Given that I could make the same case for combining Internet and phone access if I had a DSL line rather than a cable modem, and that satellite radio and the fact that some cable companies also carry radio are moving away from the traditional model of radio, it's not hard at all to imagine a future where the lines between those media have blurred to the point of meaninglessness. You'll have to come up with special cases to handle things like safe automobile access and low-bandwidth portable equipment, but that's already starting to happen as well.

Given all of that, what will a "broadcast" look and sound like in 2015? In the purest case, imagine sitting at home with a screen much like a current plasma-screen or LCD television screen -- large enough for multiple uses of the screen if you wish, similar to a current computer windowing environment, rather than a single image like a current TV screen. The broadcast will arrive with a number of components that you can select from -- a video feed (or perhaps several; by that point, we may be freed from the tyranny of the director), an audio feed intended for use with the video feed, an audio feed intended for use in non-visual environments like driving, and several data views of the current state of the game, ranging from a scoreboard to the current box score to season team stats, all of them linked into the successor of the Web. You'll be able to pick and choose from among these elements and arrange the visual pieces to suit you, although there will presumably be a standard arrangement for those who don't want to be bothered. This modularity will make the same "broadcast" work in non-visual or limited bandwidth environments.

What about availability? After all, we're not even to the point where half the teams are broadcasting in some form right now. Here, again, the modularity will play in our favor. There's someone keeping score at every game that's played. At the smallest level, the data feeds are just a matter of getting his live data out onto the Internet. We're actually pretty close to universal access to this feature already; virtually everyone uses the same software to score games, and the only thing keeping most teams from doing live stats is support from their Web site host (which may be the school itself) and connectivity to the pressbox. Those issues will improve incrementally as time goes on.

As convergence continues, one of three things will happen. Either regional and special-interest television content providers will be able to provide their feeds to more and more television-to-the-home companies around the country (once they're feeding through the Internet, that becomes much easier to do), the middlemen will go away entirely and channels will be able to broadcast directly to the home, or the whole concept of a channel will go away in favor of a system of specific event-driven broadcasting (an interesting forerunner of that is this year's OwlVision program, where Rice is streaming video of all their games live over the Internet). That decision will be made at the industry level and will not be driven by baseball concerns, but in any of these scenarios, the days of lack of access to out-of-region programming will be past.

The single biggest wild card in these discussions is the matter of where the money to pay for it comes from (the second biggest is regulatory concerns, but that's boring), and there my crystal ball breaks down almost completely. "Traditional" broadcast models (say, from 1930 to 1985) have been based around the notion that programming is free to the consumers, that it's paid for by advertisers, and that the advertisers call the shots but mostly just want more consumers to watch or listen. That model began to break down with the invention of cable TV and is in the early stages of its death throes on the Internet. As a result, everyone involved is trying to figure out what comes next. More locally, so to speak, quite a few schools are experimenting with charging for subscriptions to their audio broadcasts this year; I have no idea how that's going for them, but it's one of the viable alternatives in the long run. Before you get too upset about the notion of paying for something you're receiving for "free" right now, remember that reducing the advertising budget of the companies that you buy from should reduce prices relative to inflation in the long run, and you get more control over what's being broadcast if you control the dollars more directly. As a content provider, I've been watching these discussions carefully, but it's just too early to tell where it will go -- anything from micropayments to more and more noxious forms of advertising are possible.

Pitch Count Watch

Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye -- the general threshold for listing is 120 actual pitches or 130 estimated, although short rest will also get a pitcher listed if I catch it. Don't blame me; I'm just the messenger.

Date   Team   Pitcher   Opponent   IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO   AB   BF   Pitches
Feb 28 Old Dominion Justin Verlander Marist 7.0 8 4 4 4 12 30 34 152 (*)
Mar 7 North Carolina A&T Toby Middleton Ball State 9.0 8 5 5 6 8 31 38 151
Mar 7 Brigham Young Jacinto Texas Christian 8.0 6 2 1 3 6 29 32 124
Mar 7 James Madison Kurn Isenberg Central Connecticut State 7.0 6 2 2 3 9 27 31 135
Mar 7 Wake Forest Kyle Sleeth LeMoyne 9.0 4 2 1 4 7 28 36 130 (*)
Mar 7 Rice Jeff Niemann Louisiana Tech 7.2 4 2 0 2 13 26 31 125
Mar 7 Southeast Missouri State Tim Alvarez Southern Mississippi 9.0 9 2 2 3 9 35 40 165
Mar 7 Temple Matt Powell New Orleans 8.1 11 4 1 0 6 37 42 128
Mar 8 Columbia Brian Doveala William and Mary 9.0 9 7 4 2 7 36 40 120
Mar 8 East Tennessee State Turner North Carolina-Greensboro 7.1 5 5 4 5 6 26 33 136
Mar 8 Houston Brad Sullivan Northwestern State 9.0 4 1 1 1 11 28 29 124
Mar 8 Rutgers Shaun Parker Georgia Tech 7.2 10 4 4 3 5 34 38 126
Mar 8 Oklahoma Buddy Blair Michigan 9.0 8 2 1 0 9 36 38 130 (*)
Mar 9 Winthrop Jeremy Plexico Louisiana State 8.2 5 3 3 3 6 30 33 129
Mar 10 Gonzaga Ed Clelland Bowling Green State 9.0 5 0 0 4 10 31 36 146 (*)

(*) Pitch count is estimated.

If you're interested in reprinting this or any other Boyd's World material for your publication or Web site, please read the reprint policy and contact me


Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> The Future of Entertainment, College-Baseball Style About the author, Boyd Nation