ESPN is about to turn high-school coaches into television producers — or at least broadband video producers.
The sports-programming megalith is working on a go-local strategy for its ESPN 360 collection of live sporting events, news and clips that it is now trying to make a premium destination for users of fast Internet connections, according to Sean Bratches, executive vice president of sales and marketing.
When schools open this fall, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get the chance to watch football games in Rochester, N.Y., Pittsfield, Mass., or Henrietta, Ga.
It’s a natural flexing of the ESPN umbrella. And a pretty slick way to not just capture another slice of American athletics, but to also head off the emergence of any potential Internet-based competition.
This is, after all, the year in which Internet video got hot. Or at least got a lot of attention. YouTube has come out of nowhere, and now video-graphers around the country are uploading 60,000 examples of their work every day. MySpace.com has taken notice and has quickly closed in (“The Brave New World of Invitation Marketing,” page 31). And what’s to keep the social-networking site from breaking out its growing mass of content by, ahem, channel?
It’d be a small step for it to slice and dice its user profiles and simply post come-ons to all the high school coaches and athletes among its 100 million registered users. Pretty soon, MySports.com would be launched and stocked with the coaches’ digital recordings — or those of the athletes’ parents.
Instead, ESPN gets to ride the crest of user-generated content, by zeroing in on one area of amateur film-making where there is a fairly consistent attention to quality. It’ll most likely put together tool kits with components bearing the ESPN brand that make it easy for the coaches to upload the games they record. A sports studio in a box, of a sort.
But before anyone gets too infatuated with broadband video, let’s recognize it has had a halting history. Yahoo! Inc. bought Broadcast.com for billions in 1999, couldn’t make anything of it and pretty much shut it down. Even today, with cheap, effective digital cameras and recorders everywhere, eyeballs aren’t exactly glued to the stuff.
The typical consumer of online video watches less than 100 minutes each month, according to comScore Media Metrix. That’s little more than three minutes a day. One clip.
By contrast, the vast majority of Americans watch TV and lots of it. About four hours each, a day, by the tracking of the Center for Media Design at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
“As a percentage of people’s entertainment time, it’s still a very small percentage,’’ Joan Gillman, vice president of TV and advanced advertising at Time Warner Cable, said last week at a breakfast sponsored by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Summit.
And there are no really breakout, lasting hits so far. Unless you count a site devoted to collections of text, photo and video jokes, such as a poke at Wal-Mart titled “Big Box Mart.”
“Probably the most successful user-generated or non-studio-based dead-media company content that has broken through in the last four years has been JibJab,’’ said Edward Huguez, Starz Entertainment Group executive vice president of sales and marketing. “I mean, big deal. That’s a one-hit wonder. The rest of it is still high-quality content that people like to enjoy on many different platforms; and my guess is nothing is going to change that.”
Sure, this has become the year of the do-it-yourself video. As one audience member starkly put it, the consumer is now the competition.
But no need to get quite so rapt about it. People have been making home movies for generations. The big difference now is that the tools are getting better and cheaper; and their distribution is now worldwide, and virtually cost-free, thanks to file-sharing sites.
That doesn’t make them necessarily better. There are only so many individuals who really have the talent to back up their creative urges.
As Gillman noted, “If you talk to any of the young people that are producing on a MySpace or putting video on YouTube, they want to get their video on TV. That is when they have succeeded.”
Put another way, if there were really lots of really interesting programming ideas out there waiting all these decades to find a slot on the dial, cable companies never would have shut down all the public-access television studios they built to unleash those ideas in the first place.