The Future of Sports on TV

I've thought for years that the future of TV is the Internet. Eventually, we'll get to watch anything ever filmed whenever we want to. I was never quite sure how the execution would go, but I instinctively knew almost from the first postage stamp-sized Quicktime video I saw on a website in elementary school that one day the Internet would provide all our video needs.

We're definitely moving in that direction thanks to services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. The only thing standing in the way is licensing deals from content providers. In the case of Netflix, they're doing things correctly. In the case of the SEC Digital Network, they're not. And for now, you generally have to hook up an extra box to your TV to get at these things on your television, though some day, it'll all be integrated right into your TV like a better and smarter version of these Samsung TVs that are being splashed all over the SBNation sites.

But while archived TV and movies are going that way, I doubt live TV will ever disappear. I used to be convinced that it'd be gone in a couple of decades, but it's too useful. Sometimes you don't know what you want, so you channel surf. When new episodes of shows are ready to be released, they have to be released at a certain date and time. Live TV as it exists now is as good a solution for that as any.

Live sports are the really big fish here though. You could just post a link to a video feed of a new TV show episode and be done with it, but sports have to be streamed live. I guess SNL and presidential speeches fall into the same categories, but the mechanism of delivering live sports won't ever be considerably different than it is now.

That's not to say that watching sports won't remain the same. Here are some ways that watching live sports will change over the coming years.

3D

ESPN is piloting a 3D system right now, but televisions that can do 3D are mostly north of $10,000 right now. The technology is still in its infancy, and you have to wear glasses in order for it to work.

I'm generally pessimistic about the future of 3D, considering that it's pretty lame unless something is built for it like Avatar was. However, nearly everyone who has seen 3D sports absolutely raves about it. That goes from gadget bloggers to sports reporters to plain ol' regular people. I can't verify it personally as I've never had the chance, but supposedly it's spectacular.

I think that 3D capabilities are probably going to end up in every TV eventually as the cost of it comes down. Ten years from now, we'll probably even have the ability to do 3D without glasses. I doubt sitcoms and CSPAN are ever going to dazzle in 3D, but sports appear to be one of those things that do. In our lifetimes, 3D might become the standard for taking in sports when not at the stadium/arena.

MICROCONTESTS

Right now, we know that people are willing to watch sports either in front of a computer or with a smartphone in hand. The 500,000 open threads every weekend prove that fact. We also know that people who love sports love competition, not just because they are watching competitions but because of pick 'em, prop bets, and fantasy contests.

If you think we've reached the apex of those, we've really only just begun. I've been invited by an iPhone developer to test out an app that lets you predict what each play is going to be before it happens. You also can guess the outcomes of drives and do other prop bets along the way. It's NFL-only for the moment, but it just got approved and if it's any good I'll let y'all know.

Who knows if this iteration of it will work, but I can see a future for the concept. How many people claim their team's offensive coordinators is so predictable that they know the plays before they happen? How many of you think to yourself, "we're definitely scoring here" or "there's no way the defense can hold on this drive?" I doubt everyone will end up doing that kind of thing, but there are plenty of die hards who would want to prove how good they are at those kinds of predictions. Put up some decent prizes, and you've got a big new trend.

MULTI-ANGLE BROADCASTS

Every telecast has 25 different cameras, it seems, covering every angle of the action. For now, we only get to see one of them at a time and only the one the producer determines is best.

As broadcasts move to the Internet and as bandwidth gets cheaper, I can easily see a future where you get to be that producer and choose which angle you want to see. If it were up to me, I'd watch most of football games from the camera that flies around suspended above the field on wires. At other times, I might want to use an end zone view to get a better view of the receivers if one team's passing game catches fire. I might even go to the blimp shot once or twice for the heck of it.

We don't have that ability now, but I'd love to see it in the future. I can't guess on how far away we are from being able to choose our own angles, but it'll be awesome once we can.

WHAT WE WON'T SEE MUCH OF

Here's a few quick bits on what we won't see much of from sports TV.

  • Crowdsourced commentary. Think Verne and Gary can get annoying? Now imagine listening to an amateur who doesn't know the difference between defensive holding and pass interference stumbling his way through a telecast. Just try it yourself some time. Talking for four hours and not running out of things to say is very difficult. If anyone tried this, it'd be a trainwreck. Also, licensing would never let it happen in an official capacity, limiting its reach.
  • Video from the stands. It is possible today for someone to broadcast a game from the stands using something like Qik. Could crowd views be the future? In a word: no. The quality will always be inferior to the cameras the real broadcasters use. The real broadcasters also will have a variety of angles and slow motion replay. From the stands, you get a shaky picture, people crossing in front to go to the bathroom, and the back of people's heads. 
  • 4K broadcasts. The next thing after HD video is 4K video, which functionally would be like having telepresence in your living room. While that would rule, it's not coming any time soon. If you think 3D televisions are expensive, don't bother looking up how much a 4K display would go for. In addition, people are already saying that HD broadcasts in the comfort of your own home are rivaling the experience at stadiums. A 4K broadcast would only accelerate that sentiment.
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