Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or BAM for short. BAM began as the in-house IT department for the league’s 30 teams, a small handful of employees originally tasked with building websites for teams and clubs. But over the last 15 years, BAM has emerged as the most talented and reliable name in streaming video, a skill set suddenly in very high demand. ... BAM cemented its status as one of the most important players at the intersection of sports, media, and technology, announcing that it will be powering the mobile, web, and television offerings from the National Hockey League. It’s the first time BAM has been fully embraced by another major league. ... For years, BAM was a name known only to industry insiders, a sharpshooter organization called in to make sure the big game or series premiere streamed without fail. Over time, it forged long-term deals with clients like WWE and Sony Playstation’s Vue network. Now it’s moving from powering the platform to co-owning the content as well. ... Watching sports online has always had one major complication: regional blackouts prevent you from streaming a game in the same territory as a television broadcaster who owns local rights. That meant BAM had to figure out where a customer was and whether or not they could legally watch the stream. In fact, BAM’s very first post-season package wasn’t even broadcast live in the United States or Japan. Fox owned the national broadcast rights to the pennant race, so BAM’s first big broadcast took place in Europe. From the beginning, BAM had to perfect live video streaming on a global scale.
Matt Ginsberg’s training is in astrophysics. He got his Ph.D. from Oxford when he was 24 years old. His doctoral advisor there was the famed mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, and he recalls rubbing elbows with the academic rock stars Stephen Hawking and the late Richard Feynman. He created an artificial intelligence crossword puzzle solver called Dr. Fill and a computer bridge world champion called GIB. ... Unsurprisingly, there’s pretty heavy math involved to make this real-time sports predictor work. For one element of the system’s calculations, Ginsberg sent me a pdf with eight dense pages of physics diagrams and systems of equations and notes on derivations. It uses something called the Levenberg-Marquardt algorithm. It requires Jacobians and the taking of partial derivatives and the solving of quartics, and code efficient enough to calculate it all up to the split second. If predicting the future were easy, I suppose everybody would do it. ... One thing this project can’t predict, however, is its own future. Its uses are, so far, largely speculative, and cashing in on a minor superpower might not be easy. Even gamblers who bet during play would struggle to make much money from a half-second heads-up that a shot is going in. But Ginsberg’s system would find a natural place in the long line of sports technologies that have been used for a singular end — TV.
Why NBC, CBS & FOX’s sports networks have all failed in their attempts to shoot down the Mothership. ... moves like that suggest FS1 remains blind to repeating its mistakes all over again, trying to replicate ESPN’s success by bringing in former Bristol employees, and copying The Worldwide Leader’s shows. ... there are A LOT of sports fans out there that really hate ESPN and would love an antidote to the “Embrace Debate” culture that has spread to SEVEN daily debate shows on the network. Those fans just haven’t found an alternative yet. ... These suggestions may fly in the face of conventional television programming wisdom, but pretty much every single executive instinct of the suits at CBS, NBC, and FOX has been wrong.
To many of us, QVC is a 1980s relic of grandmas and shut-ins. When QVC (which stands for "Quality, Value, Convenience") first went live in 1986, televised sales pitches were a disruptive idea in retail—bringing products that lived in malls to a growing cable audience in search of things to watch. The network wasn’t first-to-market in its genre—HSN (the Home Shopping Network) had launched a year earlier—but QVC’s impact was immediate. QVC would set the fiscal sales record for a new public company in its first year ($112 million) by avoiding malls, while teenage rock star Tiffany would become a pop icon by performing in them. From day one, QVC’s niche was the unhip. ... But if QVC’s 24/7/364 approach—they go off-air for Christmas—is a fossil, it’s a living one. While U.S. mall popularity peaked in 1990, QVC’s revenue continues to grow. The network now does $8.8 billion in worldwide sales a year, and like every other big company, it is eyeing expansion in China. While the grandma stereotypes are indeed a bit true—QVC’s audience is 90% women, ages 35 to 65—QVC quadrupled its young recruit customers between 2009 and 2013 from 3% to 12%. Maybe more importantly, over the last decade, QVC has been gracefully making the transition from landline caller to smartphone user. Forty-three percent of its U.S. sales now come through e-commerce channels, and 30% of these are through mobile. The television channel has become the fifth largest mobile retailer in the world. Even a hot startup like Kickstarter has learned from QVC: each product must be accompanied by a video interview with its creator. ... Ninety percent of QVC’s customers are repeat customers—the most sought after, profitable type, the same carefully cultivated by companies like Starbucks with Starbucks Rewards and Amazon with Amazon Prime. ... But while Starbucks offers the promise of free caffeine, and Amazon gives us faster shipping and streamable movies, QVC has personalities—27 hosts who are each responsible for selling hundreds of millions of dollars in products a year. They’re middle-aged. Often overweight. Family types—the average American, with better makeup and whiter teeth, each a character in a retail soap opera that viewers at home can follow forever.
Diller was born in San Francisco in 1942 but his parents moved to southern California and he spent his childhood in Beverly Hills. His father worked in construction. “He was lucky,” he says, “to be in that business at that time after the second world war when all the veterans were coming home.” His father’s company “essentially built the San Fernando Valley,” on the other side of the hill from Los Angeles. “All those lovely tract homes,” he says, grimacing, slightly. ... Los Angeles, he says, “has utterly no stimulus of any kind” and as a young man it took him a while to work out what he wanted to do in life. “The truth is I was kind of in hibernation until I was 19. I was cosseted [and] would have stayed with [my parents] until now, if I could have.” He went to UCLA where he lasted “literally, three weeks” before dropping out. “I wasn’t interested or stimulated . . . I was just a dope.” ... Then an actor who was the father of a friend set him up with a job in the mailroom at William Morris, the talent agency where Diller’s fellow media mogul David Geffen also got his break. “I woke up,” Diller says. “It was the first time I’d been curious about anything.” ... He immersed himself in the industry. “I spent three years reading the file room. I basically read the history of the entertainment business from A-Z.” He became a junior agent but a serendipitous turn of events took him to the east coast when he landed a job working for a mid-level executive at ABC. “The day I got the job, they fired the tsar of all ABC programming, reached down and picked my guy. So, instead of being the assistant to a mid-level person in Los Angeles, I moved to New York.” Within six months Diller was running the programming department.
Inside the studio where ESPN is betting billions on the future of sports ... Under president John Skipper and the Disney umbrella, ESPN has spent the last decade amassing an untouchably large amount of live sports programming. The network’s empire extends from football and basketball; to auto sports and the X-Games; to ultimate frisbee, poker, and bowling. It broadcasts the World Cup and the Masters, Monday Night Football and the NBA Playoffs. By any measure – it’s the most popular cable channel by a mile; it commands a per-subscriber fee from cable companies equal to the next five most expensive combined; it’s valued at more than $50 billion, 13 times as much as Disney-owned ABC — ESPN is the country’s most powerful media company. The calculus is as simple as it is devastatingly effective: sports is practically the only TV that millions of people still insist on watching live, and ESPN owns almost all the sports. ... The new SportsCenter set is the crown jewel of the building: 9,700 square feet of space that will be used to broadcast the show on ESPN’s mass of channels. The revamped set was designed to make SportsCenter more personal, to show anchors moving around and interacting, but also to help the show move at the speed of the internet. ESPN has long been criticized for allowing news to break overnight while it ran repeats of the previous day’s shows; now the premier show in sports can update and broadcast in real time.
More so than the average American sitcom, Seinfeld has had difficulty reaching global audiences. While it’s popular in Latin America, it hasn’t been widely accepted in Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. Two decades after it went off the air, Seinfeld remains relevant to American audiences — thanks in part to omnipresent syndicated reruns — but in much of Europe it is considered a cult hit, and commonly relegated to deep-late-night time slots. Its humor, it seems, is just too complicated, too cultural and word-based, to make for easy translation. ... Jokes are the hardest things to translate into another language, another culture, another world. A good script for dubbing an American sitcom for foreign consumption does more than literally translate. It manages to convey the same meaning, the same feeling, the same story — the same direct hit to the lower frontal lobes of the brain that produces a laugh, even though those frontal lobes are steeped in a completely different cultural brew. ... Lip-synch dubbing, despite its ultimate benefits, can get very complicated. It’s not just that the lines may not translate directly — they also have to take just as long to say in both languages and approximate, to the best of their abilities, the lip movements of the original actors. That can pose an added challenge when translating from laconic languages like English into verbose languages like German.
For years a culture clash had been brewing within the cloistered, sober halls of the National Geographic Society, a social club-turned-nonprofit organization founded in Washington in 1888 and devoted to the mission of increasing and diffusing geographic knowledge. Some NGS executives were irritated by the reality-TV shows that had come to dominate the network, which was majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The worry was that the lowbrow shows were damaging the society’s credibility and upstanding reputation. Behind the scenes, they had attempted to quash several projects before they aired. The TV people kept fighting back. ... In addition to the media assets, Fox picked up National Geographic’s travel business, which arranges tours to places such as the Galápagos Islands, and its licensing division, which lends its name to everything from bird feeders to backpacks to bedsheets and coffee beans. The success of the brand will likely hinge on the financial performance of the TV network—and its ability to navigate a market that’s being shaken by the unbundling of cable packages and rapidly changing viewing habits. ... Fox is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to reinvent it as a more highbrow destination—a kind of HBO for science and adventure programming.
Cheese-rolling. Pole-vaulting. Wife-carrying. Figure skating. Cup-stacking. Bobsledding. Ferret-legging. Golf. Somewhere someone right now is endeavoring to become more proficient at every one of these activities. Half the sports on that list are imbued with the prestige and promise of an Olympic medal, but is there anything more intrinsically worthy about performing a triple salchow than there is about keeping an angry ferret inside your trousers for two minutes? ... The upcoming Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro will feature 306 different events in 42 sports, or so the official Rio2016.com site tells us. But how many of those sports, such as synchronized swimming or equestrian events, do you consider a sport?
Comcast has installed tens of millions of cable boxes, Wi-Fi routers, and other hardware in American homes over the years. These devices have been forgettable at best. Stirling hopes that’s about to change. Later this year, the company will begin rolling out a family of slimmed-down internet, TV, and home-security gadgets. The devices are designed according to a radical concept that’s largely gone untested in more than a half-century of cable-TV history—that hardware doesn’t have to be hideous. ... The new devices are designed to work in concert with X1—the software at the heart of Comcast’s strategy to keep its 22.4 million cable subscribers from cutting the cord and defecting to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Think of X1 as the company’s own Android or iOS—a technological platform upon which an empire of software, hardware, and services can be built. ... Instead of just throwing every channel into a linear grid accessed by clicking up and down with a remote, X1 aggregates programming from hundreds of TV networks and online sources and arranges everything by genre. ... Unlike most cable companies, Comcast has actually been gaining TV subscribers.
Located in Hunt Valley, Md., little-known Sinclair is the nation’s largest owner of broadcast TV stations. It has 173 of them, mostly in small markets (Sioux City, Iowa; Fresno, Calif.; Little Rock), but with several in larger metropolitan areas as well (Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Washington). Whatever a particular station’s network affiliation—ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, or NBC—Sinclair viewers get a steady dose of conservative political commentary. Lately, Executive Chairman David Smith has begun assembling a kind of junior varsity squad of commentators and making unspecific murmurings about competing head-to-head with the senior lettermen and women at Fox News. To left-leaning viewers only just becoming aware of the company’s reach, Sinclair is positioned to flip a switch and turn those 173 stations’ newscasts—currently delivering bulletins on weather, school closings, and local affairs—into a cohesive network that pushes a Fox News-esque worldview of outrage and conflict into individual cities, counties, and towns. ... In May the company announced it was buying Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion. Among other assets, Sinclair would add 42 TV stations—including major ones in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—if the deal is approved by regulators.