Monday, December 18, 2006

I or D Part 3-Media & Technology

Before I launch into my usual weekly diatribe, I just want to congratulate Jim for winning Peter McCarthy's Woman of the Year Award on RSD. I am sure he will get teary during the acceptance speech.

A good place to start with imitation or differentiation is, hopefully, Ultimate and media and technology. Technology and the media have, obviously, played a crucial role in the development and popularity of sports. In my previous post, Blaine discussed the importance of the development of Youth Ultimate in terms of growing our sport and tied the increase in popularity of sports like football and basketball to the increase in kids playing those sports. I am not in disagreement that a robust Youth initiative could lead directly to growth in our sport, but I think the exposure that the Big Sports gained via the media could be equally, and perhaps even more, responsible for the surge that has happened over the last 30 years.

It could be argued even further that media has played a defining role in the popularity of sports. I think it is not a coincidence that baseball, which in my opinion translates better to radio than other sports, had its "Golden Era" (say 1925-1956, roughly) during the time of radio's peak (in terms of market share) as a media outlet. The emergence and domination of TV as a media outlet also coincides with football's (and to a lesser degree, basketball's) dominance in the media marketplace. It does seem like a case of one hand feeding the other as well as some synchronicity. In the case of baseball, the pacing and movement limited to the base paths translates very well to the spoken medium and our ability to abstract without visual aid. Football, while somewhat cumbersome in its stop and go nature in the live setting, translates very well to TV as there is plenty of time for instant replay and, of course, commercial interruption. All of the above sentences speak only to how a sport translates to a medium and ignores many other factors, such as great athletes, great stories, and the cycle of increasing money, that have also gone into the growth of our highly saturated sports market in the media.

It seems hard to imagine that Ultimate will benefit, in the near future, from some kind of technology change as significant as the change from the single dimension of radio to the two dimensional world of TV (like football did). The screens might get bigger, crisper, and flatter, and the sound might get louder and more "surroundy", but until someone figures out how to place me in some kind of virtual reality where I experience being in the Sockeye horizontal O ("Poach!") while sitting in my living room, looking at a screen is going to be where it is at for a while. It seems to me that many discussions of Ultimate and the media assume, with perhaps a sense of....resignation(not quite the right word), that content delivered to my TV in the "traditional" manner (meaning network or cable provided predetermined programming) is the ONLY way in which I will be able to experience our sport when watching a screen. However, this ignores obvious technological advancements that, while not being as significant as "virtual reality", could possibly be a springboard to a higher media presence for our sport. The ability to control and distribute content via the web has already drastically altered the media landscape and could leave cable and network providers gasping for air, much like the traditional record companies of today. We would be foolish not to exploit any advantage available to us. I think there seems to be a certain sense of desperation when talking about getting Ultimate on TV, and desperation is a common attitude of those that do not have options. To have options is empowering, and, as such, I think it would be prudent if both paths (web and TV) were explored. Now, my point is not to say that one path (distributed content via the web) is better than the other(getting Ultimate on TV). While it seems, at first glance, that Ultimate on TV is inherently Imitative and web content will be a means to Differentiate Ultimate, I think both tools come into play in both paths.

I am not going to spend that much time on the Ultimate on TV subject. The challenges here are pretty familiar and well known. I will say that Imitation of other sports will be largely present if Ultimate is make it on TV, and we should expect that compromises will be needed. The place where the line is drawn will be different for each of us, but there is clear precedent that compromise is a fact of life when Ultimate takes steps out into the "real world". For example, the decision to not air full games on CSTV could be considered a compromise. I am sure there are many folks who feel that the decision to have Mixed for the World Games is another great compromise. To be clear, I am not being critical of these decisions as I think both ventures are positive for the sport. As I said before, a clear understanding of the cost vs benefit analysis is needed for these decisions. I do think it is possible to consider that differentiating ourselves could be an asset when it comes to selling our product to TV interests. There are certainly plenty of examples of successful programming that was viewed as outside the norm when initially proposed. Here is just a random list of some interesting possible issues/questions:

-Would the Ultimate season need to be altered so that games could be shown during times that don't conflict with other sports?
-What is the best camera angle or method to film our sport?
-There are complaints about the time between pulls in a live game...might not this time be of interest to TV folks in terms of commercial time?
-Folks arguing? People seem to be pretty interested in that on TV these days........
-What about team names? I know the MLU created, shall we say, trite names for its teams. Do we respect the history, stories, and geographical alignment of the UPA club teams....or do we start anew?

The above list is not meant as a demonstration of anxiety or an attempt to set up roadblocks by creating "problems". I just think the issue is highly complex.

I had a conversation about 10 years ago with a musician friend, and I asked his opinion as to when music would be distributed via the internet. We discussed it, but the conversation was never "if", it was "when". We are at a similar place now when it comes to video and there will be an opportunity to control and broadcast content at some point in the near future. Ultivillage and the UPA/CSTV initiative are taking the initial steps down this path and I think this bodes well for us. I think the opportunity to differentiate ourselves and break some new ground, on our own terms, is staring us in the face. Here is what I would like to have:

-Full screen, high quality, streaming video
-Games presented in their entirety
-A library of available games with a reference database

Want to see the semis of Nats from 2005? No problem. NYNY in its heyday? That is there as well. How about when you need to teach the 4-person cup to your team? Simple, just stream the 03 Riot-Fury final. Scout your first round opponent at Nationals? Got it. Want to see the growth of Chase S-B as a player?......type in a query and you can view Chase playing in high school, college, club, and World Games. Etc...Etc.

I would probably stop blogging and spend all day just watching that internet content. Getting me to stop blogging has got to be an incentive for someone............

So, I think it easy to view media exposure as some kind of panacea. Perhaps it will turn out that way...I certainly don't know. The potential paths that the sport will venture down will offer us an opportunity, via Imitation or Differentiation, to examine what makes Ultimate what it is to each of us. I hope that many of us jump into the fray and offer up our opinions.


gapoole said...

I was thinking myself about the best camera angle for Ultimate. Because of that problem, I think the web is a great way to go, because you could allow the individual viewer to select from multiple camera angles, or view them simultaneously (have the wide-angle sideline shot on one half of your screen, the shot focused on the thrower next to it, another camera that follows the disc to the receiver while the wide-angle watches flow, etc, all in adjustable sizes). You could even integrate them, so that multiple views are synchronized with a common control bar, which would enable you to rewind all the screens or play them back in slow-motion, after picking different cameras. With only 7v7 on the field, you could probably follow individual players with separate cameras, and then provide a variety of angles for zone. Can you imagine being able to watch the thrower fake out his mark, the cutter put the moves on his defender, and their teammates clearing the lane all at the same time? I think the game would progress so much quicker if you could see so many gears working together, rather than the "highlight" videos of today, which often feature great catches of poor throws. It may be a lot to ask right now, but as technology progresses and data storage becomes faster/cheaper/greater, this kind of synthesized game footage could be viable.

gcooke said...


Interesting comments. I think you speak to the fact that there could be many positive benefits to distributing content on the web.

Your comments bring up a huge pet peeve I have (which I have mentioned before), which is that I can't believe we feel that the lack of downfield camera coverage in football is acceptable. Any time someone says to me that "football is great on TV"...I say "Wouldn't it be nice to see the receiver routes......"


gapoole said...

It's true. I was watching college football on TV a couple weeks ago, and saw a receiver route for the first time ever. I was impressed, and started thinking about how Ultimate players could possibly benefit from watching these guys work. Whenever I am at a live game, I try to point out to all my Ultimate-player friends the way the receivers warm up, because you get to see the footwork when they change direction and cut. Juking out a defender translates well into Ultimate, and it's too bad that this skill isn't showcased as much as, say, a running back's drive.

gcooke said...


I am repeating myself, but I recall the 02 Super Bowl when Madden kept talking about the weird DB schemes that the Pats were throwing at the Rams...of course, I felt like I was watching about 50% of the game as the cameras never showed what Madden was talking about. Finally, about midway through the 3rd qtr, they showed an overhead shot......

For such concern about the excitement of the passing think they could at least show what was going on.

I had a chance to check out the way that teams warmed up during BC games this fall. Very interesting. One of things that they do is very defined, almost exaggerated, movements when catching or cutting. I talk to my girls about trying to devlop good practice habits and I recall talking about this to Micah Flynn (Metal, NUTC, ex-football player) as he does a very good job of demonstrating mechanics.