SportStream’s App Bottles the Social Media Explosion in Sports

8/3/12Follow @wroush

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televised sports events. “Whether it’s Facebook posts or finding the best tweets about a particular game, we are uniquely positioned with our know-how to tackle some of those things,” Morgan says.

But the idea was so different from Evri’s main business that it didn’t make sense to develop it as an Evri product, Hunsinger says. “Social sports for the second screen is an entirely different space than leveraging semantics for a mobile news experience,” he says. “As such, in order to be focused entirely on this unique and different opportunity, we needed to have a different company with its own strategy.” Vulcan, which had already backed Evri, agreed to put $3.5 million into the new startup.

When you fire up the SportStream app for the first time, you’re asked to connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to pick your favorite sports teams—right now the app only covers Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, but Morgan says NCAA football will be added by the fall. Major League Soccer likely to follow, along with coverage of big sports events like the U.S. Open in tennis or golf.

Next you see a grid of upcoming games, highlighting the games your favorite teams are playing—later today (Friday), for example, the Giants are playing the Mets in the third game of a four-game set at AT&T Park. You can view preview stories and broadcast information about the game, and once it’s underway, there are complete box scores and play-by-play accounts.

The main screen shows the aforementioned Twitter timeline, and there’s an area for posting your own tweets or Facebook status updates (the app even provides preformatted hashtags like #SFGvNYM, #MLB, #mets, and #sfgiants). If you “check in” to a game, you can chat via an iMessage-like interface with other SportStream users who are checked into the same game.

The overall point is to weave together information from many sources and provide fans with a running commentary generated by other fans, not by droning TV announcers. “Each modality has a certain appeal,” says Morgan, referring specifically to the chat area and the Twitter timeline. “Last night I tweeted when the A’s won in the 15th inning to get their 12th walk off win of the year. That’s something you just want to make a public proclamation about. But if you want to commiserate with other fans about your starting pitcher’s issues, and you don’t want to tweet publicly about it, chat is a good place.”

Morgan says the next release of the app will have an added feature that should appeal to couch-borne fans who follow lots of teams or sports at once. It’s a “Red Zone” alert that will tell you when an important play is underway in another game, like when your favorite football team’s archrival has the ball inside the 20-yard line and is threatening to score. SportStream engineered the feature in partnership with Are You Watching This?, an Austin, TX-based company that’s built a “game-watching robot” that alerts subscribers when baseball games look like they’re turning into no-hitters or football games go into triple overtime. “We will say ‘This game is hot, there is an upset happening, you should tune in,’” says Morgan. “That goes nicely together [with social media] because as those games heat up so does the conversation, and you want to be informed in real time.”

Now, as I explained above, I don’t follow sports, so I’m not likely to turn into a habitual SportStream user. But the app is a sophisticated example of a second-screen content service, which I can totally relate to. When I watch television content on Netflix or Apple TV, I’ve always got my iPad within reach, in case I want to check something on IMDB or Wikipedia. (That whole thing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer about Angel having a soul because he was cursed by Gypsies? It isn’t explained very well on the show; I had to look it up.)

The rhythm of the way sports are played makes it a logical place for the second screen to thrive. Between innings in baseball, TV timeouts in basketball, breaks between plays in football—these frequent pauses in the action are traditional places for TV commercials, but they are also ideal moments for fans to chat amongst themselves about what just happened, or is about to happen.

I also think it’s interesting that most of the innovation in the second-screen market is coming from startups rather than broadcasters or TV manufacturers (see my related articles on Dijit Media and Flingo). Arguably, all the Tweeting and trash talk that’s taking place online during games is a sign that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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