SportStream’s App Bottles the Social Media Explosion in Sports

8/3/12Follow @wroush

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sports broadcasters are no longer able to hold their viewers’ full attention. Maybe that’s just because Google, Facebook, and Twitter are making us more distractible, as Nicholas Carr has argued in his book The Shallows. Or maybe there’s just something missing from the traditional televised-sports formula. That certainly seems to be the sentiment on the Web about this week’s Olympics coverage.

Morgan thinks the big broadcasters are suffering from a classic case of innovator’s dilemma. “I used to be at Kodak, where the message was ‘Don’t disrupt the model’ [of film- and print-based photography], and then all of a sudden the model got disrupted on us,” he says. On the other hand, he adds, “I am getting signals as we go to market that there is a lot more interest from cable guys and device manufacturers. They really do want to start bridging this gap and create more connected experiences.”

They’ll have to work hard to catch up with outfits like SportStream. Morgan says his small team (currently just nine employees, but hiring) will add more types of information to its timeline to make the experience richer for fans. An extra layer of statistics for fantasy sports league players is one likely addition—and could be an example of a revenue-generating premium service for the startup. The startup is also keeping an eye on fringe sports like UFC (mixed martial arts) and the X Games, where organizers and sponsors have a greater appetite for media experimentation.

And eventually, there might be ways to use the data the company is collecting to create a real-time feedback loop that could help broadcasters figure out what to show on live TV. “As we filter social media content, we are able to see the velocity of what people are talking about, the interest and excitement level,” Morgan says. “That is a really interesting signal. What should the playlist of the Olympics look like? There is a real opportunity to help audiences get to what is being discussed right now.”

To help make all that happen, SportStream has access to some very deep pockets. Allen personally likes to Tweet about sports in real-time, offering live commentary about big recent events like the NFL draft from his @PaulGAllen account. “Unquestionably, there was increased receptivity to the idea from Paul Allen given his passion for sports and social media,” says Hunsinger. “Suffice it to say, ownership of multiple professional sports teams is probably the most significant manifestation of a passion for sports one could muster.”

And as Hunsinger points out, SportStream isn’t Allen’s first foray into sports and media. Back in the ‘90s, he invested in Seattle-based software and Web development company Starwave, which created ESPN.com, and Vulcan owned The Sporting News magazine from 2001 to 2006. Allen “totally ‘got it’ when [we] pitched the concept of an intersection of social and sports,” says Hunsinger.

The bottom line: if you’re one of the 83 percent of sports fans who say they check social media sites during televised games, you’ll want to try SportsStream. It’s only available on the iPad for now, but an iPhone version is on the way, with an Android version and a Web app potentially to follow, according to Morgan. He says the business plan for now at Sportstream is to build up its user base by offering its wares for free, and find opportunities for revenue later, through advertising or premium services.

At the moment, however, the startup’s big push is getting ready for the start of the NCAA football season on August 30. Morgan attended UCLA, and he says he’s looking forward to trash-talking the Bruins’ arch-rival, the USC Trojans. “I expect that is going to be heated,” he says—meaning he’ll probably confine his posts to the chat area. “None of us really need to be on tweeting with some of the things I have to say about USC.”

Here’s a promotional video about the app produced by SportStream.

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

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