Jun 17, 2008

Alternative Broadcasting Mediums: Instant Messaging

The U.S. Open had a playoff round today, with Tiger Woods defeating Rocco Mediate in 19 holes of play. That normally wouldn't be mentioned here as you could find that story anywhere. No, it's how I witnessed Tiger win that is what's noteworthy.

In a ridiculous (read: awesome) abuse of technology, my friend (who runs his personal weight loss blog, Jimmy Tango's Fatbusters) gave me a play-by-play via Instant Message at work. Where others were trying to have the game stream live over the internet, and having difficulty with the bandwidth issues, my feed was speedy and reliable. It was a rather enjoyable way to "read" the tournament, as I could not only listen but participate in the broadcast as well by asking questions and making comments.

It got me thinking that Instant Message could be a viable sports communication medium. Think about it, one person could be giving a play-by-play of a game which then gets distributed from a central server outward to all those "listening in". Those listening could then be free to ask questions, which the server could interpret and query against any information it had to return an answer. If you could couple this with flexibility of service (could be used by any IM protocol; chat room capability, etc.), I think this would offer the following great advantages:

  • Lightweight service - while I have no empirical numbers to back me up, a few kilobytes of text a minute has to be less of a bandwidth hog than streaming an event live over the internet.
  • Interactive broadcasting experience - This is where this medium shines: the audience can actually enhance its own experience by asking questions, getting the information and statistics they want, when they're looking for it.
  • Data mining - Want to know what your audience really likes? What they're really focused on? Data mine all the text that is generated in the course of the broadcasts. Questions the audience asks, comments the audience makes, languages the audience speaks, IM protocols it uses. There is a huge potential of information that can be gleaned from the audience, all of which could better help align future advertisements and services that better suit the audience's wants and needs.
Now, I'm a pragmatist and realize that this would never get off the ground unless there was a good business case for it. And this isn't something you can easily shoehorn in Google's AdSense or other online advertisement services - IM protocols and chat rooms currently don't support that in a non-obtrusive way.

But couldn't one of the big sports companies like ESPN find value here? Not only do they have the resources to implement something like this, they have a bajillion different services. If this service can reach a critical mass, simply knowing what a good portion of their fan base is thinking and what their preferences really are (through data mining of their broadcasts) could be of great value to help shape their other offerings.

At very least, if this could syphon off some of the people who would stream video live from their website it should reduce their bandwidth costs.

I don't know, maybe I'm a just a digital dreamer.


Dan said...

You mean like this?

Jon Baker said...


Yes and no. Twitter's pretty good for one-way broadcasting, but I was envisioning something a little richer. You should be able to talk back to your "broadcaster" and ask it questions as you see fit to get the information you're looking for.

Also, I'm hearing Twitter's having some scalability problems, with issues occuring if you are following or are being followed by thousands of people. I haven't seen any of it myself, but that's the chatter.