Why Boston.com got into the sports tickets business

When BostonGlobe.com was split off from Boston.com last fall, the most obvious new revenue source was the newspaper site’s new paywall. BostonGlobe.com, the new, handsome, straight-laced sibling, got all the attention and the accolades not just because of its design, but also because it promised to bring in new money.

Well, though perhaps to less fanfare, so will Boston.com. With its new distance from the newspaper brand, Boston.com is investing in e-commerce as a money driver, notably with its recently launched Boston.com Tickets, which sells tickets to Boston sporting events, even directly from a game preview story. From reading about Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game to buying a ticket is now just a click. (Two seats on the 30-yard line, just $595 a piece!) The actual ticket vending is handled by Ace Ticket; Boston.com will get a cut of the sales.

The arrangement might cause moderate-to-intense eyebrow-raising among some journalists, who’d argue that a news site shouldn’t be helping sell tickets to games they cover. A number of other newspaper sites have a similar arrangement — here’s the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel selling Brewers tickets, and here’s the San Francisco Chronicle selling Warriors tickets. But many papers link out to a ticket-vending partner rather than sell them under their own brand.

But what’s interesting about Boston.com’s approach is that it’s enabled in part by the separation of the newspaper brand. Making BostonGlobe.com the primary home for newspaper-style journalism and reporting has left Boston.com to further explore its role as a pageview-hungry website — one that can try out revenue ideas that some newspaper brands might not be okay with, just as it presents a mix of content that wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the more serious BostonGlobe.com.

When I talked to Jeff Moriarty, vice president of digital products for the Globe, he said the bifurcation of the sites has created two new, distinct properties. “Boston.com is more about fun, practical information. Finding a car, finding a home, finding something to do,” he told me. “The Globe is journalism and what is going on in Boston from a journalistic perspective.”

Which is not to say that Boston.com is going to drop its ethics off in a dumpster. Moriarty told me one of the areas they struggled with was the placement and branding of the ticket service. While they didn’t want it to blur the line between commerce and journalism, the goal, he said, was to make it clear to people they could buy tickets they’re reading about. “It’s really about surfacing tickets that are valuable tonight, or the game that you’re looking at,” he said.

Even before the spin-off last fall, Boston.com was a prime example of the idea of news site as information portal, a place where newspaper stories mingled with entertainment listings, local services, and other information. Now Boston.com is doubling down on that idea, not just through the tickets service, but also through their Groupon-esque offering Boston Deals, as well as an integration with Open Table to make restaurant reservations (see page bottom).

Chris Rattey, Boston.com’s director of product development, said creating the ticketing feature was a collaborative effort, not just with Ace, but within the Globe, as the editorial, advertising, and digital side all played a part in developing it. In order to figure out how they could best implement a ticket system, Rattey’s team got access to an API from Ace that allowed them to query different types of data from the ticket broker. That was important, he said, because in order for the system to be valuable to readers, they had to figure out what the most important information to display. Moriarty said they’re still experimenting with the system to see what people respond to, including A/B testing to see what drives clicks to the tickets feature and what actually converts sales.

But that may just be finesse to a certain degree, since selling sports tickets in Boston isn’t exactly tricky. In the last 10 years, the city’s seen a Stanley Cup, a Larry O’Brien trophy, a couple World Series wins, three Super Bowl victories, and a current run at another Lombardi trophy. The obsessive fan base here eats up sports coverage and snaps up tickets as soon as they go on sale. (I’ve seen the lines when Sox tickets go on sale. The word interminable comes to mind.) Coverage of the local teams drives consistent traffic to Boston.com, so it makes sense to add tickets to the site, Moriarty said. Sports is just a part of life, and, naturally, so are tickets. “It’s like the currency of Boston,” Moriarty joked.

Updated: Twitter UK Poaches BBC Sport Social Media Editor As Olympics Nears

Lewis Wiltshire

Twitter looks like it is ramping up its staffing and operations in the UK: today it was announced that the company will be making a new hire, Lewis Wiltshire, who oversees social media for BBC Sport. The loss is a keen one for the BBC: among Wiltshire’s responsibilities, he was playing a big role in how the broadcaster would be covering the Olympics—taking place this year in London—across different platforms.

The announcement was made today by Twitter’s UK head, Tony Wang—fittingly enough, on Twitter—who described it as part of a team-building strategy at the social networking site.

Wiltshire will be starting his new job in March and, according to him (via Twitter), will “certainly be focusing on sport in the UK.”

Other details have yet to be made public, but the hire is coming just in time for London’s hosting of the Olympics this year. That is something that Wiltshire has already been focusing on from a social media standpoint for the BBC, so if any kind of Olympics strategy falls into his remit, he will have a head start on that.

We will be speaking with Tony Wang later today, to ask more questions. We will hopefully have more to add after that on the details of what Twitter plans to do around the Olympics and sports; and how/if this represents a new chapter in how the company plans to do more curation of information that passes through its network every day. That, at least, is certainly where an opportunity lies in hiring someone like this.

Meanwhile it is unclear right now who will be replacing Wiltshire at the BBC in his double-role of sports social media and Olympics platform coverage. We have reached out to the company and will update the post as we learn more.

Update: Wang had no comment on the 2012 Olympics but did tell me that Wiltshire’s hire is the first in an expansion of the company’s partner program in the UK; up to now hiring, he said, was focused not on this division but on ramping up sales and marketing people working in the company’s Sponsored Tweet service.

While Sponsored Tweets work more like ads, the partner group gets Twitter people to work with external businesses to get more out of Twitter—and for Twitter to subsequently have a stronger and more committed user base. “It’s all about helping partners in areas where we see a lot of twitter engagement already,” he said. Broadcastis one of those—when a popular show is on TV it trends on the social network. “So we work with our broadcast partners with creative integration and using twitter to drive viewership.”

Hiring someone with sports expertise is an obvious move for Twitter; sports is one of the most popular categories on the site, with several sporting events ranking among some of the most-trafficked of all events. Last week’s milestone effort from Tim Tebow for the Denver Broncos set a record for the most tweets per second: 9,420.


Disney-Comcast Strike Broad Cross-Platform Content Deal

Mickey Mouse

Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) Xfinity TV subscribers stymied by the lack of access to iPad app WatchESPN have relief in sight: a new multi-year, cross-platform deal between the Walt Disney Co. and the largest U.S. cable operator will open a lot of content doors, including access to current and upcoming authenticated products from ESPN, Disney and ABC (NYSE: DIS). It’s the first authentication deal for the Disney-ABC cable channels.

The sprawling deal covers 70 services, including cable networks, retransmission consent for seven ABC O&Os, the launch of Disney Junior on Comcast and more. The Disney, Disney XD and ABC Family licnesing deal expired at the end of last year; the two companies decided to roll that up into a bigger deal. Details in the release:

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and The Walt Disney Company today announced a long-term, comprehensive distribution agreement that will deliver Disney’s top quality sports, news and entertainment content to Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers into the next decade on television, online, on tablets and handheld devices. The new agreement enhances the multichannel business model and supports the companies’ mutual goal to deliver the best video content to customers across multiple platforms using the latest technology and cloud innovation.  For the first time ever, Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers will be able to watch ESPN, ABC or Disney shows live or on demand and across multiple screens.  The companies also agreed to collaborate over the term of the deal to create new, innovative viewing experiences for Xfinity TV customers.

The networks and services covered by the agreement include: ABC, ABC Family, Disney Channel, Disney XD, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN 3D, ESPN GamePlan, ESPN FullCourt and ESPN3; retransmission consent for seven ABC-owned broadcast television stations (WABC-TV New York, WLS-TV Chicago, WPVI-TV Philadelphia, KGO-TV San Francisco, KTRK-TV Houston, KTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham, and KFSN-TV Fresno) as well as more than 10 high-definition networks.  Additionally, Comcast will launch Disney Junior, a new 24-hour basic channel for preschool-age children, parents and caregivers.  Comcast will also provide its Xfinity TV customers with broad access to a suite of live Disney networks on an authenticated basis and expanded Xfinity On Demand content through Disney’s comprehensive TV+ initiative.  In total, 70 services are covered by the broad scope of this new agreement.  License fee schedules for different services under the deal will be phased in over time.

“Comcast was the first video provider to create technology that enabled us to deliver content to customers where and when they want it across any viewing experience,” said Neil Smit, President and Chief Executive Officer, Comcast Cable. “We are very pleased to have reached this unprecedented and innovative, long-term agreement with Disney which embraces the future of entertainment and allows Comcast to continue to bring our vision of TV Everywhere to Xfinity customers whether at home or on the go.”

Anne Sweeney, Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney/ABC Television Group, added, “This landmark deal is a great example of what can be achieved when programmers and distributors collaborate and innovate together to meet the ever-evolving needs of consumers and enhance the viewing experience. By combining the best news, sports and entertainment content available today with cutting-edge technologies, we’re able to fully realize our comprehensive TV+ initiative, and introduce a brand new suite of authenticated services to Comcast subscribers.”

Added George Bodenheimer, Executive Chairman, ESPN, Inc., “Given the scope of assets Comcast and Disney/ABC/ESPN are making available to consumers, this agreement is unprecedented in our industry. It reinforces the value of the multichannel subscription and takes full advantage of new technologies, which serve all of our viewers.”

The extensive and expanded rights package for Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers includes rights across multiple platforms for:

—Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers will receive more ABC, ABC Family, Disney and ESPN content through their set-top-box and, at this time, Disney and ESPN content online, including:

—ABC On Demand, ABC’s fast-forward-disabled On Demand service, which currently features a selection of top-rated primetime entertainment programming, including episodes of such popular current ABC shows as Castle, Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon A Time (NYSE: TWX), Private Practice and Revenge.  Full current seasons will be made available on a number of shows.  Additionally, Xfinity TV customers will have access to a variety of ABC News programming as well as some local ABC owned-station content.

—ABC Family On Demand, which features a variety of top-rated full episodes, refreshed monthly, from such popular millennial favorites as The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Switched at Birth, and Melissa & Joey.  Full current seasons will be made available on a number of shows.  ABC Family original movies like “12 Dates of Christmas” will also be available.

—Disney-branded On Demand offerings, including Disney Channel On Demand, Disney Junior On Demand, and Disney XD On Demand.  Refreshed each month, the Disney Channel On Demand offering will include episodes from such series as Handy Manny, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates for preschoolers, as well as variety of episodes from A.N.T. Farm, Good Luck Charlie, Wizards of Waverly Place, and other popular series for older kids.  Select episodes featured on Disney Channel On Demand will be available in innovative new offerings, such as playlists and monthly programming blocks, in addition to a number of episodes available in multiple languages.  Disney Channel Original Movies such as Lemonade Mouth, Geek Charming and Phineas and Ferb:  Across the Second Dimension will also be available. Disney XD On Demand features a variety of episodes from such series as the Emmy Award-winning animated hit Phineas and Ferb.

—Disney Channel’s subscription Video On Demand service, which offers on demand access to select episodes before they air, will now be available to Xfinity TV customers who receive Disney Channel, a service that Comcast will offer to these customers for no additional fee.

—Expanded on demand content from ESPN, including content from ESPN Deportes and ESPN’s award-winning original content from ESPN Films.

—The subscription On Demand service “Disney Family Movies,” which features a selection of classic and contemporary feature films and animated shorts from The Walt Disney Studios.

—Xfinity TV customers will receive broad access to existing authenticated products like WatchESPN, as well as upcoming authenticated products, including WatchDisneyChannel, WatchDisneyXD and WatchDisneyJunior.  These services will give Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers more opportunities to access live and video on demand content, both in-home and out-of-home, on their computers, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles.

Xfinity TV customers will also receive the recently announced Disney Junior, a new 24-hour basic channel for children ages 2-7, parents and caregivers.  Upon its debut in 2012, the new channel will feature animated and live action programming that blends Disney’s unparalleled storytelling and beloved characters with learning, including early math, language skills, healthy eating and lifestyles, and social skills.

Comcast also obtained rights to air certain content from ESPN3, ESPN FullCourt and ESPN GamePlan on Comcast’s Xfinity Sports Entertainment Package.

Related


Reminder: It’s Really Easy to Pirate TV. Even Live Sports.

Fred Wilson wanted to watch the Knicks game on TV last night. But because of a cable company pissing match, he couldn’t.

But here’s a picture of the Union Square Ventures partner watching the New York-Toronto game on his big screen, after all. He was able to get a feed of the game from a pirate aggregator called atdhe, he explained on Twitter. “Worked great for me. #screwcable”

The fact that it’s easy to get pirated TV, delivered over the Internet, isn’t new. It’s certainly not a revelation for Wilson, one of tech’s most prominent and successful venture capitalists, or his 199,000 Twitter followers.

Still, it’s always worth pointing out just how easy it has become. It’s particularly important when it comes to live sports, because that’s supposed to be the one thing that keeps everyone — or many people, at least — paying (a lot) for cable.

I’d be surprised if the Knicks game looked very good on Wilson’s Panasonic — when I tried it on my MacBook, it was pretty blurry.

But it’s better than nothing, which is your only alternative if you’re a Time Warner Cable subscriber in New York City right now (the NBA’s League Pass subscription service, which is supposed to give you access to every game in the league, has a regional blackout).

It’s also worth noting that while Wilson is directing his anger at the cable guys, who are easy and deserving targets, the NBA itself is a supporter of ProtectIP and SOPA, which are designed to make sites like atdhe harder to search for on Google, Twitter, etc.

I’m quite sure that Wilson would say he’s not advocating piracy, but simply trying to access something he’s already paying for (or in other cases, grabbing something he isn’t allowed to buy for unfathomable reasons).

Still, I can imagine a Big Media lobbyist using Wilson’s tweets (or, I suppose, this post) to help explain why the legislation should pass. And I’m certain that’s not what Wilson was aiming for.

Game On: HD Streaming Site FilmOn Debuts NCAA Basketball, Football Channels

NCAA FilmOn

FilmOn, the premium-content internet streaming site that met controversy earlier this year over lawsuits involving CBS (NYSE: CBS), CNET, and copyright, is expanding its line up, adding two new sports channels for NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football.

FilmOn says it will be offering the content in partnership with XOS Digital, a company that provides digital asset management services to college sports organizations. It already offers its own sports on-demand service, XOS Sports, in which it offers paid rentals and full downloads of college games.

FilmOn’s channels, already live, offer viewers live games as well as archived fixtures. Users also have the option of recording programs to watch later either over TV, Internet or mobile devices using iOS or Android apps, or to subscribe to HD versions of the channels for a monthly fee. FilmOn offers a combination of free channels and those that require a subscription to watch.

It’s not clear just how extensive FilmOn’s coverage of NCAA fixtures will be—will it include the championships and all divisions?—or how FilmOn’s services work in conjunction with other rights deals between the NCAA and other media outlets: ESPN (NYSE: DIS), for example, extended its rights for NCAA Basketball in the U.S. and internationally earlier this month. That deal included both broadcast and streaming rights.

We have contacted FilmOn for further clarification and will update this post as we learn more.

At the very least, the equal content offering seems to be something that FilmOn is trying to exploit for its own marketing purposes: “We are going head to head with the industry’s top sports programmers,” the company’s outspoken founder Alki David boasts in the news release announcing the deal.

Frankfurt-based, UK/Beverly Hills-operated FilmOn has steadily been building up its catalog of premium sports content: earlier this year the company launched an international soccer channel with the UK Premiership and the Football Association, which will kick off (pun!) with football games from the Russian Premier League.

Last year, it came under some controversy when it was accused by the four major broadcasters in the U.S. of violating copyright by showing their programs. It was served at the time with a temporary restraining order. It then fought back against CBS and CNET with suits of its own (later dropped “put on hold” until November, David tells us.)


CNN’s Howard Kurtz Asks If Media Coverage Of Tim Tebow Is Too Focused On Religion

Tim Tebow is a football player very well-known for his Christian beliefs. And recently, he has begun to get some flack in the media for silent prayers after scoring a touchdown and for other public displays of his faith. You’ll recall that he filmed an ad for Focus on the Family that took a very powerful stand against abortion that aired during the Super Bowl. On Reliable Sources today, Howard Kurtz examined media coverage of Tebow and how much of it was being influenced by religion as opposed to sports.

RELATED: Rick Perry Declares Himself ‘The Tim Tebow Of The Iowa Caucuses’

CBS sports writer Gregg Doyel admitted that Tebow’s situation is a unique one, but if religion was not involved he would just be another interesting football player. Dave Zirin, writer for Progressive, argued that Tebow has gotten a pass from the media for the most part. Zirin suggested Tebow’s Super Bowl ad made him into something more than a football player, and under normal circumstances a public figure who puts himself out there like Tebow has would be subject to much media scrutiny.

Doyel stated tongue-in-cheek that Tebow should focus more on morally acceptable behavior among football players like dogfighting or drunk driving, but admitted that he personally doesn’t see Tebow as someone he would want to be more like. Zirin admitted it was uncomfortable to see Tebow getting a pass while staging himself on the “right-wing edge of Evangelical politics.”

RELATED: Jesus Politely Requests Tim Tebow ‘Take It Down A Notch’ On SNL

Unlike Zirin, who is more concerned with Tebow’s politics, Doyel admitted he doesn’t care about someone’s politics if they happen to be a good football player. He suggested that most people who watch football don’t care what their favorite athletes have to say off the field, they just want to kick back and watch the game. And when Tebow starts talking about God and his Christian faith, it might make some people uncomfortable.

Watch the video below, courtesy of CNN: