As much as publishers, responsive design aficionados and more than a few ad networks would like to believe, mobile is not just another screen into which we can pour the digital content we have been making for a decade. Well, of course you can do that with mobile. On the whole, even within most mobile apps, we are still basically miniaturizing the Web. When it comes to video, there has really been little experimentation with mobile-first formats. Back around 2005 or 2005, I recall Fox testing out mobile-centric webisodic programming that played with framing, length and even story structures focused on the mobile use case.
Clearly, the shift to mobile screens -- especially the velocity with which video viewing has migrated -- demands that creative start thinking harder about what mobile-first video looks like. A joint venture involving Time Inc. and a number of sports leagues, 120 Sports, launched last week -- principally as a mobile app experience, but also present online. The video sports property offers both an ongoing live stream of sports banter and highlights and extensive 2-minute VOD story clips updated in near real-time. There is a stream of clips that the FOMO sports types can sit on to see the latest posts, tagged with how long ago they appeared. And there is a more curated Catch Up stream that focuses on the most important stories. A Trending section surfaces the most popular topics. There are also two-minute round-ups of top stories or peppered throughout the feeds. The whole app arguably is geared toward the FOMO sports fan who needs to keep tabs on everything and is in constant catch-up mode. From the on-screen timings and tone to the basic stream of clips, there is nothing relaxed or lean-back about this app.
The idea, of course, is that the mobile attention span is about two minutes, and the mobile sports consumer is perennially hungry. The production of the live feed appears to revolve around this two-minute structure so that the clips and commentary all can be easily edited down into the variously tagged bits that quickly pop into the feed. The execution is not always as smooth as you might want. Clips sometimes feel as if they are starting and stopping abruptly, sometimes in mid-sentence. But arguably, this is one of the first attempts we have seen of full-on live video programming thinking in terms of mobile-friendly story arcs and tiny screen graphics.
The videos also play on the top third of a mobile screen (full-screen when twisted to landscape) with a series of Data Cards beneath that offer trivia, related pieces, and relevant tweets. The apps design understands that even a 120-second attention span is easily distracted, so it provides multitasking even in the restricted frame of the mobile video viewer.
Wisely, the producers are leveraging the mobile alert system to keep the app’s content top of mind. In addition to breaking news, the user
can gather favorites, leagues, teams and topics into a custom section and have the phone push alerts whenever new videos are posted with those tags. There appears to be enough content covering enough
bases to keep a decent flow of targeted content coming. I got several alerts over a couple of days just off of tagging the NY Knicks for alerts
Admittedly, it is a first step, but 120 Sports is an intriguing stab at mobile-first video. It raises prospects and problems. The app needs to use other mobile technologies like geolocation to add a local layer. While I am sure the joint venture of leagues backing this project wants to ensure that all sports and leagues get fair exposure, as a consumer I would prefer the sort of radical customization that a personal device invites. And it is really not servicing sports news in quite the way ESPN.com and other sports news sites do with quick access to the latest scores.
Which is to say this is a pure video experience -- and there is the rub. In a category like sports, text is often the most efficient medium for what you want. That is why all the major sports sites lead with the scoreboard. It is also in my mind an open question whether people deliberately seek video experiences on mobile per se, or at least within the context of news, sports and weather. Do we really say to ourselves, hmmm -- I am in the mood for video takes on sports right now? Or are we simply seeking sports news and then engage in video if that is the main option or if it enhances what we seek? Personally, I still find it maddening that many of the headlines at CNN.com link to a video instead of a quick graph on the story. I don’t necessarily want to have to suffer your talking head’s wind-up or clever intro to get the gist.Still, 120 Sports is an intriguing experiment in video production targeting mobile as its first screen. It suggests how a mobile-first approach is not just a matter of short formats. It also needs to leverage the all-day, always-on use case where content is somehow pushed to the viewer throughout the day, and catch-up programming is crafted for the FOMO viewer to whom mobile appeals.