Football on a field
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The Super Bowl is huge. The future is leaving it behind.

Source Code

Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from the future of sports TV, to NFT parties, to the Razzlekhan drama you’d better not miss.

Highlights forever

Happy Super Bowl Sunday to all who celebrate! It’s the biggest TV event of the year, the one day we all watch commercials on purpose. It’s also the last surviving relic of the TV era … and even it can’t stay like this forever.

In many ways, sports have lagged behind the rest of the entertainment industry. Netflix and the other streaming platforms have given us nearly limitless access to shows and movies, on any screen we want, for a single monthly price. You don’t even need to go to theaters to see the latest blockbuster anymore! And yet, if you’re a sports fan, you’re all too accustomed to paying for four separate services just to get your team’s games … only to discover that thanks to the vagaries of blackout rules, location restrictions and subscription tiers, you can’t watch them anyway.

Live sports are the most valuable IP in the entertainment industry, because live sports provide one of the few shared experiences left in our culture. So the rights to broadcast and stream that content, on any platform, continue to go through the roof. (NBC paid around $2 billion for the package of NFL games that includes this Super Bowl, for instance.)

But the way viewers watch those games is changing fast. “We’ve conditioned this younger generation to purely consume highlights and clips with funny memes, funny captions, funny comments, all of it really optimized for Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat,” Bo Han, the CEO of Buzzer, told me on the latest Source Code podcast. (Buzzer is a new service that’s basically trying to become a livestreaming service for sports highlights.) Fans now follow players, not teams; they’re diving into fantasy leagues and mobile betting; and they want to experience everything in real time with their friends. Sports are still central to culture, but the number of people willing to watch a three-hour game is starting to dwindle.

That means games are atomizing, in a way. “The game” is no longer the right unit of sports; now it’s the possession, the play, the moment. And like Spotify ingesting a universe of music and spitting personalized playlists back to users, sports broadcasters are learning to do the same. You can imagine a world in which you get a personalized feed of NFL highlights based on who’s on your fantasy team, or a service that knows you follow Steph Curry on Instagram and notifies you every time he’s having a big game. As sports gambling continues to boom, Han said, “If you placed a $20 bet on the 3.5-point spread between the Knicks and the Lakers, I’m only going to alert you when it’s a 4-point game.”

In the last few years, leagues and teams have become much more open to sharing highlights online, and are even starting to explore different ways of broadcasting the game itself. Just look at the Nickelodeon broadcast of an NFL playoff game, or the super popular “Manningcast,” an alternate way to watch “Monday Night Football.”

Right now, Han told me, the Super Bowl defies all those trends. But he pointed out that like all live sports, the TV-viewing demographic is old (about 50, for last year’s game) and getting older. “Yes, they are the dominant force in this industry,” Han said. “But they also have this similar demographic problem: How do you engage with the next generation live?”

If you want a glimpse at what the future looks like, just change channels and flip on the 2022 Winter Olympics. Standard TV viewership is way down, but Peacock said it’s seeing record viewership for this year’s games. And it’s treating that audience very differently. “If you’re an Olympics fan,” said Jim Denney, NBCUniversal’s chief product officer for direct to consumer products, “you want someplace you can go and feel like, ‘OK, all my stuff is here.’” Want to watch the NBC or USA feed of the games? Go for it. Want to drill down and watch an endless stream of bobsled races? That’s there, too. Want to watch an event that ended an hour, a day, a week ago, because this year’s time differences make watching hard? Easy.

Most people, Denney said, are happy just to flip on the network-curated feed and watch, but for those who want to drill deeper or just watch highlights, Peacock is slicing and dicing the games in every way it can. That’s also how Han said Buzzer is thinking about things: It’s been sending users curated notifications for big Olympics moments, with deep links to the right streaming app. (Because that part’s still complicated.)

The last phase of the streaming revolution was all about on-demand, as more content became available to us any time we wanted to watch. The biggest innovation in live broadcast, and in particular with sports, was just that you could access games without a cable box. Which was something! But now, everyone from the networks to the tech giants is trying to figure out how to turn a live broadcast into a series of shareable, remixable moments, and then spread them like wildfire.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

You tell us

We asked you for your favorite Super Bowl party tips, and, well, you didn’t really have any. Fair enough! It’s been a while, we’re all still readjusting, who even remembers how parties work anyway? So instead, I put the question to a few folks at Protocol, and they were mostly useless, too. Except for Jane Seidel, our digital editor, who had this to say:

“My family hosted a Super Bowl party every year and invited all our church friends over. Like 25 or so people. My dad created a quiz for everyone there with both trivia questions and prop bets: who wins the coin toss, who gets the first field goal, etc. Just printed out on a piece of paper. Tiebreaker is guessing the score at halftime. He spent the game keeping a tally and checking scorecards, and the winner was announced after halftime.

The winner got a giant trophy with a Nerf football attached to the top; they kept it for the year then returned it at the following Super Bowl. It was like, a genuinely coveted item within the group: The winner would have it on display during their time with it, like it was the fucking Stanley Cup or something. This went on for years: like, my entire childhood. I had to replace the Nerf footballs from time to time.”

This is the new bar for Super Bowl parties, as far as I’m concerned. And if you have any tips you forgot, or anything fun you discover this weekend, send it our way!

A MESSAGE FROM ESRI

The global nature of business makes tracking your company's operations trickier than ever before. Overseeing supply chains and an international, dispersed workforce is tough. Maintaining visibility over all aspects of your operations is even tougher. The changing norms of business make location services no longer a "nice to have" but a "need to have" — and at the forefront of the geospatial intelligence revolution is Esri.

Learn more

The best of Protocol

Sequoia’s invisible hand: How Roelof Botha became one of the most powerful people in venture capital, by Biz Carson

  • Roelof Botha has had such a run as a VC that he’s now rethinking the whole idea of the job. And the story of how he ascended to the top of the game is almost as interesting as where he’s headed next.

Welcome to Afterparty: One night at Hollywood's hottest NFT minting party, by Nat Rubio-Licht

  • Hollywood’s hottest club is the Afterparty House. This place has everything: NFT minting rooms, entrance music, A-list influencers, Utopians and a company pretty sure it’s at the beginning of something huge.

Work, dance break, go-karts: Inside the metaverse office, by Sarah Roach and Lizzy Lawrence

  • Someday, working in the metaverse might involve headsets and holograms and feel even more useful than real life. Right now, it’s more like ambling through a low-res video game. The dance parties are pretty great, though.

Slack or bust: How workplace tools are becoming job deal-breakers, by Lizzy Lawrence

  • Would you turn down a job just because it didn’t use Slack, or wasn’t a Notion shop, or refused to give you a Figma license? More and more workers say they would, which is turning tech stacks into critical recruiting tools.

Eileen Gu defends China’s internet freedom. Her message is censored, by Shen Lu

  • “[A]nyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store,” is all the Olympic skier Eileen Gu had to say on Instagram to cause an uproar and reignite the debate about Chinese internet censorship. Is she a hero, or is she out of touch?

Ted Cruz loves the antitrust bills. Why aren’t Democrats worried? by Issie Lapowsky

  • Nothing brings people together like a common enemy, and for Congress right now, that enemy is Big Tech. Democrats and Republicans don’t even necessarily agree on how to regulate the tech industry, or what it will accomplish, but the “we have to do something” rallying cry seems to be working.

The best of everything else

How Telegram became the anti-Facebook — Wired

  • Telegram doesn’t get talked about like Facebook or WhatsApp or even Snapchat, but it’s a hugely popular and powerful app around the world. And its push against censorship and algorithms has led it down a complicated and tricky path.

Ask HN: Great blogs by programmers — Hacker News

  • An endless supply of great writing by, about and for programmers. (And only, like, a medium amount of shameless self-promotion in the list.) Names like Julia Evans and Fabien Sanglard show up a lot, as do many others I bet you haven’t read before.
  • The story of Razzlekhan was the most fun and bizarre thing of the week: a cryptocurrency laundering scheme run by a rapping Forbes contributor and a startup exec. Too many of the Razzlekhan videos are now private, but you should try to find them if you can.

Facebook has a superuser-supremacy problem — The Atlantic

  • What you see on social networks isn’t the world. It’s the world according to a tiny, overly active and usually angry group of users. And on Facebook in particular, that group seems to have a huge amount of power over what the rest of the world sees.

Tiny chips, big headaches — The New York Times

  • Have you been wondering why so many networks have been going down recently, or why it seems the internet gets a little more fragile every day? Turns out, the answer is in part about chips. Chips that keep getting smaller, and harder to figure out.

Flexport is Silicon Valley’s solution to the supply chain mess — why do insiders hope it sinks? — Forbes

  • Ryan Petersen has become a tech-industry celebrity as the person helping the world understand how a supply chain crisis happens, and the problems it causes. And he thinks his tech can solve it. But not everyone’s so sure it’s that simple.

A MESSAGE FROM ESRI

The global nature of business makes tracking your company's operations trickier than ever before. Overseeing supply chains and an international, dispersed workforce is tough. Maintaining visibility over all aspects of your operations is even tougher. The changing norms of business make location services no longer a "nice to have" but a "need to have" — and at the forefront of the geospatial intelligence revolution is Esri.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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