The NCAA's Southeastern Conference is taking a bit of a stand against YouTube, blogs, Twitter, and other so-called "new media" that fans and journalists enjoy using to share news, photos, videos, and opinions.Having just signed a $3 Billion deal with ESPN and CBS, the SEC has decided that they need to crack down on unauthorized Twittering and YouTubing from the stands at college football games.
It's an ambitious policy that I think will struggle to succeed.
The SEC has released new wording on their media policy and fan policy that dictate some behavior rules for both sets of visitors. The new policy boils down to this: fans and media members are not allowed to use their phones to capture and send pictures, video, or to Tweet from the stands of an SEC game.
As a college football fan and as someone who blogs about video, I have a few reactions to this:
- How in the world can they possibly hope to police this thing? Have you ever been to a Tennessee Game at Neyland Stadium? There are over 100,000 fans there. Policing the use of smart phones in such a setting seems like a tall order. Unless they're planning to significantly boost the security staff at each SEC location, they've effectively created a policy that is impossible to enforce.
- How exactly does anything Tweeted or filmed with a smart phone at a ballgame keep the television viewers from tuning in? SEC fans—and college football fans in general—are a passionate bunch. In fact, the SEC fans that I know—and there are hundreds of thousands of them where I live—will not miss a televised game for anything short of a ticket to the game itself. I even went to a wake where the UT game was on in the kitchen--I kid you not!A few Tweets from the stands about the weather or the pep band aren't likely to replace a telecast. It can incredibly hard to get thousands of views on a random YouTube video. But even if a fan in the stands succeeds in getting viewers for his on-location video of the big touchdown score, what are the odds that fans eschew Sports Center and go to YouTube instead to see the highlights? In fact, the only logical outcome if said video gets lots of views would be more exposure and excitement for SEC football. YouTube views and TV viewers aren't mutually exclusive.
- Have you ever seen a YouTube video of a live sporting event captured by a cell phone? You couldn't obscure the action more if you tried.
- Making sweeping rules like this tends to have the opposite of the desired effect on college students. They don't, in my history, enjoy being told what not to do. My guess is that you'll have even more people trying to Tweet and use YouTube just to spite your new rules. It's a little like speeding. Most of us exceed the speed limit with some regularity. When we get pulled over for it… we wish it hadn't happened, but we know we broke the rules. This policy is going to be ignored by many SEC fans. You may catch one or two, and toss them from the game, but the majority of them know that you won't be able to catch them all.
- I wish we could see an entity get in front of a trend instead of attempting to block it, for once. The SEC has the power to upload their own videos to YouTube—and at a higher quality than fans in the stands could ever compete with. Twitter and YouTube and blogs are not going away, and the future of sports journalism is firmly intertwined with social media. I guess I'd prefer it if the SEC tried to harness the incredible power of sites like that for their own uses. This policy feels a bit like they're trying to wait out a storm—or stop it from blowing in.Let me give you an example. The Nashville Predators NHL team—a personal favorite of mine—uses Twitter during the season to alert fans to starting lineups, who is singing the national anthem or providing intermission music, and injury updates. It's quality information, from the official source, that I can't get anywhere else. The Predators could have banned Twitter and YouTube usage altogether—Lord knows they need the TV viewers—but they chose to embrace the new technology and tap into its powerThe SEC is missing a chance to be on the leading edge of these trends. In fact, in the coming years, cell phone cameras will be able to capture better and better quality video. And, as the author of the article I linked to above states… the future is what this policy is all about. They're trying to crack down now before the technology evolves to where fans at home simply don't need the broadcasters anymore. Now… I think that day is a lot further away than the SEC apparently does. But it's still worth repeating that a better strategy might be to beat them at their own game.
- It's really all about money (isn't everything?). The SEC has glimpsed the future, when fans can sit with a cheap phone in the stands and live stream HD video to anyone on the Internet. And they're worried that fans will prefer that to watching an actual sanctioned broadcast with experts in the booth and instant replays. I'm not so sure. But even if they're right… it's inevitable. You can't stop it. Fan journalism is on the rise, and will continue. The new policy is a stopgap, not a permanent solution to their problem.
I'll be curious to see how this plays out over the course of the coming college football season. I'm sure someone will be caught breaking the new rules, and I'm not sure what the SEC will do with them… or how the public might react to a story about confiscated phones or college kids being kicked out of games for snapping a photo. Just when you think old media finally understands new media... you realize how wrong you are.