By Jim Williams
Special to the Examiner
Sports fans in the digital age do not just watch traditional broadcast television or, for that matter, cable or satellite pay TV. They want their sports programming on demand, portable and streaming, accessible through many devices, from Roku to Amazon Fire TV to Apple TV, to apps on their tablets and smartphones.
The Bay Area is ground zero for much of this technological revolution in how sports fans consume content about their favorite teams, with tech giants YouTube, Amazon, Twitter, Yahoo and Facebook all running significant portions of their operations out of the region.
The NFL has embraced streaming video as a way to improve fan engagement, and naturally, both the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders each have their own streaming video apps and Over The Top (OTT) streaming channels. In this first of a two part series we look at how the Bay Area’s NFL franchises are taking advantage of this new form of providing content directly to fans and not through the more traditional outlets.
The 49ers are in year two of their operation, and are one of several teams using OTT, including Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, the New York Jets, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Chargers. San Francisco’s state-of-the-art broadcast center — the hub of year two of the operation — is part of the team’s Santa Clara headquarters, which includes a Levi’s Stadium studio from where all the content is streamed.
The point man for 49ers Studios is Robert Alberino, starting his seventh season as the team’s vice president of marketing and executive producer of production. Alberino started his career at NFL Films, working under the legendary Steve Sabol before moving on to the Eagles, then the Kansas City Chiefs before landing with the 49ers.
“One of the many things that I learned working for Steve [Sabol] was how to tell a story on film,” said Alberino. “I want fans to learn as much as possible about our players, coaches, front office as well as the history of this world class franchise and it is an honor to be the person in charge of making sure we tell those stories.”
With the 49ers mobile app and their 49ers DeskSite OTT streaming video channel, Alberino has the tools to tell those stories not just to fans in the Bay Area, but to 49ers fans worldwide.
“We know that when you live in the shadow of Silicon Valley, the quality of our streaming video programming has to be as good as the networks,” Alberino said. “My team of 35 great creators feel equal to the task because we know many of our fans work at those top tech companies and are our friends so it is a challenge we welcome.”
Both the 49ers mobile app and the OTT channel feature live press conferences during the week and postgame pressers both at home and on the road. Other popular offerings include 49ers Live, Mic’d Up and hours of on-demand content, featuring the team’s storied history.
With training camp mere days away, Alberino and his team have their hands full producing their version of the HBO “Hard Knocks” series called “Brick By Brick,” which can be seen on the app, or the DeskSite channel, as well as on the team’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. The show was such a hit last season that it is being expanded from four episodes to five, starting on July 31 and ending right after the final preseason game against the Chargers on Aug. 29.
Alberino and his team have made the app and the OTT channel bilingual, with shows in both English and Spanish.
“We are aware that the 49ers have a wonderful and massive Hispanic following not only here in the Bay Area but reaching throughout California all the way south to Mexico City,” Alberino said. “Our Los 49ers show is quite popular and we are expanding our Spanish-language programming as well as written content on both the website as well as on the 49ers app. Plus, of course all of our games are broadcast on our Spanish radio network or by using this link in either your desktop or mobile browser 49ers.com/espanol.”
An updated version of 49ers DeskSite — the OTT channel — will be coming on Sept. 1, featuring subchannels that can be viewed and set up with content specific titles, from press conferences to old Super Bowl highlights.
Local stations KTVU FOX2, KGO ABC7, KPIX CBS 5 and KNTV NBC 11 all cover the 49ers in a more traditional sense as well, but the team-produced content provides a different perspective.
“Look, I have great respect for all the stations in the market that covers the team and they all do a fine job, plus competition is good for everyone,” Alberino said. “Our advantage is our access and because of the support we have from our ownership, the front office, the coaching staff and the players, we can do long form stories. Our Mic’d Up features where our players wear mics and give fans a sense of the game, our in depth interviews, our features with players and coaches all come from access and that is our advantage.”