While most American homes still have a television in the den, how we watch, and what we watch, is changing. Computers, tablets, smartphones, DVRs and video game consoles have redefined what television is.
Viewers have officially become a multiscreen culture. And that means the TV industry is changing, as well. Consider that 36 million Americans watch video on their phones, according to the Nielsen ratings company.
That's why we're examining How We Watch What We Watch this week on Morning Edition. Today, NPR's David Greene speaks with John Ourand, media reporter at the Sports Business Journal, about how new technologies are changing the viewing habits of sports fans — and the business models of broadcasters.
On the prevalence and spread of new technology
"Right now for [the] MLB app, 2.2 million people have bought Major League Baseball's At-Bat iPhone and iPad app and are able to watch it. So that's a pretty substantial number. And I think that what you're seeing is, you're seeing a lot more people watching ESPN online or ESPN via their phones or watching cable TV via their phones. And it's a big initiative within the cable industry — they call it 'TV Everywhere' — where if you buy one subscription, you should be able to watch that channel whether it's on TV or whether it's on an iPad or whether it's on an iPhone. It kind of gets to the question of: 'What is a TV?' "
On how cable companies can make money from new technology
"Cable companies are making money because this is something that keeps subscribers subscribing to cable. The idea is that the cable industry is saying, 'I bought this stream. I bought ESPN, it doesn't matter how people watch it.' Whether they're watching it on TV or on a tablet or on an iPhone. And, furthermore, it's all a screen — what makes the tablet not a TV screen?"
On how important sports are to the cable industry
"The big fear in the cable industry is something called 'cord-cutting,' and that's where people just cut the cord and just watch via Netflix, DVDs and just general broadcast. The only thing that's really saving the cable industry, in my opinion, are big-time sports that ESPN provides, that Turner provides, that NBC's and CBS's cable channels provide. Because if you want to watch sports, you have to watch them live. You can't watch those via DVD. And you can't watch them after the series has already run."
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
While most American homes still have a television in the living room, how we watch and what we watch is all changing dramatically - computers, tablets, smartphones, DVRs, video game consoles. It leaves you breathless. They've all redefined what television is, and we've officially become a multiscreen culture.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
For example, Nielsen, which keeps numbers on television ratings, reports that almost 36 million people in the United States watch video on their phones. And that fact has not gone unnoticed by network television and cable providers who want to keep your attention and your money.
GREENE: And so all this week we're going to explore how we watch what we watch, and we begin today with sports. For me this was a year of watching baseball, any way I could. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates fan, and I would have the game on my iPhone sounding like this...
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) deep to right field, way back. And this ball game is tied.
GREENE: Often I'd be watching, even while walking down the sidewalk or on the way to dinner. I know, it sounds kind of embarrassing. But I'm not the only one. My colleague, national political correspondent Don Gonyea, is a diehard Detroit Tigers fan. His team is actually still playing, unlike the Pirates. The Tigers have made the World Series. And we've got Don on the line. Hey, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey, how are you?
GREENE: I'm good. You must be feeling good about the Tigers.
GONYEA: I am a very happy Tigers fan. As you know, I'm one of those guys who wears my love for my city and my love for my team on my sleeve, and this is - this is beyond my expectations. It's great fun.
GREENE: You travel just an incredible amount covering this campaign. How did you follow the Tigers this year and were you using this app like I was?
GONYEA: That Major League Baseball app was just a godsend. It connected me to live radio broadcasts to the team. I could listen to the home broadcasts. It connected me to the TV broadcasts. Even when I'm home in Washington, D.C., you can't get the Tigers, right, except I'd be on the back porch with the app fired up, watching them on either the iPad or on the iPhone. And same in just about every hotel I stayed in this year, and there have been in lots of them.
GREENE: One thing I notice is, is that the quality just isn't there. I mean I'm sometimes, you know, putting the iPhone up to my eyes trying to see where the ball is. Did that bother you or are you kind of getting used to the new normal in a way?
GONYEA: Yeah, I think I'm used to it. I think I'm so happy just to have access to the game. And a lot of times, I'm not staring at it. I am just listening. But I also take advantage of all those little icons that you can touch. I drop down and look at the box scores. I bounce over and see what's happening in the other games. So I was just so thrilled to have all of this at my disposal. If the picture's a little small and my glasses need cleaning, I'd deal with it just because there is so much there.
GREENE: Are your colleagues on campaign buses and places, I mean do they see you kind of huddled up with this iPhone?
GONYEA: Different people follow different teams on the bus as they go along. And you can hear someone reacting or groaning or cheering or complaining. It's because they're looking at a game on the iPad.
GREENE: A new version of covering the campaign. Well, Don, thank you. And now that the Pirates are out, go Tigers.
GONYEA: Thank you. Appreciate it.
GREENE: And we wanted to hear more about sports and this changing viewing experience. And John Ourand was kind enough to drop by our studios. He covers television and media for the Sports Business Journal. And I asked him about this app and how I've been watching baseball on the iPhone this season.
JOHN OURAND: Right now for that MLB app, 2.2 million people have bought Major League Baseball's At-Bat iPhone and iPad app and are able to watch it. So that's a pretty substantial number. And I think that what you're seeing is you're seeing a lot more people watching ESPN online or ESPN via their phones or watching cable TV via their phones. And it's a big initiative within the cable industry - they call it TV everywhere - where if you buy one subscription, you should be able to watch that channel whether it's on TV or whether it's on an iPad or whether it's on an iPhone. It kind of gets to the question of what is a TV.
GREENE: Well, let's say a network like ESPN is making games available on my iPhone. How are they making money or how are the cable companies making money? How is someone making money here?
OURAND: Cable companies are making money because this is something that keeps subscribers subscribing to cable and keeps subscribers paying upwards of $100 per month to cable.
GREENE: You have to have a cable subscription to watch something like ESPN on your iPhone.
OURAND: Absolutely. And that's the key part of this. The idea is that the cable industry saying I bought ESPN, it doesn't matter how people watch it, whether they're watching it on my TV or on a tablet or on an iPhone. And furthermore, it's all a screen. What makes the tablet not a TV screen? I mean it shows video and you can subscribe to our channels via it.
GREENE: It's really fascinating that this brand new technology is actually what might be saving the traditional cable model in some ways.
OURAND: Exactly. With my wife I'm watching the "Homeland" series on Showtime. If it weren't for sports, I would be happy to ditch my cable and just get that DVD, save myself probably $100 a month and watch that. But my household really wants to watch sports, which is available on cable.
GREENE: What you're really saying is that sports is very important to the business of cable.
OURAND: The big fear in the cable industry is something called cord-cutting, and that's where people just cut the cord and just watch via Netflix, DVDs and just general broadcasts. The only thing that's really saving the cable industry, in my opinion, are big-time sports that ESPN provides, that Turner provides, that NBC and CBS's cable channels provide. Because if you want to watch sports, you have to watch them live, you can't watch those via DVD. And you can't watch them after the series has already run.
GREENE: I'm just thinking of the iconic image of, you know, a group of people gathering on the weekend ordering a pizza or a huge, you know, 20-foot-long sub to watch, you know, football or a ballgame. I mean is that going away, if you can kind of watch these games anywhere you want?
OURAND: Did Normal Rockwell actually paint that?
OURAND: The 20-foot sub there. I think it has been going away. I think it went away from when we were kids. It used to be one TV set and everybody would gather around and watch a TV set. And now it's not just the TV set but I have an eighth-grade son who has his own mobile device. So he's able to watch video on his own mobile device. So it's exponentially sort of getting away, and that speaks to why I feel that sports is so popular and so valuable to cable subscribers. Because where you do see the 20-foot subs is during the big game. We're having a big game, it's going to be on the big TV. Let's bring our friends over and watch it.
GREENE: You're saying sports is one of the last places where you do still see that sometimes.
OURAND: I think so, yes.
GREENE: Can you convince your son to come with you in front of the same screen and watch a ballgame still or is it getting harder to convince him to do that?
OURAND: Oh, and we watch it in front of the same screen all the time. He has other screens open so he doesn't pay attention, but we watch in front of the same screen all the time.
GREENE: But at least you're together.
OURAND: Yeah, exactly.
GREENE: John Ourand is a reporter with the Sports Business Journal. John, thanks so much for joining us.
OURAND: Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: And our series How We Watch continues all this week. Tomorrow, we'll turn from sports to drama. We're going to see how even after a network stops airing a show, there are endless ways to still watch it at your convenience. And we want to know where you watch the most entertainment. Is it smartphone, iPad, TV, computer. If you're on a computer all day long, what screen do you turn to later in the evening? Visit the MORNING EDITION Facebook page and give us some thoughts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.