MLB.com's already wildly successful iPhone app will begin streaming live video of baseball games today. Baseball fans are excited, but there's plenty of reason for even non-sports fans to pay attention to the way the application works. With a $10 price tag that sports fans are apparently happy to pay, this could provide a great model for other struggling media to find an important new revenue stream - and not just because it charges for content.
The emphasis on statistics, the extensive reporting infrastructure that baseball already has built out and the "wow factor" of the iPhone's interface are all things that other established media outlets have an opportunity to emulate.
Stats: The New Thousand Words
A photo used to be worth a thousand words, but in the media world these days all but the very best photos are a dime a dozen. A good statistic may be the new "thousand words" in an era rich with piles of data ready to be analyzed. All sports industries, but perhaps baseball in particular, have long appreciated the value that can be added with statistics. Sports stats are probably the best example of numbers that millions of people have long loved to talk about. The MLB.com iPhone app was one of the hottest in the app store before there was almost any video at all - it's been based nearly entirely on serving up stats.
We're entering a new world online, though, where all kinds of statistics are available for anyone to use to add color and context to our understanding of current events. More and more data sets are coming available online, sometimes with Application Programming Interfaces enabling programmatic access for sophisticated ongoing access. Mathew Ingram of the Toronto Globe and Mail says that the Golden Age of Computer Assisted Reporting is at hand. As Paul Bradshaw wrote this week on his OnlineJournalismBlog, every newspaper should have a data store.
At this year's national conference on Computer Assisted Reporting for Investigative Reporters and Editors, the New York Times team stole the show with their jaw dropping infographics and incredible sense of urgency to innovate in order for media to save itself.
Any media outlet that can leverage statistics and data visualization as a central part of its coverage would be well served to put those visualizations in an iPhone app and sell it. The iPhone and Android platforms are brilliant for scrolling and zooming through layers of data in ways that print, TV and radio could only dream of. Mobile, touchscreen and hand-held beats a web page on the desktop computer too for data visualization.
Touchscreen is Still Wow
Mobile apps that really rock are something people are willing to pay for. It may be because the expectation was set that way from the beginning but it may also be because they are software with a longer life expectancy than content.
Give me an iPhone app from my local newspaper that's like a combination of MLB.com's stats and live video, Outside.in's awesome hyper local news aggregation and Yelp's reader-user interaction and I'll pay $20, $50, $100 for it, if it's really good at leveraging the platform. For example, there's a couple of hospitals in my town; if the local paper let me scroll through a chart of infection rates and customer satisfaction over the years at both, and compared that data to state and national stats - I would happily pay for an app that brought me experiences like that.
A Great Team of Old Dogs Learning New Tricks
Established media organizations, like baseball, are full of experienced, skilled, well trained teams of professionals. Teach those old dogs some new tricks and get their work available on a new platform. Isn't that the lesson of MLB.com's iPhone app? Baseball can be enjoyed with a stick and an old sock wound with string or duct tape - but media pros covering that activity have found new ways to add compelling new value to their coverage over the years.
That sounds to us like a great model for other news organizations struggling to make money in a new media world.