Blackout Beginning for TBS: Could they have responded on the Web or via Mobile Devices?

Fans across the nation (especially Red Sox Nation), many whom had just sat through Turner Broadcasting System’s (TBS) pregame for Game 6 of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League Championship Series (ALCS), prepared for the fist pitch between the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday night – only to be greeted by a sitcom, which stopped airing new shows more than six years ago.

The Time Warner (TWX) company abruptly cut to the "Steve Harvey Show" just before the first pitch - without warning - when a technical difficulty knocked out the live feed from Tampa’s Tropicana Field. At the time, viewers in bars and living rooms across the country frantically flipped to other channels trying to find the game. Most viewers at home had to surf the Web (Great graph here from Google Trends which shows people searching on-line for "Red Sox and TBS" (at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET) or log onto Twitter to find out what was going on. There was no original information on TBS explaining why they were showing the former WB sitcom.

For those in bars it was slightly harder to find out exactly what was going on. Information slowly started to come out on-line that TBS was experiencing a technical difficulty, which was followed by a scrolling message on TBS. Finally, after 20 minutes, viewers were switched over to the game, albeit an inning later with Tampa Bay leading 1-0. TBS would later issue this statement:

"Two circuit breakers in our Atlanta transmission operations tripped causing the master router and its backup — which are necessary to transmit any incoming feed outbound — to shut down. This impacted our live feed from being distributed to any of the other networks in the Turner portfolio and caused the delay in our coverage. Both our primary and backup routers were impacted by this problem. We apologize to baseball fans for this mishap that caused a delay in our coverage."

After the statement was issued, the network made Turner Sports director of public relations Jeff Pomeroy available for questions. Pomeroy noted in several media outlets that failure of the routers was unprecedented and it also made scrolling a live message on the channel impossible. The cause seems justified, but it certainly didn’t curb anger with the Network from viewers, especially those in the Tampa or Boston area.

It got me thinking. Although they couldn't use the television station to update viewers, could TBS have put itself in a better position in advance of the technical difficulty to update viewers on the situation via other platforms? The answer is probably yes. Here are a few things they could have put in place.

Promote Mobile Alerts and Mobile Following: TBS offers program updates on mobile phones for its regular shows, but didn't promote the mobile feature on its TBS Sports Website for the MLB playoffs. If it had promoted and utilized the feature for the playoffs it could have provided a real-time mobile alert on the situation; at least to those die-hard baseball fans following the playoffs on TBS. MLB.TV, Major League Baseball's online video service, promotes this mobile alert feature to baseball fans that use its service.

Create an Easy to find online Destination for Updates: TBS Sports' Web-page is hard to find on the TBS site. In fact, TBS does not even include the sports vertical on the top of its homepage. The only way that I could find the link to the sports' page was by scanning down to the bottom of the Web-page where it is listed in fine print. When the blackout occurred and people scrambled on-line to Google "TBS," they likely clicked on TBS.com. However, without an update on the homepage, these viewers were left still wondering, and unable to find TBS Sports.

Create a Twitter Account for updates to the Twittersphere: Many broadcast media outlets, including CNN (another Time Warner Co.) and Fox News are utilizing Twitter to provide updates and take feedback from viewers in real-time (On the Web & on mobile devices). In looking through Twitter, I couldn't find any TBS or TBS Sports' presence in the Twittersphere. If they had created this presence, along with followers, it could have gotten out the word to those most interested in finding out the status of the telecast. Some may argue that this is a bleeding edge technology, which doesn't have that many followers. However, when I struggled to find an answer on my TV or on the Web, I was amazed to see how many people had tweet'd on the status of the telecast on Twitter. While we may have figured it out as a group, TBS could have been a part of that conversation to reassure us, while updating the status of the situation in real-time.

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