To see the future of live video, tune in to a Lakers-Cavs game on your cell phone or a Yankees-Red Sox showdown on your new iPad. Pro sports leagues are teaming up with broadcasters such as ESPN, Web distribution outfits such as Akamai, and data wizards including IBM to deliver HD-quality coverage, on-demand graphics, and social-networking tools on multiple devices. Sports is moving the ball forward; it's not hard to imagine how services like these will soon enhance other content online, from news to reality shows. Die-hard fans are even willing to pay for this access and customization, a leap that video giants YouTube and Hulu haven't convinced viewers to make.
MLB Advanced Media, baseball's digital arm, hit it out of the park on the iPad, which began shipping in April. An MLB.tv premium subscription ($120 a year) plus the iPad app (price TBA) lets you stream any game live (except for blacked-out local games), pause, and rewind. Tapping an athlete on screen retrieves a virtual baseball card. You can also view data on each pitch and see the lethal trajectory of San Francisco ace Tim Lincecum's curve. Even before the iPad, 1.5 million fans bought premium content in 2009 for their PCs or iPhones, from 99-cent single games to full subscriptions.
With Rallycast's fantasy-football widget, available on Web-connected HDTVs from Samsung and other manufacturers, you can multitask — watch a Patriots-Ravens game while tracking New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees's touchdowns on the same screen, update Facebook, and text friends ("Brady fmble. LOL"). Rallycast, which costs $60 a year, is on pace to have 900,000 subscribers by 2011, says CEO Jeff Allen. This fall, Allen plans to add an on-screen widget that allows you to buy team merchandise or order pizza without missing a play.
USOpen.org creates a sports bar on your desktop: five tennis matches available in mini-windows. With picture-in-picture, you can watch Roger Federer play in full-screen mode while Serena Williams crushes opponents in a smaller frame. On average, last year's visitors spent nearly three hours on the site — an eternity in Web video — streaming more than 2.5 million hours of free footage and giving tech partner IBM and the sponsors sizable exposure.
The NBA integrates social-media tools into its mobile application. "Sports are tribal," says Bryan Perez, senior VP of NBA Digital, a partnership between the league and Turner Sports. "It's all about experiencing the game with other fans." League Pass Mobile, released last fall, costs $40 for the season and lets you alert friends to the game you're watching — including the score — via Twitter and Facebook. Next season, the NBA plans to incorporate its own Twitter feed, which has nearly 2 million followers.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.