S P O R T S _ O N L I N E

High tech sports
on the ’Net

Sportsline USA will put live video broadcast
on the Internet Thursday

By John Nelson
Associated Press

While it won't even wiggle the needle on the Nielsen ratings meter, SportsLine USA will send shockwaves well beyond cyberspace when it puts a live TV broadcast on the Internet Thursday night.

To infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear might say.

Although it's only a celebrity auction at the All-Star Cafe in New York, it will mark the first time a sports production is televised live on the Internet. It had to happen eventually, and now several industries must face difficult questions.

Technology-based industries need to figure out what part live TV will play in their futures, and which part of that industry will take the lead. Sports leagues need to figure out when and how to sell Internet rights, and to whom. And TV executives must determine if this is competition or promotion. Or both. Or neither.

"We're talking about the dawning of a new medium," said Ross Levinsohn, SportsLine vice president of programming and a former marketing and publicity executive at HBO.

"It just happens to be moving in dog years, it's growing so fast," he added.

SportsLine USA (http://www.sportsline.com) is a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based sports Internet service, heavily bankrolled by cable distributors such as TCI and U.S. West. It already produces its own live radio programs and now, through emerging technology developed by VDOnet Corp., will start doing video as well.

By next year, SportsLine hopes to broadcast some real events.

"We've already identified a couple of events without TV, and we'll stream them through the Internet," Levinsohn said.

"We're also trying to speak to some actual leagues," Levinson added.

"Clearly the NFL is not going to put games on the Internet right now - none of the major leagues will.

"But I think they'll all address video when there's a critical mass out there to receive it, and that's several years away."

Although estimates vary, the most widely used number for worldwide Internet users seems to be about 40 million.

"In five years, we can talk again, and maybe I'll be telling you that we have 200 million homes hooked up to the Internet, all with a capacity to receive video, and I can then go out and bid on the next Riddick Bowe or Mike Tyson fight," Levinsohn said.

Levinsohn said SportsLine is "looking at probably a half dozen programs" like the celebrity auction in 1977, "and we're also going to produce a 90-second sports highlights show daily that people will be able to access on the Internet."

VDOnet is a California technology company that has developed software called VDOLive, which allows the real-time streaming of audio and video together without having to download huge movie files. With a 28.8 kbps modem, VDOLive shows run relatively smoothly, but they are nowhere near broadcast quality.

"It's kind of like harkening back to the early days of TV," Levinsohn said.

"We're putting together 'Amos and Andy' right now. That's kind of like how I feel about where we are.

"The good news, though, is that while the leap from 'Amos and Andy' to '60 minutes' took 20 years on TV, the leap on the Internet shouldn't take more than two or three years.

"All the technology is getting so much better."

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