Google’s report today shows just how integral the multiscreen experience has become in the consumption of digital content. For content of the athletic variety, it seems even more substantial. I struggle to watch baseball games without obsessively checking stats, figures on my tablet or tweeting from my phone. Many of us try to support startups or smaller app developers when it comes to multiscreen experiences, but ESPN is starting to make a more serious play for your mobile attention.
The sports media behemoth already offers a number of apps for livestreaming content and delivering realtime stats to your mobile devices, etc. Since launching in 2010, ESPN’s ScoreCenter — which delivers live scores, news and standings just about every sports league to your mobile devices — has been downloaded 28.5 million times on iOS devices. While popular, the user experience has been far from perfect. So, it started from scratch and is today launching a complete overhaul of ScoreCenter for the iPad, meant to improve the app’s speed, utility and personalization as the first of its apps to fully utilize its new API program.
Echoing Google’s study, Joe Alicata, who leads development of ScoreCenter, tells us that feedback from fans has shown how essential live scoring tools have become to the sports viewing experience. Fans want a simple experience from these complementary apps while packing in as many features and tools as possible. It’s a hard balance to strike, but the new ScoreCenter is a step in the right direction.
The app’s home screen now mixes curated games and events through users’ favorite teams and chosen alert settings. Swiping to the right on the homescreen allows users to view top video highlights and news, while using its “hamburger” to let fans view full-sport scoreboards along with video and news content from that sport.
Those looking for more specific stats and information can tap on game for detailed views, which in turn enables them to watch live via its other apps (like WatchESPN or GameCast). And it’s all optimized for retina display, which means sharper and higher-res viewing.
As mentioned, the new version of ScoreCenter is the first example of ESPN’s relatively newfound commitment to taking modern digital/mobile development and tools seriously. In March, the company launched a Developer Center, which was the first time the company opened its doors to third-party developers and made public its APIs. Chris Jason, director of ESPN’s API program, said at the time that its Developer Center and API program were now “fundamental” to ESPN’s digital business strategy going forward, calling the program “transformational.”
Promotion aside, there were terms inherent to the new program that might have rubbed developers the wrong way (like third-party apps having to include an ESPN trademark or intellectual property and a prohibition of in-app purchase features). It’s all very much still a work in progress, and while some of this represents “FAIL” to developers, the team’s collective head is in the right place.
ScoreCenter, ESPN digital comms director Kevin Ota says, takes advantage of its new programs, as will all updates and apps going forward. To date, more than 40 million fans have picked one or more of their favorite teams on ESPN.com and ESPN apps as part of its effort to ramp up personalization. Typically, he says, a personalized request is scaled by catching the response over long periods of time, but obviously that’s not the best approach when it comes to sports scores given the up-to-the-second nature of game stats (and the importance of serving these in realtime).
The stats for any game or team are the same for everyone and ESPN users obviously have their own unique combos of teams they follow, so the team working on ScoreCenter created a solution that caches each game individually for seconds, allowing it to more quickly deliver those millions of combos at scale.
By nature, ScoreCenter is a data-intensive app, so the new release utilizes ESPN’s API platform to deliver data faster and more simply, with the intended result being a more responsive experience that lets fans quickly drill down into specific data without all the annoying glitches and delays.
Alicata also says that the nature of native iOS apps (compared to web apps) typically means that users wait (sometimes weeks) before installing updates that address bug fixes. To minimize client-side biz logic, the ScoreCenter lead says that they’re now driving as much of the view from APIs as possible. Now they can transparently fix formatting bugs and edge cases without requiring you to install updates.
ScoreCenter on iOS has served live updates for over 120k events and delivers over 1.3 billion monthly alerts (with users spending more than one billion minutes in the apps each month). Given that scale, the app’s integration with ESPN’s API program is significant and should improve the overal user experience of ESPN’s iOS apps.
Typically, while ESPN picks up a lot of traffic/downloads thanks to its brand recognition and network effect, its apps haven’t exactly blown the roof off in terms of innovation and usability. But, this could change going forward, starting with the new ScoreCenter — especially if it works out the kinks in how it establishes relationships with developers. The more open it gets, the better the experience will be for sports fans.