Twitter: Illegal Procedure? It may be in the SEC.

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I caught this first from Caps blogger On Frozen Blog over the weekend, and I honestly thought it was a joke. But now the story is on Mashable, so clearly it’s for real.

The Southeastern Conference (much more commonly known to college football fans everywhere, as the SEC) is going to announce a  new media policy today that will render any game accounts on social networks – including those of fans – illegal.

The reason for the smackdown, as noted by the headline from Sunday’s St. Peteresburg Times article, is control of their multi-billion dollar broadcasting rights. “For SEC, tech-savvy fans might be biggest threats to media exclusivity.”

When media conglomerates are paying billions to air your product, you want to ensure that their investment is well spent. The business is easy on this one: CBS/ESPN pay the SEC to bring their millions of viewing fans so that they have a very specific audience to sell to advertisers.

If the lawyers think that the social media audience is using their networks as a replacement to national broadcast coverage, then the move makes sense. But, anyone who has ever turned on a TV to catch an exciting sports moment they heard about through Twitter or Facebook knows that this is a supplement to the audience that is already watching, not a threat.

Adam Ostrow at Mashable argues that the motivation is more than misunderstanding:

For the moment, these policies seem a lot more grounded in fear than reality. Sure, these days someone could theoretically live stream a game from their camera phone. But a shaky, low resolution video from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly the same as watching FOX’s telecast on your big screen TV. Social media should be viewed a fantastic compliment to sports that is good for both fans and the TV networks, but at the moment, it seems that’s anything but how it’s being perceived.

The best part about this (coming from a homer of an ACC guy) is that there are other conferences around the NCAA using social media to increase their audiences and are succeeding. The ACC was smart to engage quickly with people Tweeting about its member schools during the March corridor of collegiate sporting events – and they constantly pushed out updates on everything from March Madness to Lacrosse. The two responses between the SEC and ACC could not be any more different.

Twitter (or Facebook, Flickr, anything else) has a definite benefit for broadcast media. Social media is a broadcast traffic driver because it actually is above the “link economy.” You can’t excerpt a live broadcast and post it to your blog – you still have to either be there or in front of your TV to see the events unfold. It’s an opportunity to increase the gross audience and these are not competing forces of media. Whoever’s lawyers are behind that hopefully see that not as a contract violation, but just one of the many positive externalities to increase the value of the investment.

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