The launch of the much anticipated Apple iPad could have great significance for the future of the sports media but it remains to be seen how fast and fundamental the impacts will be.
Apple intends the device, which has received generally favourable reviews, to create a third category of mobile device between a laptop and a smart phone, moving beyond the e-book readers available from Amazon, Sony and others. While the potential benefits for some are apparent - think easy access to news and e-mail for train commuters - it is inevitably a gamble to try to create a new niche.
If the iPad and similar devices become popular, here are some potential impacts on sports media in the UK and beyond:
1) Major boost for live streaming and online video highlights of sports events. Both have been around for some years but most people prefer to watch on TV if they can. The iPad could change that.
2) Increased audiences for independently produced sports footage. Rightsholders already sometimes offer video footage of sports events to newspaper websites, particularly when mainstream broadcasters have declined to cover them. If audiences for online sports videos increase, it could be good news for minority sports because the cost of embedding existing video in online media is low. However, increased choice for consumers also means increased competition for eyeballs.
3) Increased emphasis on live coverage (including text updates and still images) and previews rather than long post-match reviews. The change could come about because more people will be able to follow events as they happen and readers/viewers may have less interest in reviews published hours later.
4) Enhanced use of statistical analysis. Data such as that provided by CricInfo could be displayed in a more dynamic way alongside video than is currently practical with TV and print media. This could be particularly significant for the sports betting industry.
5) Merging of sports news operations. If newspaper sales continue to dwindle and more people access news online it may be practical for news providers to merge their online sports sections, even if they maintain separate identities for news and comment. All news providers and advertisers will be watching with interest to see how many paying subscribers The Times in the UK attracts when it restricts access later this year and how its content evolves.
6) Launch of new, paid-for online sports magazines. They have been tried before and have generally struggled but if consumers start paying for online news in large numbers there are sure to be new attempts to create a specialist service. One possible strategy would be to set different levels of subscription depending on which sports or competitions are covered, which is much easier online than in print or broadcast.
In summary, the transition from print, TV and radio coverage of sport to multi-media online coverage has been happening for years and will continue. The arrival of Apple’s iPad and its rivals could speed up that transition but the outcome is far from certain and there are likely to be casualties along the way.
Now, the important question: when can I get one?