Leagues, networks have issues with Yahoo’s ‘Loops’
Leagues and TV networks are questioning the legality of a new feature on Yahoo Sports’ mobile app that curates game highlights in near real-time.
The feature, “Loops,” was launched at the beginning of the year and allows users to create in-game GIFs (graphics interchange format files) from NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NCAA game telecasts. The app records the game broadcasts and then lets users create their own video highlight reels, complete with graphics, text and video filters.
|“Loops” allows users to create their own video highlight reels.
The service hits on a long-standing fear among TV executives: that a service like “Loops” will do to video what a service like Napster did to audio. Sports executives worry that the “Loops” service has the potential to decrease the value of leagues’ highlight rights and, potentially, their live game rights.
All major sports license their online game highlights under various rights structures. Neither the leagues nor networks have licensing deals with Yahoo Sports for “Loops.”
League and network lawyers are paying close attention to the service. They don’t know if the “Loops” service is illegal, but several executives said it appears to infringe on league and network rights.
ESPN released a statement saying, “We are looking into this matter and reviewing our legal options.”
MLB Advanced Media, which holds a contractual relationship with Yahoo Sports for an online highlights show, similarly said the matter requires review. “I’m not going to rush to judgment, but our belief is that duration of content doesn’t matter with regard to rights. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about six seconds or six hours,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive. “We are in lockstep with our rights partners with regard to the use of actual game footage.”
The matter is so delicate that most networks and leagues declined to comment on the subject. CBS Sports, Fox Sports, NBC Sports Group and Turner Sports would not comment; the NFL and NBA also withheld comment.
Yahoo Sports declined to comment as well.
But sources said that Yahoo Sports believes it can navigate the rights issues because the graphics, text and video filters used on the highlight “transforms” it enough so that it’s not covered by any rights deal.
The minimal delay — timed in seconds, rather than minutes — from when video becomes available in “Loops” essentially allows users to watch a game from the Yahoo Sports app rather than one of the TV networks, at a delay of less than a minute. Helping fuel “Loops” is technology from IntoNow, a social TV outfit Yahoo bought in 2011.
“Putting aside any question on rights, it’s a fascinating product,” said Jason Kint, former senior vice president and general manager of CBSSports.com. “This feels like version 1.0 of this feature. I can only imagine how they can continue to slice up these highlights and clips in more interesting ways.”
“Loops” currently is available only for Apple’s iOS mobile platform, but an expansion to the Android platform is scheduled to happen soon.