Baseball: Engaging the audience – Part 1

Pitcher-and-Batter

An earlier Info Monkey article suggested that the audience for e-sports is just the audience MLB (and every other major sport) wants to attract. It also argued that tinkering with tiny adjustments to speed up the game isn’t likely to attract this audience. If shaving 15 minutes off of the average game isn’t the answer, how do you expand baseball’s audience? Focus on one of the game’s great strengths, give people new ways to engage with the game, and give them the information they need to engage with baseball in new ways.

baseball thinkerBaseball has long been characterized as the thinking person’s game. Why? Because it’s deeply complex, small adjustments on the field can have large effects on the game’s outcome, the pitcher-batter conflict that lies at the core of the game is infinitely nuanced, and there is barely enough time in between pitches to try to take all of this into account and decide what to do next. This combination of decision time and tactical depth is one of the game’s great strengths. If you want to grow the audience for baseball, give people new ways and means to engage with the game at this level.

How do you do that? In this article I’ll look at giving the TV audience more and better information about the game. In Part 2 I write about giving fans something to do with this information.

Give the audience information that makes the game come alive

Much has been made of the ways advanced analytics in combination with real-time data gathering systems like PITCHf/x and Statcast have given baseball executives, managers, and analysts new insights into the game. Many broadcast networks are bringing this information to the audience but they tend to do it in limited, unimaginative, and largely ineffective ways.  There is enormous potential here to open up the game in ways that will engage the audience and increase interest in televised baseball. Want to attract a wider audience that isn’t afraid of technology? Take steps to realize this potential.

Here are a few examples. There are many more.

infield shift croppedIllustrate the shift. One network puts a small graphic in a corner of the screen that uses red dots to show the positions of the infielders on a play-by-play basis. The graphic is almost never explained and never referred to by the broadcasters. In it’s current form it’s basically a waste of screen space but it could be much more.

Illustrate the shift with a graphic like the one on the left that uses arrows to indicate changes of position, dots of one color to show the “normal” position, and dots of a different color to show the shifted position. This clearly shows the viewer whether and how much the infield is shifting. The “normal” position can be shown in a number of ways to illustrate different points for the audience. For example, “normal” could be a basic arrangement with all infielders equally spaced. It could be the average position of all major league infields, or the average position of the team that is in the field.

With appropriate commentary this type of graphic could be used to compare shifts used by a team against different batters. It could be used to compare shifts used against the same batter when he is facing different pitchers, or different counts, or different situations with runners on base. Variance around the equally-spaced infield position could be used as an index of how much each team relies on defensive infield shifts.

PowerzoneHeat maps. Networks commonly use heat maps to illustrate something about a batter’s performance in different areas in and around the strike zone. Usually these heat maps appear on the screen with little or no commentary about what the map is actually showing. For example, what does the heat map part of the “Powerzone” tell you about Bryce Harper? Does it show the areas of the zone where her puts the ball in play? Where he makes contact that results in a hit? Is slugging percentage somehow factored in or is a single equal to a home run as far as the heat map is concerned?

heyward swing prcnt

Jason Heyward percentage of swings per pitch location. From BrooksBaseball.net

Heat maps could be used to illustrate all of these things and more for the viewer. Where in the zone do pitchers tend to pitch to this hitter? Where does he tend to swing? Which zones are good for strikes? How does this change when the batter faces a left or right-handed pitcher? How is it affected by the pitch count?

Heat maps could also be used to illustrate how a pitcher attacks the strike zone. Different colors could be used to illustrate different pitches within a single graphic. The frequency with which the pitch is thrown could be shown by shades of color. If that graphic is too busy and hard to understand at a glance, each type of pitch the pitcher throws could have its own heat map and the maps could be compared side-by-side allowing the viewer to instantly grasp how the pitcher works the zone.

BA versus Kershaw

Pitching could be examined with many other insightful heat maps. Opponent’s batting average is one example. Where the pitcher throws in different pitch counts is another. What kind of pitch does a pitcher tend to throw in 2 strike counts? Where does he tend to throw it? Does he have different tendencies in 3-2 counts and 0-2 counts? Where in the zone and with what kind of pitch does he tend to get swinging strikes? Called strikes? Hits?

Gathering the data and building the graphics for these heat maps may sound like a lot of work but as fans of Fangraphs know, it’s already been done. Fangraphs has interactive heat maps that show everything suggested here and a lot more for every player in the major leagues.

Making use of information to engage the audience

Developing more informative graphics that are designed to help the audience engage with the game in new ways is easy. The data exists, the graphics exist, and several networks are already using them in their broadcasts. The problem is that they are using them poorly. Fancy graphics are wasted unless they are paired with broadcasters who can clearly explain what the graphic illustrates and use this information to provide insight into the game. That’s the hard part.

There are some baseball analysts who do a superb job of explaining what is happening on the field in ways that educate the audience about the richness and complexity of the game. However, many do not.

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Baltimore Orioles broadcasters Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer

(Although the gif might suggest otherwise, Gary Thorne contributes good play-by-play and Jim Palmer provides good analysis of the pitcher-batter confrontation when he’s not reminding the viewer over and over again about how good he was back in the day. The gif, however, was just too good to pass up.)

Most analysts are former players or managers. This is ideal because, at least in theory, they have a deep understanding of the game. Unfortunately, that understanding is rarely used to provide insight into what’s happening on the field right here, right now. Instead the former players tell war stories about when they played the game which in some cases can be decades ago. How many more times are we going to have to listen to the ESPN crew yuk it up about John Kruk’s 25 year old All-Star plate appearance against Randy Johnson? They ignore the game and talk about where they went to dinner last night and what they had to eat, their children’s high school graduations, their favorite TV shows from back in the day, the lunchbox they thought was cool in grade school. Get a clue, it’s not about you. Pay attention to the game.

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When they talk about the game they often talk in generalities rather than about specific circumstances that are affecting what is actually happening on the field. For example, they talk about what kind of pitch you can generally expect in an 0-2 count. Their focus is on the count and everything else is out of focus as if it didn’t matter. They don’t talk about how the generic 0-2 pitch might be modified by what’s been working or not working for this pitcher during this game, what the batter typically does with the generic 0-2 pitch, what the batter typically does with an 0-2 count, who’s on base, who’s on deck. The pitcher, batter, and catcher are thinking about these things and the former player would be thinking about them too if he was deeply engaged with the game and thinking like a player. He could tell us about what’s really happening on the field as opposed to what usually happens.

confusedBaseball has changed since many of the analysts played the game. The combination of advanced analytics and the gigabits of data produced in real time about every MLB game  by PITCHf/x and Statcast have changed the way players are evaluated, strategy is shaped, and tactics are used during a game. It’s not uncommon for analysts who played in an earlier era to have a poor understanding of these changes and the analytics on which they are based. Worse, in some cases this lack of understanding is combined with a hostile or negative bias. Baseball is like any modern profession in that it changes and evolves. If you don’t want to learn new things, you are going to be out of date and left behind.

Bringing an analytics guru into the broadcast booth won’t solve the problem if he or she talks as if everyone listening understands analytics at the same level they do. You need someone who is good at explaining baseball analytics and sophisticated data visualizations in language that the typical viewer can understand. Someone who doesn’t talk in the arcane acronyms of advanced analytics. Someone who is not an ideological advocate for analytics but can use them dispassionately, pointing out both their strengths and their weaknesses. You need a good teacher.

fieldfxPair this person in the booth with an open-minded former player and let the two of them cooperate to bring their respective areas of expertise together to analyze the game. Give them sophisticated information visualization tools and encourage them to create informative graphics that they can use to illustrate and explain what is happening on the field. Keep the focus on educating and informing the audience so that the viewer can engage more deeply with the richness and complexity of the game they’re watching.

Former players and analytics specialists love baseball because they have a deep understanding of how rich and engaging the game is. Give them the tools and the platform to share that understanding with the audience. One of the great strengths of baseball is that it is a thinking person’s game. If you want to attract a wider audience to baseball, double down on that strength.

In this article I presented suggestions about how to engage the audience by bringing them information that enriches their understanding of the game. In Part 2 I offer some suggestions about things baseball can do to engage the audience further by giving them something to do with this information.

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Baseball: Speeding up the game is not the answer

pitchclock

The powers-that-be in major league baseball (MLB) want to speed up the game. Why? Part of the reason is a perception that baseball has an age problem. According to Sports Media Watch approximately half of the TV viewers of the 2013 World Series were 55 or older and the median age of viewers on Fox, ESPN, TBS and the MLB Network throughout the 2013 season was between 54 and 55. MLB sees this as a serious problem and wants to attract younger viewers.

The executives who run major league baseball think a faster game will appeal to younger viewers who, they believe, have short attention spans. They think that speeding up the game will make baseball competitive with the faster-paced games that younger viewers like to watch. Concern with the pace of play might appear sensible if your attention is focused on the mainstream sports broadcast by television networks. It makes less sense when you look at the sports that are actually watched by the younger viewers MLB wants to attract.

What sports do younger viewers like to watch? eSports in general and MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) in particular. The two most popular MOBAs in the United States are League of Legends (LoL) and Defence of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2). LoL and Dota 2 are fantasy-themed MOBAs in which two 5-player teams compete for control of a battlefield. They are played by both casual players and professional teams and are immensely popular among the younger viewers desired by MLB.

league of legends

How popular is “immensely popular”? In 2013 (the most recent year for which we have comparable data) 16.1 million people in the US played baseball or softball at least once during the year. Also in 2013, 67 million people around the world played LoL every month and 27 million people played every day. Superdata Research reports that LoL had more than 90 million monthly players in April of 2015. Riot Games, the makers of LoL, have not broken down these numbers by country although they do list the US as one of the countries where LoL is most popular. In terms of number of hours played, LoL has been the most played PC game in both North America and Europe for the past 3 years.

Are the people who play LoL the people baseball wants to attract? In 2012 90% of LoL players were male, 85% were between 16 and 30 years of age, and 60% were enrolled in or had completed some college. This is a prime demographic for MLB.

MLB has become very proactive in trying to get more kids to play baseball at the Little League level based on the belief that playing at a young age will produce fans who will watch baseball throughout their lives. Watching baseball is where the money is. More than five times as many people play LoL in a month than play baseball or softball in a year but playing and watching are two different things. How many people who play LoL would be willing to sit down and watch it?

lol championship

The 2013 League of Legends championship.

The Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 2 in the 2013 World Series. The games were broadcast by Fox and had an average viewership of 14.9 million people. The LoL championships in 2013 were held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The match was sold out and was broadcast over Twitch livestream where it attracted 32 million viewers. The average broadcast viewership for the World Series was less than half the number of people who viewed the LoL championship in 2013. The last time the World Series averaged more than 32 million viewers was in 1991 when the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves in 7 games.

The LoL championship didn’t just crush the World Series in 2013. Viewership for the LoL championship match more than doubled the average for the Final Four basketball tournament (15.7 million), and soundly beat the BCS college football championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame (26.4 million), as well as game 7 of the NBA Championship between LeBron James’ Miami Heat and Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs (26.3 million).

esports us demographicsWhile LoL is a leader in the world of eSports, it is just one game among many. In general, who are the people who watch eSports? Are they in MLB’s target demographic? It is estimated that in 2013 a quarter of all US gamers watched or participated in eSports. The male/female split was 66%/34% which is very similar to MLB’s 70%/30% split. Over half were between 21 and 35 years of age with 84% of the men and 68% of the women aged between 21 and 50. eSports viewers are precisely the demographic that MLB wants.

MLB doesn’t only want younger viewers, it wants younger viewers who will spend money on their favorite sports. Do eSport fans spend money on their games? LoL is a free-to-play game with discretionary micro-transactions that players may purchase with real money if they wish. The game also makes money from tournament ticket sales. In 2013 LoL took in $624 million in revenue . That was more than the revenue of any major league baseball team and almost 166% of the average team revenue in 2013.

international_imageDota 2’s yearly championship is called The International and in 2014 it was held in Seattle’s KeyArena. Tickets started at $99, KeyArena seats 17,000, and The International sold the place out in less than an hour. The prize pool for The International was $10 million. That’s $1 million more than the prize pool for the Masters Tournament in golf for that year, and more than twice as much as the prize pools of the Tour de France and the Kentucky Derby combined. The $10 million was funded by Dota 2 fans through a Kickstarter campaign. You read that correctly. $10 million. Raised by fans. At the time of this writing the prize pool for the 2015 International was more than $16 million and rising. eSports enthusiasts spend money on their games.

eSports fans are the people MLB wants to attract and it hopes to attract them by speeding up the game.  The team owners and MLB executives think eSport watchers have short attention spans and a faster game will naturally appeal to them. Let’s take a look at pace of play.

Baseball has advanced analytics that measure performance in a variety of ways. eSports has some analytics of its own.  One of these is ACM (actions per minute). ACM measures the number of game-relevant actions such as targeting a unit or issuing an order that are performed with either a mouse or a keyboard. Professional Korean game players average about 300 ACM. That’s equivalent to 5 actions per second sustained over minutes of average game play. When things get intense and the game speeds up (think a bang-bang double play in baseball) ACM typically averages around 400 at the professional level.

Stopwatch_02How does this compare with major league baseball? It is often said that hitting major league pitching is the most difficult thing to do in mainstream sports. The average major league fastball takes about 4 tenths of a second to travel from the pitcher’s hand to home plate. During that very brief time the batter must see the pitch coming out of the pitcher’s hand, determine its speed and trajectory, predict whether it will be a strike or a ball, and decide whether or not to swing. If he decides to swing, he must also decide how to swing and begin the action before the ball reaches the plate. During that same 4 tenths of a second a professional eSports player has carried out 2 actions. Thus far, baseball and eSports are not all that different; one action from a major league batter and two actions from a professional eSports player in 0.4 seconds.

The radical difference in pace of play between eSports and baseball is caused by what happens next. The average time between pitches in 2014 was 18.29 seconds. During that 18.29 seconds an average professional eSports player has completed 91 actions. Each of these actions involves seeing what is happening on the screen that might demand his or her attention, determining whether what is happening is being caused by a teammate, an opponent, or the game’s artificial intelligence, deciding whether he or she should respond, deciding what the response should be, and then carrying out the necessary action. On average a professional eSports player carries out 91 of these actions while a major league hitter deals with 1 pitch.

There are approximately 256 pitches throw in a major league game (2 teams x 34 at-bats per team x 3.76 pitches per at bat on average). Professional eSports players perform more actions in the time it takes to complete three pitches (273 actions) than the number of pitches thrown in an entire 3+ hour baseball game. This is a pace of play that is much faster than anything baseball can possibly achieve.

zimmermanglovesShaving 5, 10, or even 60 minutes from the average baseball game isn’t going to make baseball more appealing to the eSport viewers MLB wants to attract. Not only are eSports played at a blistering pace that baseball has no hope of matching, the tens of millions of viewers who watch eSports understand what’s going on at these speeds because they play the games themselves. If MLB owners and executives think they are going to compete with eSports for viewers by speeding up the game, they are badly in need of a wake up call.

Put it together. eSports fans are exactly the demographic that MLB is eager to attract. They play and watch eSports in numbers that dwarf the numbers that play and watch baseball. They spend very large amounts of money on their games. The pace of play in eSports is radically faster than the pace of play in baseball. MLB thinks speeding up the game will attract eSports fans.

How many owners of MLB teams or people at the decision-making level of MLB’s front office play MOBAs like LoL or Dota 2? How many have been to a match or watched a broadcast and understood what they were seeing? How many have no idea what LoL and Dota 2 are? How many have no idea what a MOBA is? Are MLB’s views of what can be done to attract younger viewers distorted by a lack of awareness and understanding of the eSports that baseball’s target demographic actually watches?

It’s time to wake up. Targeting pace of play as an aspect of the game that can be changed to make baseball more competitive with eSports for a younger viewing audience’s time and attention is setting baseball up to fail.

Does all of this mean that MLB has no hope of attracting the younger audience it craves? Not at all. However, it is not going to happen by focusing on “correcting” a pace of play that is perceived by some as one of the game’s weaknesses. It’s going to happen by focusing on the game’s strengths in a way that appeals to a younger audience.

How do you do that?

Stay tuned.

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Moore’s Law and the Technologies of Daily Life

AGC

One small step.

One giant leap.

On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

It was awesome.

It still is.

AGC interface

Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) interface

The picture above shows part of the instrument panel of the Apollo lunar command module. The person in the picture is interacting with the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) through its interface which can be seen in more detail in the picture on the right. The AGC was a rectangular unit that was roughly 6 inches thick, 1 foot wide, and 2 feet long.  It weighed 70 pounds. The lunar lander also had its own AGC. One in the command module and one in the lander put a man on the moon. How much processing power did the AGC have?

 

nes

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

In 1985, 16 years after Armstrong landed on the moon, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States. It introduced the world to Super Mario and was the first place many people met Zelda and Link. It was a sensation selling almost 62 million units worldwide before it was overtaken by more powerful gaming consoles. The whole unit was 3.5 inches high, 10 inches wide and 8 inches deep. It weighed approximately 2.75 pounds. How much processing power did it have?

AGC NES

The AGC had roughly the same processing power as 2 NESs. In 1985 four high-school juniors with an NES were playing games with the same amount of processing power that controlled the command module and the lunar lander that put Neil Armstrong on the moon in the year they were born. The four NESs combined weighed less than 12 pounds. The 2 AGCs in the lander and the command module had a combined weight of 140 pounds.

cray 2

Cray-2

1985 also saw the release of the Cray-2 supercomputer. It was the fastest computer in the world until it was overtaken by the ETA 10G in 1990. The Cray-2 was housed in a cylinder that was 53 inches in diameter and 45 inches high. It weighed 5500 pounds. How much processing power did it have?

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iPhone 4

In 2010, 25 years after Cray introduced the Cray-2 and Nintendo launched the NES, Apple released the iPhone 4. Although it was a big deal among Apple fans in the US, by 2010 the iPhone was just another mobile phone to the world at large. At the end of 2010 Apple held only 4% of the mobile phone market and 15.7% (compared to Android’s 22.7% and Symbian’s 37.6%) of the smartphone market. The iPhone 4 was 4.54 inches long, 2.31 inches wide, and 0.37 of an inch thick. It weighed 4.8 ounces, a little more than a quarter pound. In terms of processing power the iPhone 4 was nothing special. How much power did it have?

Cray2 Iphone4

The iPhone 4 had roughly the same processing power as the Cray-2. The Cray-2 took up 16 square feet of floor space and weighed 2.75 tons. The iPhone 4 weighed about a quarter of a pound and fit in your pocket. The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 released in the same year as the iPhone 4 had 25% more processing power. The Samsung Galaxy S6 released in 2015 has the processing power of a bit more than 20 iPhone 4s/Cray-2s.

What made these enormous increases in processing power coupled with decreases in size possible? Moore’s Law.

IC data“Moore’s Law” refers to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s prediction that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double approximately every two years. Moore had originally predicted a doubling every year in a paper published in 1965. He revised his prediction in a speech he gave in 1975. The two-year prediction has largely held true for the past 40 years and it is the primary reason why we now have so much computing power contained in such small devices.

Looking back to the original paper published in 1965, many tech-oriented websites published 50-year anniversary articles about Moore’s Law earlier this year. One of the best I saw was a fascinating infographic put together by Expert’s Exchange titled Processing Power Compared.

Expert’s Exchange compared a selection of supercomputers, smartphones, video game consoles and smart watches in terms of their processing power measured in FLOPS (FLoating-point Operations per Second).  Processing Power Compared illustrates a number of these comparisons in addition to the AGC/NES and Cray-2/iPhone 4 cases mentioned above.

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IBM 704

The infographic also contains a very interesting section that sequences devices based on processing power. The sequence starts with 1954’s 20K+ FLOP IBM 704, the first commercially produced computer capable of floating point calculations.

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Tianhe-2

It ends with today’s fastest supercomputer, the roughly 34 quadrillion FLOP Tianhe-2 which is located at the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha China.

A number of interesting tidbits can be gleaned from the information presented in Processing Power Compared. For example, Apple’s iPhones are consistently outpowered by almost every comparable mobile phone on the market. At the time of this writing Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Apple’s iPhone 6 are their respective company’s flagship smartphones. The Galaxy S6 has approximately 5 times the processing power measured in FLOPS as the iPhone 6.

Expert’s Exchange measured the processing power of game consoles in terms of their GPU (graphics processing unit) rather than their CPU (central processing unit) based on the idea that console performance depends more on GPU than CPU. In terms of GPU FLOPS, the Playstation 4 (PS4) is roughy 25% more powerful than the Xbox One. The PS4 is the most powerful device included in Processing Power Compared that isn’t a supercomputer. Comparing the PS4 to the world’s fastest supercomputer is like comparing a World Series champion to a Little League team. It takes 18,400 PS4s to equal the processing power of the Tianhe-2. That’s a lot of PS4s but to put that number into perspective, Sony has, on average, sold roughly 18,400 PS4s every 10.25 hours since the console launched in mid-November of 2013.

Storage over time

One last treat. Processing Power Compared includes this gif which captures how data storage capacities have grown while the hardware needed to store the data has shrunk over time. Moore’s Law in action right before your eyes.

The devices included in Processing Power Compared are only the tip of the iceberg. The power and miniaturization made possible as Moore’s Law has held up over decades has enabled most of the digital technologies that are everyday elements in many people’s lives. Health and fitness tech, digital books, streaming music, digital home security systems, automotive electronics, the internet of things, all of these things and more are common and ordinary because Moore’s Law has held true.

Imagine where we’ll be if Moore’s Law remains accurate for another 10 or 20 years. How long will it be before we have the processing power of a Tianhe-2 implanted in our bodies and hooked up to our central nervous systems?

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Negotiating the Strike Zone During a Major League Baseball Game

kzone 2_edit

Baseball is a game of brilliant and beautiful contrasts. People who don’t understand the game describe it as slow when in fact there is so much going on between one pitch and the next that it takes careful concentration and undivided attention to keep track of what just happened and how it is going to affect what is about to happen. Moments that seem calm and still are interspersed with moments of explosive speed and power. At the heart of the competition between two nine-player teams is a succession of intense and violent confrontations between two players, the pitcher and the batter.

The war between the pitcher and the batter is focused on the strike zone. If the pitch is in the strike zone the batter has to hit it or sit down and try again later. Three strikes and you’re out. If the ball is outside the strike zone, the batter wants to watch it go by. Four balls and you’ve overcome the first and most difficult obstacle to scoring; you’ve reached first base. The strike zone lies at the core of the game. What is it? Exactly?

MLB rules imageMajor League Baseball’s Official Rules provide the following official definition of the strike zone along with the helpful diagram shown above.

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

The definition is expressed in simple language that is easy to understand. The diagram is exact with sharp, clean lines enclosing the strike zone. It’s clear and straightforward. It’s also  a fantasy that may work for video game baseball or TV broadcast graphics like Pitch Trax, Fox Trax or ESPN’s K-Zone but it’s not the strike zone where pitchers and batters do battle in a real baseball game. The real strike zone is not clear cut, it’s not exact, and it’s constantly being  negotiated and renegotiated by the players and the umpire throughout the game.

Home-plate umpire Jim Joyce reacts after Detroit Tigers' Magglio Ordonez scored against the Cleveland Indians during the third inning of their American League MLB baseball game in Detroit, Michigan June 3, 2010.       REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The real strike zone begins with the umpire. The umpire doesn’t see a little box with sharply drawn edges; he sees empty space over the plate. He tries to figure out exactly what “the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball” means and uses whatever he comes up with and the the physical object that is home plate to construct an imaginary strike zone.

Umpires often have reputations as pitcher or batter friendly depending on how closely their imaginary strike zone conforms to players’ ideas about what the ideal strike zone should be. Analysts and commentators often say that players don’t really care whether the umpire is batter or pitcher friendly as long as he is consistent and calls balls and strikes the same way for both teams throughout the game. This is ironic because from first pitch to last, batters, pitchers and catchers are doing everything they can to change the way the umpire calls balls and strikes so that it is more in their favor.

The strike zone that the umpire imagines lasts until the pitcher throws a pitch. The game usually begins with the pitcher and catcher looking for the edges of the umpire’s strike zone. Once they have a pretty good idea of the umpire’s dividing line between balls and strikes, they begin trying to expand the zone.

greg_maddux

Greg Maddux

Pitchers who are able to control the location of a pitch with a high level of precision will try to expand the zone by first establishing a strike near the edge of the umpire’s strike zone. They then throw a pitch a little further out and see if the umpire will call it a strike. If a strike is called, the pitcher places the ball a little further out and challenges the umpire to call another strike. This continues until a ball is called. The pitcher then moves back to the location of a previously called strike and starts the process all over again. Hall of Fame pitcher and four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux was a master at this. He had exquisite control and he was utterly relentless. Umpires hated it when Maddux pitched because they knew they were going to be subjected to constant, focused pressure to expand their strike zone.

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Gotcha! – Jose Molina pitch frames strike three

The pitcher’s attempts to expand the strike zone turn the nice clean line that separates balls from strikes in idealized pictures into a fuzzy gray area. While the pitcher is trying to blur the line between balls and strikes through pitch location, the catcher is trying to expand the umpire’s strike zone using pitch framing. Pitch framing is the art of catching a pitch that is outside the strike zone in a way that makes it appear to the umpire as if it were in the zone. The pitch is outside the zone, the batter sees it is outside the zone and doesn’t swing, the catcher frames the ball so it looks like it’s inside the zone, and, if he’s successful, the umpire calls a strike. The fuzzy line between balls and strikes gets a little fuzzier.

Pitch framing was recognized as an objectively measurable skill after PITCHf/x was installed in every major league ballpark in 2006. PITCHf/x is a pitch-tracking system that provides relatively precise measurements of the speed and location of every pitch thrown in a major league game from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand to the time it crosses the plate. Although it is designed to provide information about pitchers, the data PITCHf/x provides can also be used to measure both an umpire’s strike zone and a catcher’s skill at turning balls into strikes through pitch framing.

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Jonathan Lucroy

Few in baseball realized how valuable pitch framing can be in expanding the umpire’s strike zone before statistical analysts began to look at framing using PITCHf/x data. In 2011 Mike Fast published an article on Baseball Prospectus that estimated that catchers who excelled at pitch framing saved their teams between 15 and 30 runs per season while catchers with low pitch framing skills cost their teams about 15 runs per season. Baseball Prospectus ranked the Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy as the game’s best pitch framer in 2011 with an estimated 302 balls that were called strikes because of his pitch framing skills. Fast estimated that Lucroy’s 302 extra strikes saved approximately 17 runs over the course of the 2011 season. Seventeen runs saved by subtle shifts in the strike zone from one pitch to the next.

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Bryce Harper

Batters have less opportunity to change the strike zone than pitchers and catchers but, at least in some cases, they can add their voice to the ongoing negotiation. Major league umpires take their job very seriously and they constantly monitor themselves with the goal of maintaining extremely high levels of performance. Part of this monitoring process involves postgame reviews of their ball and strike calls with the aid of technology like PITCHf/x. This gives them a pretty good idea of when they got it wrong and when they got it right.  It also gives them a pretty good idea of which batters have a good eye for balls and strikes. Two months into the 2015 season the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper has demonstrated an exceptional eye for the strike zone.  When a pitcher throws Harper a pitch in the fuzzy gray area that borders the strike zone, the umpire may give Harper the benefit of the doubt and call it a ball. When a batter like Harper enters the batter’s box, the strike zone the pitcher has been slowly and carefully expanding may suddenly shrink and this newly redefined strike zone may carry over to the following hitters.

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Baseball is a deep game. At its heart lies a ferocious struggle over the strike zone between pitchers who bring power, command and guile, and batters who bring eagle eyes and lightning reflexes. The umpire defines the strike zone and fights throughout the game to keep it consistent while pitchers and catchers try to expand it and hitters try to shrink it. Pitches thrown when there is little on the line may be designed to shift the strike zone in order to set up pitches thrown later in the game when everything is on the line. Every pitch is a challenge. Every pitch is a negotiation between the players and the umpire for control of that fluid, imaginary space called the strike zone. This ongoing war at the core of the game is riveting to watch and is one of the reasons why baseball fans feel a thrill of anticipation every time the umpire takes his stance behind the plate and hollers . . .

“Play ball.”

Posted in Baseball, Sport | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Streaming, Music and Money: Show Me the Value

street musicians_croppedWe showed you the money in the previous post in this series. Showing the value is a more difficult proposition. In capitalist societies value is often measured, and sometimes exclusively measured, in monetary terms. There often seems to be a quiet assumption that if something does not have monetary value it has little value, and perhaps no value at all. While there is certainly monetary value in steaming music, I think the more important value by far lies in things that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Digital-musicAs the music business transitions from a production-oriented industry to a service oriented industry it’s clear that the major monetary value in streaming lies with the streaming services. The record labels that produce music have to discover, support, and record musicians, distribute their music, and hope their stable of artists is successful in the music marketplace. Music streaming services don’t have to find new talent, they don’t have to support and record that talent, and they don’t care which artists succeed. Their problem is to provide a music delivery system that is successful with listeners and that almost always comes down to providing access to a wide and deep variety of content at an attractive price.

Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are all looking for ways to get into the music streaming business. None of them are currently looking to get into the music production business in any serious way.  As far as monetary value is concerned, being the streaming service provider is where it’s at.

music sales 40 yearsAs streaming has increased in popularity, revenue from digital sales has decreased. The previous post in this series examined how this loss in revenue has been felt by both the record labels and the musicians who are signed to those labels. The complaints about streaming that you hear from musicians and music companies alike stem from the fact that both groups would rather see people buy their music than stream it because they make more money when people buy the music. They can complain as much as they like but the streaming cat is out of the bag and there’s no sign of it going back in. Listeners are showing a clear preference for paying less and not owning digital music as opposed to paying more for owning a digital copy.

Nevertheless, there is some monetary value in streaming for musicians. Musicians who perform on a song and are not the songwriters receive performance royalty payments when their song is streamed. It’s not very much but it’s better than nothing which is what performing musicians receive when their song is played on AM or FM radio.

Streaming also has monetary value for the fully independent musician who does not have the promotion and distribution power of a record label behind them. Before streaming there was very little chance that anyone anywhere would ever hear a self-produced recording. With streaming, self-produced music made by independent creators can be heard by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Again, very little money is made through streaming, but very little is more than nothing.

artist label comparisonWhile streaming has led to a decline in revenue from digital sales for music producers, the loss in monetary value does not appear to be falling equally on all segments of the music production business. The graph on the left shows the declines in both record label revenues and artist royalties from 2001 to 2012. As can be seen in the graph, artist royalties declined slightly while label revenues dropped by more than a third. Care must be taken about drawing conclusions from this graph, however. First, as explained in a prior article, the record labels keep a large proportion of artist royalties until the money the label has invested in the artist is paid back. Second, the graph only includes data through 2012 and music industry revenue shifted markedly from digital sales to steaming in 2013 and 2014. However, if the record labels have continued to pay artist royalties at the levels seen in the graph, it appears that the labels are shouldering a proportionally larger share than the musicians of the loss in revenue caused by streaming.

So much for monetary value. What about non-monetary value? Does music streaming bring with it forms of value that cannot be measured in monetary terms? Oh, yes.

old phonographListening to music is an immensurably pleasurable activity that we tend to take for granted. We can listen to anything we want whenever we want. Everyone can have their own soundtrack for everything that they do. For almost all of human history it wasn’t like this. Before the 1870s if you wanted to hear music, you had to be in the place where the musician was playing. Commercially available recordings only became widely available after Thomas Edison patented the phonograph cylinder in 1878. The first commercial radio broadcast happened in 1920, less than 100 years ago. It took about 5,000 years to get from the first use of the wheel on a transportation device to the bicycle; it took 88 years to get from the first radio broadcast to Spotify. old woman headphone cropRoughly 15% of the people living in the US are enjoying a life span of 88 years or more. How do you put a monetary value on going from only being able to listen to a limited selection of recorded music when you were in the room with a large and expensive playback platform like the phonograph pictured above to being able to listen to whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are with a smartphone?

music listenerThe value of music streaming for the listener is immense and immeasurable. For the first time since the advent of recorded music you can listen to whatever, whenever, and wherever you want and you don’t have to buy the music to do it. Before streaming, listening to whatever you wanted meant you had to either buy the music or steal it. Listening to it wherever you were meant you had to transfer it or buy it again in a format  that worked on your portable platform. If you didn’t want to buy or steal the music, or go through the process of making it portable, you were limited to listening to what was played on AM and FM radio. Listeners who didn’t steal music did all of this and paid to do it. Now the listener has access to so much more and it costs so much less. How do you put a monetary value on that?

Some might be tempted to limit the value of streaming for the listener to the monetary value indicated by the amount subscribers are willing to pay for a streaming service. I don’t think this is a good way to think about the value of streaming. The price point for streaming subscriptions is partially based on business factors that have nothing to do with the value streaming has for the listener. For example, streaming providers have had to price their service at a level that would attract a large number of users in order to have the market numbers that would encourage the large music companies to unlock their vast music catalogues for streaming.

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The Eagles

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The Eagles

As they age, many listeners continue to listen to the music that was popular when they were younger, often to the exclusion of current musicians and musical styles. Streaming has high value for these listeners because, with the exception of a small number of artists who retain high sales numbers over time, most music companies view their back catalogues as less valuable than their catalogues of current musicians. The result is that the catalogues for these older artists are almost always available for streaming in their entirety which benefits listeners who do not stray far beyond the music of their youth.

There is a small segment of the listening community composed of people who retain an active interest in music, who listen with open ears that are not limited by genre, and who are willing to spend time seeking out new music and musicians who are not well known. For these people streaming is a godsend. The combination of streaming with music aggregators like Tunecore that provide access to streaming services for independent musicians at a minimal cost provide the curious and adventuresome listener with a virtually limitless wealth of music to explore and enjoy. It’s hard to put a monetary value on that.

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Parametric Monkey

This brings us to another group for whom streaming has value that is hard to measure – the independent musician. Many people make music because they love it. They don’t make music to make a living, they make music for their own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of others. Before streaming those others were largely limited to the people who were in the room with you when you were playing. Streaming has given these musicians a world-wide audience.

Mochaka's-Groove_250pxIf you make music, make art, make food, make anything for other people to enjoy you know this. If you don’t do any of these things, ask someone who does. A large part of the value you get from your creative activity stems from the enjoyment other people get from what you’ve made. I’ll never forget the day I was in a store when they streamed one of my tracks on their sound system. While it was playing I noticed a kid over in the corner who was standing near a speaker and just rocking out to the music. I didn’t butt in and stroke my ego by telling him I was the musician he was digging. I just enjoyed watching him dance. Monetary value? About $0.0011. Non-monetary value? Priceless.

(Full disclosure: I am a completely independent musician that makes, sells, and streams music under the name Parametric Monkey on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube and many other streaming services such as Soundcloud that are not shown on Selling Out. I’m a member of ASCAP as both the publisher and the songwriter of the songs I release as Parametric Monkey. The aggregator I use to place my music with streaming services is Tunecore.)

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Murder

 

venezuela-murders cropped

Venezuelans protesting the high murder rate in their country

It is estimated that in 2012 someone in the world was murdered every 72 seconds.

437,000 people.

Murdered.

According to the US Census Bureau that’s more than the entire 2010 population of a number of large US cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Miami, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

us popupAn organization in Rio de Janeiro, the Igarapé Institute, has built an interactive website called the The Homicide Monitor that tracks the world’s murders from 2000 to 2012. The website displays a globe that can be rotated with the mouse. Clicking on a country pops up information about the population of the country, the number of homicides, the homicide rate per 100K people, a graph showing the ten-year murder trend, the most commonly used murder weapon, and the gender of the victim. Not all data is available for all countries for each year.

No one will be surprised to learn that murder rates vary a great deal across different countries. Homicide is relatively unlikely in Europe where most countries have murder rates that are less than 1 per 100K people. Living in the US where the homicide rate in 2012 was 4.7 per 100K people is more dangerous. Areas where people are most likely to be murdered include sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Northern Asia.

Care must be taken when clicking on a country to note which year’s data appears in the pop up. If you click on a particular year for a country, every country you subsequently click will pop up the data for that year. If the next country doesn’t have data for the year in question, it will display data from the most recent year available and every country you click on after that will display data for this new year. This makes finding information about different countries for a particular year awkward because you will have to continuously monitor the year for the results you get and reset the infographic to the year that interests you if you click on a country that doesn’t have the data for the year you want.

south americaThe Igarapé Institute points out that the Latin American and Caribbean nations are home to approximately 8% of the world’s population and approximately 33% of the world’s murders. Clicking on one of these countries gives you the option of delving more deeply and examining murder rates for both areas and individual cities.

8% of the world’s population accounting for 33% of the world’s murders is a remarkable combination of statistics. Even more remarkable is a similar comparison made by Jill Leovy in her recent book Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. According to Leovy, black men account for 6% of the US population and a little bit less than 40% of murder victims in the US.

While Leovy’s book focuses on the murder of black men in Los Angeles she points out that the disproportionate murder victim rates she reports are similar to those seen throughout the US for the past 150 years. For example, the New York Times recently published an interactive infographic showing every murder committed in the five boroughs from 2003 to 2011. Mousing over the map gives details about the victim, the killer, the motive, and the murder weapon if known. While black males make up roughly 10% of New York City’s population, they accounted for 61% of the city’s murder victims during the time period reported by the New York Times.

nyt murder map

Every dot represents a murdered person

6% of the population and approximately 40% of the murder victims.

Think about those statistics for a minute. While the dead person is the only one who contributes to victim statistics, he or she is not the only victim. Family, friends, and loved ones all suffer.

6% of the population and approximately 40% of the murder victims.

A small segment of the population is shouldering a grossly disproportionate amount of the grief, suffering, and fear that must be endured by those left living when a loved one is murdered.

6% of the population and approximately 40% of the murder victims is an outrageous state of affairs.

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If you have wondered why so many people have taken to the streets in protest under the slogan “Black Lives Matter” this is part of the answer. It’s not the whole story but it’s a good place to start.

6% of the population and approximately 40% of the murder victims.

This has to stop.

It has to stop now.

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Streaming, Music and Money: Show Me the Money

Dollars funnel.Streaming is changing the way people listen to music while record labels, music companies, music providers, and musicians complain that they’re not getting enough money. Is there money in streaming? How much money? Who is getting it? Why is everybody complaining?

According to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) wholesale revenue in the music industry reached $4.86 billion in 2014. Streaming provided $1.87 billion or 27% of the total. Taking the percentages given in Information is Beautiful‘s “Selling Out” infographic as rough estimates, and considering only musicians who are signed to a label, the musicians received approximately 20% 0r $374 million from streaming, the music providers like Spotify and Pandora received 25% or $467.5 million, and the record labels got the remaining 55% or $1.o285 billion. Note that these numbers overestimate the amount received by the record labels and underestimate the amounts received by the music providers and musicians because they do not include the portion of the $1.87 billion that came from streaming and went to musicians who are not signed with a label.

$1.87 billion in one year is a lot of money. Why are musicians, music providers, and music companies complaining?

taylor-swift-cheer-outtakes

Taylor Swift made $608.1 million from streaming in 2014 and pulled her music from Spotify because she wanted more money.

First, let’s look at the musicians. As we saw in the first two articles in this series, neither completely independent musicians nor musicians who are signed to a label (other than megastars like Taylor Swift) are getting very much money from streaming . As shown on Selling Out, the income for each streamed song is so low that in most cases it takes hundreds of thousands, and in the case of Deezer, Spotify and YouTube over a million, streams per month to make minimum wage in the US. A significant portion of the money that does flow to musicians goes to a small number of megastars who generate a million streams or more per month leaving little for everyone else. Moreover, as pointed out in the previous article in this series, musicians who are signed to a record label and are not well established stars with a long track record often see the streaming money they generate from artist royalties go to their record company to pay back the money the label has invested in the artist.

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgbWhat about the music providers like Spotify? Streaming music to listeners has the potential to be a very lucrative business. A record label has to find, develop, support and record talent and then hope their artists succeed in the music marketplace. The music provider doesn’t have to worry about any of this and doesn’t care which artists are successful. As long as people stream music, any music, the provider makes money.

So, why are music providers unhappy? Right now we are in the early stages of music streaming. New streaming services and business models appear frequently. Competition among providers is fierce. All of the current streaming services are aware that mega corporations like Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are looking to get involved and eventually dominate the streaming business. Most of the current streaming services had to sign contracts that were very favorable to the large music companies in order to gain access to their deep catalogues of music. With close to $1 billion in revenue in 2013, Spotify operated at a loss because of the high licensing fees they paid to the music companies. No one knows what the streaming landscape will look like a year from now and anxiety among the streaming services is high.

Record-Label-Logos2

What about the record labels? Every article in this series has pointed out a basic fact about the music business – the record labels always make money and they always make more money than anyone else. Why are the labels unhappy with streaming? To see the answer you have to look into the bigger picture of revenue in the music industry.

industry revenue pie chart cleanedDigital music provided approximately 66% of music industry revenue in 2014 and 98.5% of this revenue came from downloaded and streamed music. Streaming accounted for a bit more than 41% of digital revenue and 27% of overall revenue; downloads accounted for approximately 57% of digital revenue and 37% of overall revenue. Digital music is where it’s at. No surprise there.

 

streaming growthRecord labels, the music companies that own them, and well-established musicians would much rather see their music downloaded than streamed for a very simple reason. They all make a lot more money from a downloaded song than from a song that is streamed. While the groups that make money from music prefer downloads, the people who listen to music are showing an increasing preference for streaming with the consequence that the proportion of music industry revenue that comes from streaming has grown steadily since 2009 as shown in the graph above.

digital revenue stacked bars cleanedThe increase in revenue from streaming has been accompanied by a decrease in revenue from downloads. The chart on the left shows music industry revenue from digital sources for the past three years. Revenue from streaming increased by almost 84% in just 2 years. Over that same period, revenue from downloads decreased by a little more than 10%.

 

streaming download comparisonThe chart on the right directly compares revenue from streaming with revenue from downloads. In just one year from 2013 to 2014, streaming revenue increased by just under 36%, download revenue decreased by a bit more than 7%, and the advantage of download over streaming shrunk from 100% to a little less than 38%. Streaming revenue may well surpass download revenue this year.

These graphs illustrate the heart of the problem the music industry has with streaming. With increasing frequency listeners are choosing to listen to music and pay less rather than own music and pay more.

If this situation is so bad for the record labels, why do they sign licensing agreements that allow their catalogs to be streamed to listeners? Because they are afraid more people will turn to piracy if they block streaming. Some money is better than no money at all.

Streaming is not only changing the way people listen to music, it is changing the value structure of the music business.  Where is the value? We’ll look at that question in the next article in this series.

(Full disclosure: I am a completely independent musician that makes, sells, and streams music under the name Parametric Monkey on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube and many other streaming services such as Soundcloud that are not shown on Selling Out. I’m a member of ASCAP as both the publisher and the songwriter of the songs I release as Parametric Monkey. The aggregator I use to place my music with streaming services is Tunecore.)

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Does Daredevil Have a Harder Time Keeping His Balance Because He’s Blind?

Daredevil-Episode-10_PS1

In the 10th episode of the Netflix Daredevil series Foggy asks Matt (aka Daredevil) if being blind has an effect on losing your balance when you’ve had too much to drink.  Good question. Matt answers that balance has something to do with fluids in the inner ear but he thinks he might have more problems with balance than a sighted person.  Good answer. He’s in the right ballpark but there’s a lot more to it.

How does human balance work? How does it work if, like Daredevil, you’re blind?

Standing upright without tipping over and moving without falling down seem simple but they’re not. Think about what a baby goes through when it’s learning to stand and walk. In order to maintain balance the central nervous system has to integrate three different kinds of information which indicate the position the body is in, where it is in space, and how it is moving.

Balance-motor-outputWhen Daredevil talks about fluid in the inner ear he’s talking about the vestibular system which provides information about how how the head moves and how it is positioned with respect to gravity and the rest of the body.  The vestibular system has two primary components, one for detecting rotational movement and one for detecting linear movement.

LABRYNTHThe semicircular canals detect rotational movements such as when you nod your head or turn it to look to the side.  The fluid that Daredevil talks about is in the semicircular canals. When the head rotates inertia causes the fluid in the canal to move more slowly than the membrane that surrounds it. This causes the fluid to slosh up against one side of the membrane in the same way that water in a glass will slosh up against one side of the glass if you move the glass too fast. Hair cells in the semicircular canals pick up the slower movement of the fluid and send this information to the brainstem where it is used to determine how the head has rotated.

Linear movement occurs when you move forward or backward through space. Two structures in the vestibular system, the utricle and the saccule, detect linear movement. These structures work in a way that is similar to the semicircular canals except that instead of detecting movement in a fluid, the hair cells in the utricle and the saccule detect movement in a membrane that is weighted with crystals that make the membrane sensitive to gravity.

The vestibular system provides some of the information that is needed to keep your balance but it doesn’t provide all of it.  What else is needed? Something that Daredevil doesn’t have – vision.

two eyesAn important part of keeping your balance while you are moving is being aware of objects and circumstances in the world around you that affect how you move. Vision provides this information for people who are not blind or visually impaired. For example, seeing a curb lets you know that you have to alter your walking pattern to step up onto the sidewalk and seeing ice in your path let’s you know that you have to walk differently in order to keep from slipping, losing your balance, and falling down. If you’ve ever walked down the stairs and taken the first step away after you reached the bottom only to discover that you made a mistake and there was one more step down, you know how badly balance can be disrupted when vision doesn’t supply the correct information about where you are in the world.

Vision tells you what’s going on in the world around you and the vestibular system tells you where your head is located and how it moves but this information is of little use if you don’t know where the rest of your body is. The proprioceptive system provides information from the skin, joints and muscles that tells you how the different parts of your body are positioned with respect to each other. Sensory receptors in the neck, ankles, and the soles of the feet are especially important in keeping your balance. Think about walking on dry sand at the beach. Even if your eyes were closed, receptors in the soles of your feet and ankles would let you know that you were walking on a soft and giving surface that demands adjustments in how you walk in order to keep your balance.

Keeping your balance while you move also involves making use of information you have learned about how to interact with things in the world. Take the case where you have to go up or down stairs. First you have to recognize that the thing you’re seeing in front of you is a set of stairs. The information that the visual pattern you are seeing means there are stairs ahead is accessed from the cerebral cortex in the brain. You also have to retrieve information about how to carry out the different movement sequences that are needed to walk either up or down stairs. This information is accessed from the cerebellum.

brainstemAll of this information is integrated and coordinated in the brainstem using a network of feedback loops. For example, if you are blind like Daredevil or have your eyes closed, the sensory receptors in your neck will tell you that your head is tilted forward while the gravity sensing ability of the vestibular system will tell you that you are either facing the ground because you’re standing up or facing a wall because you’re lying in bed.

The vestibulo-ocular reflex that links the visual and vestibular systems is another example. This feedback loop allows the eyes to remain focused while the head is moving and it is very important for maintaining balance among sighted people. If you spin around in a circle, you’ll usually get dizzy and lose your balance more quickly if your eyes are closed.

What about Foggy’s original question? Does Daredevil have a harder time keeping his balance because he’s blind? Is he likely to have balance problems when he’s been drinking?

If you take Daredevil’s martial arts and parkour skills at face value, it doesn’t look like he has any problems with his vestibular system. Actually, it looks like he has a super-human vestibular system. There is evidence that alcohol has negative effects on the vestibular system so you would expect Daredevil to have balance problems arising from this source when he has been drinking.

Charlie-Cox-in-Marvel-Daredevil-Netflix-TV-Series-Poster-WallpaperWhat about vision? If Daredevil has balance difficulties, this is where you would expect the root of his problem to lie. Although he is blind, Daredevil’s remaining super-human senses and his non-human radar-like sense are supposed to provide enough information about the world around him to allow him to move and keep his balance as well as or better than a sighted person. Might alcohol have a negative effect on the senses that Daredevil uses instead of vision? Probably. Alcohol depresses all activity in the nervous system which should affect all of the senses. Also, there is evidence that alcohol consumption raises auditory thresholds (makes things harder to hear) so if Daredevil is relying on hearing in place of vision to maintain balance, he should have a harder time after he’s been drinking.

What about proprioception? Given his acrobatic fighting and movement skills it looks like Daredevil has exquisite proprioception so you wouldn’t expect balance problems from this source. Once again, however, alcohol could trip him up. Alcohol consumption has a negative effect on proprioception. This negative effect is the reason why the standard sobriety test of touching your finger to the tip of your nose with your eyes closed works as well as it does. If he’s been drinking, Daredevil probably doesn’t want to be stopped by the police for a sobriety test.

So, does Daredevil have a harder time keeping his balance because he’s blind? Who knows? Daredevil is a fantasy character who does things that nobody, blind or sighted, can do. The creators who write Daredevil aren’t constrained by the limitations of the human balance system.

daredevil-canesuitBlindProfessionalPersonThe people who write Daredevil stories can make up anything they want about balance and blindness but what about real people who are blind or visually impaired? Do they have a harder time keeping their balance? Yes they do. People who are blind or visually impaired usually lose their balance more easily than people with normal vision.

If you keep this in mind, you can take care to avoid doing things like jostling a blind person that might cause them to lose their balance. This is especially important in situations that put extra stress on the balance system such as going up or down stairs or stepping over a curb onto the sidewalk. You may not be accomplishing something as grand as saving Hell’s Kitchen from Morton Fisk, but, in a small way, you will be doing the same thing Daredevil is doing – making the world a safer place for the other people in it.

 

 

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Streaming, Music and Money: Musicians Who Signed with a Record Label

Record-Label-Logos2

The first article in this series made use of an outstanding infographic from Information is Beautiful titled “Selling Out” to illustrate how little money independent musicians make from streaming their music. The situation is even worse for musicians who signed with a record label.

One thing that’s obvious immediately when you look at Selling Out is that musicians who signed with a record label make much less money from each stream or digital sale than musicians who are completely independent. The reason is simple, the labels are taking most of the money. To understand how they do this, it’s necessary to get a handle on the copyrights and royalties that are in play when a song is streamed.

copyright-your-music

There are two copyrights to consider.

1. PA (Performing Arts) copyright. This is the copyright for the musical composition itself. The PA copyright is split 50/50 between the songwriter and the music publisher. Musicians who are completely independent are often both the songwriter and the publisher of their songs so they end up with both the songwriter’s and the publisher’s portion of any revenue that is based on the PA copyright. Musicians who are signed to a label usually have assigned the publishing rights for their songs to someone else. This someone else could be their record label, a publishing house that may be a branch of the same company that owns their record label, or an independent publisher that negotiates the relationship between the musician and the label.

PA copyrights often end up in the hands of music companies because they buy the copyright for pitiful amounts from musicians who are broke, they demand the copyright as part of the deal when musicians sign with a record label the company owns, or they acquire them when big companies gobble up the smaller companies that initially got the copyright from the songwriter. For example, Warner Music claims to own the PA copyright for the song “Happy Birthday (to You)” from which they make an estimated $2 million a year.

2. SR (Sound Recording) copyright. This is the copyright for a recorded version of a song and is the source of income for most of the musicians who perform on a recording. If a band releases a concert album that includes live versions of songs they have previously recorded and released, the original version and the live version of a song will have the same PA copyright because it is the same composition and different SR copyrights because the original and live versions are two different recordings. Music companies usually hold the SR copyright.

One or both of the PA and the SR copyrights come into play whenever a song is purchased, streamed, played on the radio, or played through the sound system in a public place like a bar, a coffee shop, a store or a gym. Whenever any of these things happen, the owners of the PA and SR copyrights are supposed to collect royalties.

There are several different types of royalties. Here are three that pertain to streaming.

songwriter1. Mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are based on the PA copyright and are paid by the record label to the publisher for use of  the musical composition. The publisher splits the royalty 50/50 with the songwriter. At the time of this writing, mechanical royalties were fixed at $0.091 per song (whether streamed or on CD) for songs less than 5 minutes long. The mechanical royalty for songs over 5 minutes is $0.0175 per minute. The performer doesn’t see any of this money unless the performer is also the songwriter. Record labels can, and often do, negotiate reduced mechanical royalties with publishers as part of the contract when signing musicians to the label. It’s often the case that record labels are owned by a company that is the publisher for many of the songs that appear on the record label. When this happens one part of the music company (the label) is paying another part of the company (the publisher) half of the mechanical royalty.

beatles studio

The Beatles in the studio

2. Artist royalties. Artist royalties are based on the SR copyright and are paid by the record label to the musicians for use of their recorded performance. The rate at which artist royalties are paid is negotiated when the record label signs the musicians. Typically, any money the label invests in the musicians such as the cost of recording them, manufacturing their CDs, putting them out on tour etc., are paid back to the record label before the musicians see any money from artist royalties. Record labels strive to negotiate artist royalties at a rate that maximizes the chance that their investment in the musician will be paid back before the musician stops selling. If the label gets it just right, the musician will get little or nothing from artist royalties while the label will have all or most of its investment in the musician paid back. Songs or albums that break out and become hits can produce enough revenue from artist royalties to provide income for musicians and profits for record companies.

headphone world3. Performance royalties. Performance royalties are paid by music providers that play music for listeners. The providers could be streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, AM or FM radio stations, or businesses like bars, stores, or restaurants. Performance royalties cover both PA copyrights (the copyright for the composition) and SR copyrights (the copyright for the performance). The rate for the PA portion of the performance royalty is usually negotiated between the music provider and a performance rights organization like BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC which collects the royalty, takes a big cut, and then distributes what’s left to the publisher and songwriter who split it 50/50. The SR portion of the performance royalty is paid to the record label. The rate for the SR portion of the performance royalty is negotiated between the music provider and either individual record labels or large companies that own a number of record labels. The negotiations over the SR rate are tied to the way the song is played for the listener. For example, a streaming service like Pandora that does not allow the listener to choose the songs she will hear usually pays a lower rate than a service like Spotify that allows listeners to listen to whatever they want whenever they want. The label passes some of this money on to the musicians who performed the music at a rate that is based on the deal that was negotiated when the musicians signed with the label. Songs heard on the radio are a special case. The musicians who performed on the recording get nothing for songs played on AM or FM radio stations.

Here’s an infographic from Vox that sums all of this up along with a couple of extra wrinkles we haven’t discussed. Simple, right?

StreamingMoney.0

 

Here’s an alternate summary that focuses on where musicians get their money from streaming.

A songwriter who writes a song but does not perform on the recording gets paid from mechanical royalties. The amount of the royalty depends on the deal their publisher negotiated with the record label that signed the musicians who recorded the song. The songwriter gets whatever is left after the professional rights organizations and the publisher have taken their cuts.

A musician who performs on a recording but did not write the song gets paid from artist royalties and performance royalties. The amount of the artist royalty depends on the deal negotiated between the record label and the artist; the amount of the performance royalty depends on the deal negotiated between the record label and the streaming service. The musician usually doesn’t see any of the money generated by artist royalties until everything the label has invested in the musician has been paid back. The amount of the artist royalty paid to the musician after the record label has recouped its investment and the amount of the performance royalty passed on to the musician depend on the deal negotiated between the musician and the label.

Songwriters who perform on a recording of their own song get paid in both of these ways.

spotifyAs you can see, the money flow from a song that is streamed to the musicians who wrote and/or recorded it is complicated.  While it’s easy to get lost in the details, there are two overriding factors to keep in mind. First, most musicians aren’t making very much money from streaming their music. According to Selling Out Google Play Music is the best streaming service for musicians signed to a label because they only (!) need to stream 172,206 songs a month to make minimum wage. On Spotify they need to stream 1, 117,026 songs per month to make minimum wage and Spotify is better for the musician than either Deezer (1,260,000 streams) or YouTube (4,200,000 streams).

The second thing to remember is something that was pointed out in the first article in this series. The record labels always make money and they always make more money than anyone else. All the rigamarole detailed here about copyrights and royalties is designed to maximize profits for the music companies at the expense of the musicians and sound engineers who actually create the music we listen to.

Right now the record labels are making more money than anyone else from streaming and they are complaining about it.  How much money are they making? Why are they complaining? We’ll look at these questions in the next article in the series.

(Full disclosure: I am a completely independent musician that makes, sells, and streams music under the name Parametric Monkey on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube and many other streaming services such as Soundcloud that are not shown on Selling Out. I’m a member of ASCAP as both the publisher and the songwriter of the songs I release as Parametric Monkey. The aggregator I use to place my music with streaming services is Tunecore.)

 

 

 

 

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Streaming, Music and Money: Independent Creators

Digital-music

 

 

Who makes money from streaming music and how much money are they making?

Two things should be kept in mind when you think about trying to answer these questions. First, the money flow in the music industry in general and the streaming end of the industry in particular is complex, convoluted and often opaque. It would take a lot more than an article or two on a blog to disentangle the whole thing and by the time you had it all worked out the situation would have changed because the money flow from streaming is a work in progress.  No one knows how or when music streaming is going to settle down into a stable configuration of music providers, distributors, and payment models.

share of streaming revenue pie chartThe second thing to remember is that no matter how convoluted the streaming situation is (and it’s very convoluted) the record labels always get paid and they always get paid more than anyone else. The recording industry is now and always has been vicious and ugly. The label owners make money while the people who actually compose and perform the music (with the exception of the 1% who achieve superstar status) usually get screwed. Streaming by independent creators threatens the label’s hegemony but, at least at this point, the threat is small. The story today is the same as it ever was. The record labels always get paid and they always get paid more than anyone else.

street musicianThe completely independent creator provides the simplest case if you want to try to follow the money from digital sales and streaming. The main reason for this is that the independent music creator has no ties to a record label. Things get very complicated very quickly as soon as a record label gets involved.

Streaming has given independent creators access to a worldwide audience of music listeners and consumers. This is why the labels are threatened. Before streaming the record labels were the undisputed gatekeepers separating musicians from a wider audience. If you wanted your music to be heard outside of the venues where you performed, you either had to try to convince individual radio DJs to play your song or you had to sign a contract with a record label. That isn’t true anymore. The gatekeepers have lost control of the gate.

selling outDoes this mean that independent creators can make a living streaming their music? Not likely. Here is a brilliant infographic from Information is Beautiful that very clearly illustrates how much money musicians can make from streaming, how many streams it takes from different streaming services to make $1,260 per month which is minimum wage in the United States, the number of streams it takes from different streaming services to reach minimum wage for independent musicians and musicians who are signed to a label, and the proportions of streaming income paid to the distributors, the labels and the artists. It is an outstanding example of information visualization the way it ought to be – rich in information, easy to understand, and nice to look at. Check it out and then come back.

single track download

From the infographic it’s easy to see that independent creators take in a larger percentage of the revenue from both streaming and digital sales than musicians who have signed with a label. For example, the sale of a $0.99 single from iTunes pays $0.69 to independent creators and $0.23 to musicians signed with a label. Independent creators also have an advantage when a track is streamed rather than purchased. The magnitude of the advantage differs with different streaming services. For example, signed musicians have to stream 2.45 times as many tracks as independents in order to make minimum wage on Google Play and 13 times as many tracks as independents to make minimum wage on Deezer. Tidal, Beats Rhapsody, Spotify and YouTube require signed musicians to stream between 6 and 6.37 times as many tracks as independents to make the same amount of money.

sing for food croppedIndependent creators may make more money per stream than musicians signed with a label but it is still nearly impossible for the independent musician to make even minimum wage streaming music. For the independent musician Tidal is the best of the streaming platforms shown in the infographic although at the time of this writing it is unclear whether Tidal has any hope of succeeding. Tidal may be the best, but it isn’t very good; independents have to stream 29,302 tracks per month from Tidal to make minimum wage. Without label support this is extremely difficult to do. Still, it’s more than an order of magnitude better than YouTube where the independent has to stream a ridiculous 700,00 tracks per month to make minimum wage.

Record-Label-Logos2

If independent creators make more money per stream or digital sale, why do musicians sign contracts with record labels? That’s an easy question to answer – marketing and support. Musicians signed with a label may get a smaller proportion of the revenue from digital transactions but they have the potential for many, many more streams and sales with the record label’s marketing and promotional power behind them. The label will also support the musician  by sending them out on tour and by taking care of all of the business parts of the music business which many musicians either don’t understand or don’t want to deal with. All of this support comes at a high price, a price that is so high that record labels make a lot more money from the music than the musicians who create and perform it.

We’ll take a closer look at where the streaming money goes for musicians who are signed to a label in the next article in this series.

(Full disclosure: I am an independent musician that makes, sells, and streams music under the name Parametric Monkey on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube and many other streaming services such as Soundcloud that are not shown on the infographic.)

 

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