Colleges, Universities Debate Proper Streaming Business Model

By Carolyn Braff
As streaming digital content has become
easier and cheaper, collegiate athletic departments are tending toward
the extreme, streaming everything it is possible to stream, starting
right now. With most of the nation’s top athletics programs aligned
with streaming partners like CBS College Sports or JumpTV, colleges
are tempted to provide as much streaming content as possible, but finding
where in the business model that streaming content belongs is not quite
so simple.
“We’re business partners with our schools, so we work with each
of our schools on an individual basis to look at their overall goals,
not just for streaming but for all of the different aspects of the business,”
explains Tom Buffolano, GM and VP of digital programming and subscription
for CBS College Sports Network. “We try to figure out what kind of
business model their product needs to fall under, and we’re finding
that there’s room for both free content and also paid content in the
All-Access product.”
For schools that produce their websites
internally, that debate between offering content for free, supported
by advertising, or for the cost of a subscription rages on, and is further
complicated by the restrictions written into broadcast television contracts.
“Because the technology is still
fairly new, a lot of schools are still trying to determine who they
are,” explains John Antonik, director of new media at West Virginia
University. The Big East Conference’s television contract with ESPN
for football and men’s basketball restricts the conference schools’
ability to stream content for those two sports, so West Virginia has
streamed select home events for soccer, women’s basketball, gymnastics
and wrestling through a CBS College Sports-hosted subscription service.
The school’s agreement with CBS is now up for renewal, and Antonik,
along with the deputy director of athletics and the marketing department,
is weighing his options.
“We weren’t sure we were getting
enough exposure for certain sports within a subscription model,” Antonik
explains. “After having some meetings, we felt the best option for
us would be to have a subscription model for football and basketball,
make on demand video free and have all of our other varsity events go
to a free model. That’s what we’re leaning towards right now.”
The Mountaineers TV-branded service
will still be run by a third party, and while Antonik does not anticipate
selling advertising from the outset, the University is still determining
what model is their best fit.
For every athletic department, streaming
is one piece of a much larger revenue generation puzzle, and content
providers like CBS College Sports help their partner schools sort through
those pieces to find an appropriate business model to meet their needs.
Among its partner schools, CBS College is turning away from the full-pay
models, as all partner schools now offer, at a minimum, a selection
of free content in the form of short features or 30-second teasers of
longer features.
“We want to be able to give schools
the leeway to promote the best of their athletic departments while understanding
that if you went to a completely free model, the costs of streaming,
especially the bandwidth costs, would increase depending upon the amount
of traffic you get,” Buffolano explains. “Once we get the school
to answer what their top priority is with streaming content, then
it becomes easier to determine whether they can have a free model, or
if we need to create a hybrid model.”
With priorities in place, the schools
can appraise the value of their digital content and leverage that into
cross-promotional opportunities.

“We’ve created a value behind streaming
content that can be used to leverage other revenue-generating activities
within the athletic department, while at the same time understanding
that there needs to be free content out there so that you’re still
reaching your fan base,” Buffolano explains.
In addition to cross-promoting within
the athletic department, some schools are looking outside of their university
gates to expand the revenue their digital content can generate.
“We have an iTunes page, as well,”
says Mike Bilbow, video production manager at the University of Tulsa.
Tulsa, a member of Conference USA and streaming partner of CBS College
Sports, streams every home event for men’s and women’s basketball,
soccer, tennis, softball and volleyball.
Bilbow also has an arrangement with
local TV stations in the Tulsa area to send them video highlights over
ftp. After every football game, both home and away, Bilbow sends short
clips to the stations for use on the nightly news.
Notre Dame, another CBS College Sports
partner, has an exclusive broadcast agreement with NBC Sports for its
football coverage, but Alan Wasielewski, director of digital media for
Notre Dame Sports Properties, takes advantage of the opportunities his
Olympic sports provide for additional revenue. He also has access to
football content he produces outside of Notre Dame Stadium, including
feature stories, press conferences and player interviews, and is able
to push it out to third-party partners.
“We have an agreement with Comcast
to send most of our videos to them on demand,” Wasielweski explains.
“Most of what we do is pushed to our on-demand channel on Comcast
digital cable, so you can turn it on and see 60 percent of what we do.”
Wasielewski says the exposure is great,
but the partnership requires some extra legwork on his end. For every
clip Comcast receives, Wasielewski must write a metadata file to describe
it and convert the files into MPEG-4 format for the transfer.
As more athletic departments grow their
arsenal of digital content, finding a comfortable business model for
that digital archive will continue to be a priority for all of the nation’s
athletic departments.