TV4U.com Expands Free Channel With Classic College Basketball, Football Games

By
Carolyn Braff
Tom Ficara has been buying the rights to televised sporting
events since 1970, and, luckily for classic-sports fans worldwide, he is
sharing his library — for free. Ficara’s latest haul of college football and
basketball broadcasts are now available through TV4U.com,
an Internet video-on-demand service, including classic bowl games, NCAA tournament
basketball match-ups, and dozens of regular-season games featuring the nation’s
top schools over the past 50 years.
Almost 40 years ago, Ficara began purchasing rights
to previously televised sports programming for a cable system owned by the
Cleveland Browns.
“Nobody would give anyone in cable any programming
at the time, but they were throwing sports away,” says Ficara, now president of
Margate Entertainment. “No one felt there was a value for sports after they
initially ran, so they were more than happy to sell me the shows worldwide, in
perpetuity.”
So Ficara bought the rights — and eventually the
networks themselves — to games from the Mizlou Television Network, TVS
Television Network, Katz Sports network, Sports Network Inc., and C D Chesley
sports libraries, among others. His sports library now includes nearly 4,000
titles, and he continues adding to his collection through estate sales and
bankruptcies.
“People love the stuff,” Ficara says. “They never
get tired of this programming.”
Internet traffic concurs. TV4U’s Alexa.com ranking
has shot up with the additions in classic-sports programming, and a private
network embedded in 16 million HP computers draws as many fans to the sports content
as the Website.
“It’s really pretty simple,” Ficara says.
“Everybody goes into bars and their dens and talks about great games. Now they
can actually call it back up and see it.”
Just how well they can see it is a different
question: when it comes to quality control, many of these classic games leave
something to be desired.
“These games are what they are,” Ficara explains.
“We made a decision to even put up games that are not complete. We didn’t do
that at first, but we find people aren’t watching for the win so much as to
hear the names, see the graphics and announcers. It’s really turned into a
cultural thing.”
Some of those names include a young Keith Jackson
calling the 1956 Washington vs. Colorado basketball game, which the American Television Academy
considers the oldest
surviving college-basketball telecast, and
Lewis Alcindor (a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the 1968 Houston vs. UCLA “Game
of the Century.”
The old game tapes are digitized by Margate
Entertainment’s IT department, and, although the digitizing process cleans up
the footage quite a bit, poor storage and old age wear on much of the content.
All of the games on TV4U.com are available as free
on-demand streams, supported by proprietary servers and Web-hosting partner HostMySite.com.
The games had previously been available for download through Brightcove
Internet TV, but since Brightcove stopped offering the service, Ficara is working
on TV4Me.com, a site where the games will be available for download at a cost
of $1-$2.
“We were doing a knockout business on the
downloads,” Ficara says. “We are basically setting our own system up now so
people can still get these games. We want people to collect these things and
think kindly of us because we’re always putting more stuff on. We’ll keep the
cost low, probably $1.”
The TV4U site is not fancy — it has been criticized
for looking very ’70s — but, for Ficara, that’s the idea.
“Everything that we’re doing is aimed at 40-plus,” he
explains. “Not that we ignore people under 40, but we get that we have an older
audience who is not as technically savvy. If you watch us, we look almost
remedial. We’re not trying to be the leader in bells and whistles, but we are
trying to be the leader in getting people to watch pretty cool programming.”
Perhaps despite his best efforts, the college set
is catching on, lured by the ability to watch — on their own schedule — players
that they have heard of but never seen in complete game action.
Margate Entertainment is also launching several
streaming sports channels, the first of which has just gone live, TVSBoxing.net.
“That’s 24 hours of streaming boxing content,”
Ficara explains. “We’ll soon have football, basketball, and billiards channels.
We really are responding to the niche. It’s not must-see TV; it’s
I-really-want-to-see TV, and we get that, so we try to keep it advertising-supported
and as easy to watch as possible.”