For Swim Championships, HLN Cues Up Live-Blog Coverage

By Carolyn Braff

Collegiate swimming and diving meets are generally all-day affairs that can be a tough follow for fans who cannot make it to the arena. For this year’s Horizon League Swimming and Diving Championships, the Horizon League Network (HLN) is making the event friendlier for out-of-market fans by covering the four days of competition with a live blog supplemented by on-demand video of each race.

“We tried live video coverage last year, and we had some success,” says Nate Flannery, director of new media and technology for the Horizon League. “What we figured out is, it’s extremely hard to cover the entire event because of how long it is and the time between races. To make it a little bit easier on our announcers and crew, we went to the on-demand model.”

Launched in October 2006, HLN is a video-streaming platform that provides free live and on-demand coverage of all 10 Horizon League member schools’ athletic programs. HLN’s own Website, horizonleaguenetwork.tv, will feature on-demand video of every race at the conclusion of each day’s competition, allowing not just fans but coaches and student-athletes alike to go back and view — or critique — a specific race without having to watch an entire night’s worth of competition.

“I’ve heard from divers that they are really happy because they can go back and see the dive that they did the day before, make changes, and do things differently for their second dive later in the competition,” Flannery says.

For non-participants interested in following the action, HLN is providing a live blog, taking the event coverage in a whole new direction. HLN reporter Damon Lewis will be running a poolside live blog throughout the competition, hosted at hlswimdive.blogspot.com. He will not only include his own comments but answer fan questions, provide trivia, and add his own video commentary as well.

“We’ve armed Damon with a flip video camera,” Flannery explains. “It’s a very small USB-compatible camera that is about the size of a cellphone, so he will go down onto the deck and shoot interviews with the coaches and student-athletes during the event. Those will be placed alongside the live commentary on the blog.”

Using a Cover It Live Web platform, the swim-championships blog sits on top of HLN’s existing blogspot.com blog, allowing Lewis to plug in his interviews, conduct fan surveys, and receive user-submitted questions without having to build his own Web interface. He has plenty of experience running the system, having blogged some of the league’s bigger matchups in men’s basketball throughout the season.

“Since the Horizon League Network can’t Webcast some of our games shown on ESPN, we chose to live-blog some of those events around the ESPN experience,” Flannery says. “That allowed HLN to still have a presence at each men’s basketball game. We experienced a lot of success doing that, where people can watch the ESPN game on their television and interact with Damon on their computer, asking questions about the crowd, what goes on during TV timeouts, things like that, which give that second-screen experience everybody’s looking for right now.”

That second-screen experience will be especially helpful for the swimming championships, a four-day-long event, and Flannery is hoping to use the blog to build more of a championship atmosphere than would be possible using after-the-fact video alone.

“The parents can go online and see how their kids are doing, and administrators can see results as they stand right now, rather than waiting until 10 or 11 at night to get that information,” Flannery says. “The blog allows the fans to really take part in the event.”

Although HLN has some experience with live blogging, this is the first time the technique will be used for a championship event, and it is still very much a work in progress.

“This is really a trial for us,” Flannery says. “We’re taking our coverage down a little bit of a different route. For some of these events where live coverage doesn’t make the most sense, we’re looking to see how our numbers compare to last year, and then we’ll move forward with one approach in mind.”