Nebraska, NeuLion Toss First Pitch on Integrated Baseball Video Player

By Carolyn Braff

The University of Nebraska’s video-production team has produced content for a dozen men’s and women’s varsity sports, but beginning this season, baseball video is in a league of its own. With help from streaming partner NeuLion, Nebraska is now streaming all home baseball games for the rest of the season, through an integrated player that offers stats, highlight packages, and community features, all free of charge.

The video is produced by HuskerVision, the Nebraska athletic department’s television-production group, working with a three-camera shoot. An on-site encoder connects the video stream directly to NeuLion’s content-delivery network to feed the video through the player and get it out to fans. The HuskerVision staff generally has the on-demand highlight packages cut and set to music within 24 hours after the last out.

“The nice thing the video portal does is combine several different pieces of technology,” explains Jeff Young, VP of business operations for NeuLion. “It takes into account the JumpTV Titan Content Management System [CMS], which enables the partner to run every event on their own terms, and we’re leveraging the NeuLion Flash video player itself. It’s a roll-up of different pieces, and I think it does tell a nice video story for whatever sport is being portrayed.”

For baseball, that video story includes polling, an integrated score ticker, player profile data, and live stats with an animated field view. The Titan CMS automatically takes game statistics from the scoring software in use at the facility and integrates those numbers into the media player. The HuskerVision portal also offers archive highlights of all games, access to past television-game video, and live game radio and video in a single view.

Nebraska’s video service is currently ad-supported, with banners and video pre-roll already loaded into it. Other areas within the player are available for sponsorship, including the live stats box, so revenue opportunities abound for the free service.

NeuLion has put together similar streaming players for professional-level clients — including the Indy Car Series, National Hockey League, and Professional Bull Riding Tour — but outfitting a university athletic department with the same service comes with a host of challenges.

“When you’re talking about the college market, there tends to be a lot of demands placed on limited resources,” Young explains. “They’ve got to make a priority within the athletic department that video is important to them, important to their fans and to their alumni. It doesn’t take a whole lot to get a good-looking video stream up on the Web; you just need a little commitment.”

More and more, Young says, schools are making that commitment to quality video production, with the help of willing students and graduate assistants hoping to gain some work experience by learning the production process.

“If you can find someone to organize the different pieces, make sure there are tasks and schedules in place,” Young explains, “it’s easy to leverage that human power into a quality production.”

NeuLion makes that process easier by not requiring a minimum bandwidth for the streaming production to be successful.

“Obviously, we like to see the best-quality video possible, and different facilities at every campus have their own unique challenges there,” Young explains. “We work closely with the universities and their campus IT folks or local ISPs to make sure they’ve got the best possible uplink coming out of the facility.”

NeuLion shoots for a minimum 800-kbps stream, using a profile in Windows Media Encoder, but some schools go higher or lower than that, depending on the infrastructure and facilities available.

NeuLion, which merged with JumpTV in October 2008, operates Websites for a number of college athletic departments and athletic conferences, and Young expects to roll out several more similar game-centered video applications in the coming months.

“We also have a new video player that’s more focused on on-demand content and organizing the different university assets into channels,” Young explains. “We take a look at each of our partners and see what’s important to them, what’s important to their fan base, and give them a solution that will work the best.”

The University of Nebraska’s HuskerVision baseball portal is currently live at www.huskers.com.