NeuLion Leads UFC Into World of Broadband

In a move targeting mixed martial arts’ ultra-passionate fan base, promoter UFC has unveiled a highly interactive streaming service for live pay-per-view events. The NeuLion-designed PPV service, which debuted with UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort on Feb. 5, allows fans to watch fights live online at www.ufc.tv.

Viewers can see the fight from six camera positions: four around the octagon, one overhead, or the broadcast feed. NeuLion receives all six camera feeds individually, meaning that each feed must be synched perfectly with the others. Users can view these angles individually in full-screen mode or view multiple angles at once via picture-in-picture or quad view.

“It sounds simple, but we actually have to synchronize all those cameras,” says Chris Wagner, VP/co-founder of NeuLion. “You’ve got a separate encode feed for all six cameras, and those all have to be synchronized into the player. You can’t have any latencies in the encoding, or else all those different camera angles won’t look right during the fight.”

The video player also includes full DVR and instant-replay functionality. NeuLion cuts live highlights throughout the bout, allowing viewers to click on bookmarks along the video timeline to view key moments during the fights, including takedowns, injuries, or a flurry of punches.

“Our people in our live-editing facility in [Plainview, NY] will take every UFC fight and cut highlights as the fight progresses,” says Wagner. “The highlights actually pop up on the timeline immediately so you can click on the icon and watch that highlight. You then just hit the Live button to go back to the live action.”

The UFC.tv service streams adaptively, adjusting to the user’s connection and capabilities, but can deliver HD-quality video at up to 3 Mbps under ideal conditions. According to Wagner, UFC 126 averaged about 2 Mbps.

NeuLion must also synch up a total of four audio feeds with the video feeds: the English broadcast, the Spanish broadcast, and real-time audio from each fighter’s corner. Viewers can select the audio feed from a pull-down menu within the video player and switch back and forth throughout the fight.

“You could listen to all the instructions coming from Anderson Silva’s Portuguese coach in the blue corner,” says Wagner. “Or, if a guy is really getting his butt kicked, you can listen in to what his coach is saying to him during the fight.”

UFC.tv also includes several social-media–focused widgets (including Twitter and Facebook integration) as well as live-chat and live-scoring widgets that allow fans to discuss and score each round. These fan scorecards are aggregated with submissions from other viewers and compared with the judges’ scores within the player.

“The live scoring gives you a sentiment meter of how the fight is going,” says Wagner. “It’s a different perspective than you would get just from the judges.”

The broadband PPV price corresponds to the broadcast PPV price, eliminating any concerns over the cannibalization of television revenue.

Currently, UFC.tv is available only for computer browsers, but the service will soon be extended to Internet-connected TVs from Samsung and other manufacturers.

“The strategy with UFC.tv is to make it available on all the connected devices, tablets, and browsers,” says Wagner. “So, if a fan wants a 10-ft. experience and has an Internet-connected TV, they would be able to log in and authenticate their PPV ticket. In addition, we’re very quickly moving to Android, iPhone, and other mobile devices.”

In addition to the live offering, the UFC Fight Library (not originally built by NeuLion) contains dozens of full-fight replays, highlights, and fighter profiles. Wagner says this VOD service is now under NeuLion’s platform and will be revamped in the near future.