Turner Taps Digitalsmiths To Power March Madness Video Hub

The 2011 NCAA Tournament has been chock-full of replay-worthy moments. Thanks to a new partnership this year with Digitalsmiths, Turner Sports — through the NCAA Digital portal — is able to offer those moments as searchable highlights just minutes after they take place. Digitalsmiths’ metadata-management platform tags key plays within the live stream, enabling fans to search for and watch top plays, dunks, three-pointers, and virtually any other search term fans can conceive.

The Experimental Phase
For the past two years, Turner Sports has been experimenting with tagging proxy files with metadata and posting those files to its content-distribution network (CDN). Turner originally worked with a company called Gotuit, which Digitalsmiths acquired last November. Beginning with its Inside the NBA show, Turner created an interface that allowed users to go to a show page where they could select clips that had been metadata-tagged by a logger.

“We felt that, by meta-tagging those proxy files, we had the ability to create more volumes of content, which would create more relevance to more users,” explains Peter Scott, VP of emerging media for Turner Sports. “We created an incredible amount of rich video that we couldn’t do with our own editors. We use our editors to do the craft editing, with music and graphics. In the sense of getting the user something quickly, Inside the NBA was a great test bed for that.”

Turner moved on to further tests with PGA Golf and NASCAR content, logging events with metadata information that allowed fans to watch clips alongside a live golf leaderboard, for example, to see how a golfer got a certain birdie or bogey.

“That raised usage for the PGA Championship about 400%,” says Scott. “This was the wonderful lightbulb that went off in our head that this is something we should investigate for our other sites.”

Metadata Madness
When it came time to plan for the NCAA Tournament, NCAA.com seemed a perfect place to roll out the clip aggregation and search capabilities of the Digitalsmiths platform. The March Madness Video Hub that Turner created, using the Digitalsmiths metadata-management platform, aggregates highlights from across the tournament, allowing fans to customize their viewing experience. Turner defined a range of highlight channels for fans to choose from, including impressive moments, game previews and recaps, dunks, three-pointers, layups, blocks and steals, press conferences, and highlights by game, team, and player.

“We’re able to create a URL of all of a single player’s highlights through the tournament, send that link throughout the Internet, and drive people to that Video Hub page,” Scott says. “Once they get there, time spent on that video page increases, because now you’ve presented it in a way that they can digest and understand it. It has become a very good organizational tool.”

For Speed and Accuracy, Humans Are Best
The process of tagging the live feeds is not automated but taken on by Digitalsmiths’ in-house basketball fans, who are best equipped to determine when a three-point play begins and ends. Before the tournament began, Turner Sports worked with Digitalsmiths to define the metadata-tag schema that would quickly allow a logger to identify the action in the fast-paced game of basketball.

“The core of Digitalsmiths is built around three kinds of data,” explains Ben Weinberger, CEO and co-founder of Digitalsmiths. “We can create data through automated capabilities, like facial and scene analysis; through human data authoring, somebody watching the game and inputting data; and through third-party data feeds and sources. In the case of March Madness, it’s happening live, and you need to do it very quickly and accurately. We feel using humans is one of the best ways to do that.”

Using Digitalsmiths’ user interface, a logger watches each game. On the Akami HD files on the Turner Sports CDN, the logger quickly marks key segments, such as three-pointers, dunks, and steals, as well as other relevant information: player name, start and stop time of the highlight, defender’s name, etc.

“That information goes into our database and can be exported to the data feed, which is picked up by the NCAA, Turner Sports, and Sports Illustrated,” Weinberger says. “The Digitalsmiths platform at its core connects the consumer to the content through the use of very personalized, very deep metadata. Sports is a great application for that because it can be so customized.”

For Digitalsmiths, the biggest difference in working on PGA and NASCAR versus March Madness is the sheer amount of content around which the company needed to wrap its platform.

“You’re dealing with multiple simultaneous games, and we were getting all those feeds at the same time,” Weinberger points out. “NASCAR is at most one race per week, so being able to handle the scale of not just what’s coming in but the amount of people looking at it, accessing the data, asking to do searches is a challenge.”

Sales of Highlights
Turner Sports is also experimenting with using the same metadata against a mobile-proxy file, so that a single source of metadata can be used to power multiple products on multiple devices. The metadata is also crucial for advertisers, which can assign sponsorships to particular moments or plays, as Coke Zero is doing with the “impressive moments” clips, History Channel for the dunks, and SAP for the game recaps.

“If you can help monetize not just the current content but the library of content,” says Weinberger, “it becomes very powerful to display that for viewers, fans, and whoever wants to get to that content.”

Which Roads Lead to the Video Hub
The March Madness Video Hub lives on NCAA.com and SI.com and cannot be accessed through the March Madness On Demand live-streaming application.

“We’ve kept those as two separate experiences,” Scott explains. “We have to strategically figure out where to put these video links that will be touchpoints for viewers to consume. One of the things we’re thinking about is the video box score, because that’s a logical place to put a video icon next to every player. The metadata has done the work for you, so it’s not like I need 10 editors to cut 10 separate highlights for every point scored by Kobe Bryant.”

To date, Turner has been getting word out about the Video Hub through marketing tune-in messages, on Twitter, and over Facebook, but the site has seen far more usage than anyone expected.

“The biggest eye opener is how much this portal has gotten used,” Weinberger says. “It has exceeded everybody’s expectations in almost every category: the number of clips that people can watch, number of users, number of repeats. There was no metric to go against, but it’s gotten far greater usage than we thought.”

A Big Step Towards Organization
With a seemingly endless amount of content on the Internet, Scott believes that publishers need to do a better job of organizing and metadata-tagging that content in a way that users can access it.

“I think YouTube is the leader in this because they took the initiative to tag all of their content,” he says. “There has to be a way where we as publishers can organize and make video on the Internet available to users when they want it but in a way that we’ve done a lot of the work for them. These are wonderful pioneer times in trying to experiment with what works best in getting multiple touchpoints to the audience.”

Turner Sports’ version of those touch points is now available at www.ncaa.com/menshighlights.