IP Delivery Puts Niche Sports Front and Center

Colleges and university athletic departments and conferences continue to innovate when it comes to using the Internet and mobile devices as a content-delivery platform. And even if there is an existing TV- or Internet-delivery partnership with a regional or national entity, there is plenty of content that can still be delivered.

“Where the TV rights end, there is an opportunity [for schools and conferences] to take events and content remaining and get exposure at a price point they can afford,” said Kelly Carney, associate commissioner for Conference USA, at a panel session focused on content delivery using IP at the SVG College Sports Video Summit in Atlanta this week.

Conference USA streams more than 1,300 events a year, with three student production teams using a Newtek Tricaster to produce events.

“Olympic sports, baseball, and softball all want more exposure but don’t have the budgets for full-on TV events,” she added. “So we use the Tricaster and then IP-based transmission.”

Jason Yellin, associate athletic director for media relations at the University of Massachusetts, offered a slightly different perspective on the use of IP. At UMass, IP technologies are used to transmit football, basketball, ice hockey, and other sports from the university to CBS affiliate WSHM Springfield, MA.

The games are produced with a Tricaster and a mix of university staff and students, and the TV station receives the IP signal and then delivers it to viewers on a secondary digital over-the-air channel.

Such use of over-the-air channels is commonly known as multicasting. In this scenario, the TV station uses compression technology to shrink the size of its main HD signal so that it can provide additional SD channels, which offer a mix of news, weather, sports, and arts programming.

“These channels are out there [for other schools], and it is something they should look into,” said Yellin. “The digital station covers half of Massachusetts with news and weather, but they needed new programming.”

He noted that, if the school is willing to do the production work, local stations are more than willing to air the content.

“We don’t need a satellite truck, and this is a sign of the future,” he added.  The university also sends highlights out to NESN and other TV stations as well as to Websites.

About 95 sports events have aired on WSHM’s digital channel, with another 50-60 available only over the Internet. But all the games were produced for a total budget of $40,000.

“That’s only a few hundred bucks a game,” said Yellin, pointing out that “some sports broadcasts can cost $40,000 for one game on TV.”

While the broadcasts don’t drive much in the way of revenue, they do work as a promotional tool for UMass and a recruiting tool for the athletic department. Halftime and break segments highlight the academic or music side of the university, and potential student-athletes respond positively to the opportunity to have field hockey or swim meets on TV.

“When they see the CBS logo on the screen and their event on TV,” Yellin said, “it speaks volumes, and we spend very little money to do it.”

While the students and production teams take advantage of lower-cost production tools, advances on the IP-based signal-distribution side are improving the quality of productions.

VidyoCast GM Jim O’Brien explained that the use of scalable MPEG-4 H.264 video encoding makes it easier than ever to deliver HD-quality video across the Internet.

“It’s a great breakthrough,” he said, adding, “We’ve developed our whole platform around it.”

Israel Dori, founder/CEO of Zixo, a streaming-services provider that relies on H.264, noted that the key to successful use of the streaming format is to intelligently reroute video and audio data packets to overcome any errors or jitters: “If it is done right, you can deliver a signal over a satellite truck and over the public Internet and not tell the difference.”

The Ohio News Network, for example, has been using the Zixo system as a replacement for satellite delivery and is saving $500,000 a year.

“Thomson Reuters is also using the system globally,” Dori said, adding, “The advantage is not only savings but the flexibility to use it from every point in the world.”

Brett Sowell, VP for internet property at IMG College, observed that the real challenge is not how to produce and deliver content but rather to find the right mix of content. And that requires a constant dialogue between the athletic department, the university, and the production team.

“The production costs are going down, but some questions have to be answered at the university level,” he explained. “Are we prepared for how fast the technology is moving?”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the College Sports Video Summit.