XOS Digital’s Deals with Sun Belt, Southland Aim to Increase Conference Footprints

As another college sports season gets under way, fans of even those schools not in the traditional “Big 6” conferences will be able to enjoy more of their favorite sports than ever. One of the driving forces behind this influx of content is XOS Digital, which this summer launched a pair of digital networks with the Sun Belt and Southland Conferences.

The Southland Conference’s new website offers the opportunity to stream high-quality video on its servers with minimal buffering issues.

More and more college sports entities are realizing the value of their digital rights and fans are reaping the benefit of more available content and schools and advertisers are cashing in on the opportunity for vastly increased exposure.

“The idea was that there is a lot of content here that lives in somewhat of a small area and we wanted to expand that area to be bigger than ever,” says Barry Loudis, VP, Digital Sports Networks at XOS Digital. “We feel there is value in that and it puts more of their brand and more of their content out there on more platforms.”

One of the major advantages of working with a “non-FBS” conference is that there is a greater availability of live event rights. For Loudis, that makes a digital network all the more valuable.

“Live content is the crown jewel of all of this content,” he says. “There’s more live content available for broader distribution at the ‘mid-major’ and, perceived to be, smaller conferences. With all of the deals major conferences have with all of the big networks it actually opens up a sizeable inventory at all of these mid-majors.”

Live content will be a major piece of the puzzle for the Sun Belt, which already streamed many of its championships in the past. Now XOS Digital will help them broadcast more live event content and will also produce original programming, including a weekly football preview show, Countdown to Kickoff.

“I think the big thing for us is that we’re able to offer it for free,” says Travis Llewellyn, Assistant Commissioner, Electronic Media at the Sun Belt Conference. “There’s multiple models out there when you look at live streaming of content and we’re really excited about a free model to give to our fans that enables us exposure to new people.”

For the Southland, its live event offering will remain relatively the same as last season (championships and regional TV games), but a major focus has been put on the conference’s improved website and its multi-platform, on-demand programming. XOS will make the Southland mobile application available everywhere from mobile devices to Internet-enabled TVs.

“When I arrived [in 2011], I immediately started working on video projects the league otherwise wasn’t able to do, but the limitations of our old site made a lot of that work not pay off,” says Chris Mycoskie, Assistant Commissioner for Television and Electronic Media at the Southland Conference.The digital network, more than anything else, allows all of our videos to go out at high-quality, limited buffering, and makes it easier to access for our fans. We obviously don’t have the resources and the man-power that a “Big 6” conference may have but with what we do have this will allow everything to be at a much higher level.”

Mycoskie did add that he could foresee a future where, if the digital network succeeds, that the Southland would look to take its digital rights in-house [they are currently the property of the member schools] and produce more live programming. He also met with his school’s sports information directors prior to football media day this summer to establish a workflow that will allow the conference to get the most out of its digital platform.

“Really everything they create video-wise, I’m going to want a copy of that on our FTP,” he says. “We won’t necessarily use all of it, but we want a ton of stuff to pick through and we want to be able to show our best stuff on our conference site. It’s just another avenue for our schools to get their message out.”

A key cog in the system for both conferences is XOS Digital’s Media Xchange platform, a media delivery service which allows local news outlets access to  downloadable content and data from the conference. Media Xchange will allow for both the Sun Belt and Southland to increase its footprint by making it easier for local sports shows to air their highlights during nightly newscasts.

Video sharing through XOS Digital’s technology also offers a major improvement to internal conference workflows. For the Sun Belt, specifically, schools and the conference can share video amongst each other over FTP for everything from scouting to referee education.

“Transferring content from school to school within a conference is a huge leap forward,” says Loudis. “It’s no longer a matter of somebody mailing a tape or a DVD. This goes down the line from big conferences and small conferences alike. We have platforms in place that allow a Georgia to trade tape with a South Carolina. Even a Louisiana-Monroe can trade with a Troy. Those guys can trade film to help each other with their Coach’s Shows. On a conference level, those individual schools are also able to participate in conference activities within internal sharing of video and they are able to get a lot more of it out there.”

For the Sun Belt, this was more than just a video deal. Through its “Integrated Sponsor Activation Platform,” XOS is now the conference’s digital rights holder and will assist the conference with its advertising and sponsorship inventory, as well as other brand-boosting initiatives. Sponsors will be seamlessly worked into the Sun Belt’s digital network offerings as well as through any television and radio packages the conference and its schools may currently hold. The Sun Belt had previously worked with IMG College.

“To have everything all under one umbrella is a very unique model,” says Llewellyn, “and we’re really excited about the opportunity.”

So while some big dogs like Pac-12 Enterprises and Longhorn Network grab the headlines, are digital networks the way most collegiate conferences will go when it comes to distributing its live rights?

“You never want to say that this is the only way,” says Llewellyn, “but technology is changing every day and I think you always have to examine what’s happening. This is terrific what we are able to do for our membership in growing the league.”

“I think there is a distinct possibility that every conference will – and I think every conference should – have a program in place like this,” says Loudis. “For any conference, there’s no reason not to have a digital network. You’ve got content and you will continue to have more content that should be out there to more folks. Without the stresses of the traditional television agreement, the digital network is really the way to go.”