NHL, MLBAM Reboots Hockey League’s Digital Portfolio

Rebranded NHL.TV offers out-of-market live streaming at 60 fps

This weekend, the NHL and Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) will roll out a new suite of digital platforms for the hockey league, including a Website, mobile application, and rebranded live out-of-market streaming service.

Among the highlights unveiled during a media event at Madison Square Garden on Monday night were a cleaner, more mobile-friendly version of the NHL’s Website, an app that offers a new subscription package called NHL Premium (where fans can watch the last five minutes of any out-of-market game for just $2.99/month), and the rebranding of the league’s out-of-market live-streaming service (previously NHL GameCenter LIVE) to NHL.TV, which will include streaming at 60 frames per second (where available).

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The NHL’s new digital platform includes a more mobile-friendly Website.

“These platforms are going to give us the ability to provide more and more content to hockey fans, and it’s also going to make it more user-friendly,” says NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “We couldn’t be more excited, and, perhaps more importantly, we couldn’t be more excited about the start that this relationship has gotten off to.”

These products are all the work of a partnership that is only five months old, and it’s a bold move to unveil them midseason. Back in August, the NHL and MLB announced a six-year agreement under which MLBAM took over the NHL’s digital operation, giving the tech powerhouse the controls to completely redevelop the league’s digital offerings.

“Transitions are tough, no matter when you do them,” said MLBAM CEO/President Bob Bowman. “Doing them midseason is a high-wire act. It takes a lot of cooperation and a lot of faith.”

NHL.TV Offers Robust Live-Streaming Platform
In perhaps its biggest video change, the league says goodbye to its GameCenter LIVE streaming service and takes a page from MLBAM’s portfolio, introducing NHL.TV, which will debut on Feb. 1.

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New NHL.TV’s interactive timeline highlights scoring plays and provides DVR-like control.

In addition to the big jump from 30 fps to 60 fps, NHL.TV offers more team-customization tools, six-camera mosaic layouts, unique alternate angles, and an interactive timeline that highlights scoring plays for easy DVR-like control.

Bowman noted that it took an investment on the backend to boost streaming quality to 60 fps but added that it was worth it to give fans the quality they need, especially for users who typically throw a stream from their device onto their home television.

“It’s got to compete against HDTV, and we don’t want to see a degradation,” he said. “It is more expensive. The throughput is more expensive. The hardware is more expensive. But it’s what fans expect. In other games, you might be able to get away with it but not in this game: the puck moves fast, and it moves often.”

Mobile App Spotlights Video, Leverages iOS 9 Multitasking Infrastructure
Although the new NHL app looks great on phones, makes video highlights easy to find in game menus, and offers the NHL Premium subscription package, it really shines on tablet devices.

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With iOS 9, a tablet user can keep a streamed game in a window while using other apps.

Matt Restivo, who serves as senior director, product development, for MLBAM, having moved over from the NHL following the summer’s announcement, and Chad Evans, SVP, mobile product development, MLBAM, raved about the tablet’s role as a video-playing tour de force. They cited the quality of live-streaming video and the opportunities presented by the new multitasking feature available on iPads with the iOS 9 operating system.

Now users can split their tablet screen into multiple applications and can even exit the NHL app and keep a small window of a streamed game on their screen as they use other applications.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure your app plays nicely,” says Evans. “If you are running someone else’s app and it’s taking up all of your memory and then you try to load a video, apps will start crashing. It’s important that we be a good citizen in the ecosystem. Apps on tablets never really had to worry about that, because multitasking wasn’t possible. You knew that, if someone was using your app, that’s all the user was doing. So that makes you rethink everything.”