Battle for College Sports Fans
ESPNU, CSTV deploy a variety of media platforms
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/13/2005 7:00:00 PM
Two digital cable networks, ESPNU and College Sports Television (CSTV), are battling for college sports fans. The key to victory may be a multimedia strategy. “The old-media-company approach to a TV network is: We tell the viewer what we want them to watch and when,” says CSTV President/CEO Brian Bedol. “ESPN found a lot of success with that model. The new-media approach makes a transition from TV as mass media to personalized programming. Our focus is to give fans what they want when they want it.”
With 1,000 universities and more than 150,000 college sporting events each year, Bedol says, viewers have specific interests: “A Princeton lacrosse fan isn't going to watch Ohio State football as a good substitute.”
The two-year-old CSTV is available in more than 20 million homes, although many have access only through a digital pay tier of sports networks. Bedol is targeting both students and alumni to increase market share. To expand its reach, this week, CSTV gets its biggest Internet showcase yet: The NCAA men's basketball tournament tips off March 17.
College hoop fans who crave out-of-market games can pay $19.95 to watch them over the Internet. CSTV will also have special offers with Comcast, Charter, AOL and Roadrunner to knock $5 off the price for broadband subscribers.
The streaming video available during March Madness is a small sliver of CSTV offerings during the year. CSTV streams audio and/or video for more than 5,000 events each year, from volleyball to football, charging $6.95 per month or $49.95 a year.
Game Tracker Live, an Internet tool that delivers real-time statistical updates, is available for an additional 13,000 live events. All those events beef up the channel's bottom line: “The online-ad business is fantastic right now,” says Bedol. He won't reveal specifics, but online ads and subscription fees account for more than half of CSTV's total revenues. Kagan Media estimates companywide revenues at $23.7 million in 2004.
Adi Kishore, Yankee Group media and entertainment-strategies analyst, says a broadband component is more important for CSTV and ESPNU than for other networks. “Broadband video viewing is driven by news and sports and bite-sized content,” he explains. “Colleges are now wired for broadband.”
But CSTV doesn't have a monopoly.
ESPNU, ESPN's recently launched network dedicated to college sports, will operate out of ESPN Regional Television (ERT), located in Charlotte, N.C. ERT produces more than 740 college sports events each year, so folding its operation into ESPNU's is a strong fit. In the first year, that means about 300 live events (including regular-season and NCAA championships) ranging from Division I football to volleyball to lacrosse.
One advantage that CSTV has over ESPNU: more than 180 schools already signed on as affiliates. Major universities Notre Dame, Penn State and North Carolina are in the fold, and the network helps those schools market and sell online subscriptions. The network televises more than 30 men's and women's sports for such conferences as the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10 and West Coast. In addition, Conference USA and Mountain West, for example, offer full audio streams of dozens of games while other conferences or teams have video clips or just audio feeds.
“We're looking to connect our fans across many technologies,” says Bedol, “and our affiliates want to do that, too.”
CSTV's online advantage may be short-lived. ESPNU hopes to roll out a dedicated Web site with college athletic news and information within the next month. It already owns the rights to games for major conferences, like the Big 10 and Big East. Says ESPNU VP/GM Burke Magnus: “If it's not on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, it'll be on ESPN360.com or ESPN.com. We're not going to take the direct-to-school approach of CSTV. We have tons of conference rights and schools for the game programming we can maximize online.”
It's also getting easier for networks like CSTV and ESPNU to gain access to game video without having to deploy their own production crews. With some conferences mandating instant replay for certain sports, game videos shot by the schools and conferences would be available for streaming. Another way is to enhance the Jumbotron feed sent to stadium scoreboards. ESPN360 has already done that. “It's not terribly expensive to roll a production truck in and enhance those feeds,” Magnus says. “And it creates something that is very beneficial to fans online.”
To extend reach, an ESPN-branded cellular service is also set to launch in the third quarter, at a price still to be determined. Magnus envisions phones tailored to different universities, with fight song ring tones and other branding options. For now, however, he says he is “focused on what we bring to the table—ESPN's muscle and name recognition—as opposed to doing something defensive and in response to the competition.”
Dean Bonham, sports marketing executive and chairman/CEO of the Bonham Group, believes streaming doesn't compete with TV: “It's a huge revenue stream in the future for sports and entertainment, for everything from cellphones to laptops.”
It isn't only the national networks that are contemplating next-generation delivery of sports information. WRAL Raleigh, N.C.'s cellphone service (B&C, Dec. 20, 2004) has added sports scores to its subscription service that allows viewers to track local universities like Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest as they advance through the NCAA tournament. (It debuted last week with ACC tournament coverage.) Scores for games are updated every few minutes.
Says Sam Matheny, VP/GM of DTV Plus, a subsidiary of WRAL parent Capitol Broadcasting. “We didn't want to re-create what ESPN or a national network does, but this is a great way to build our local-news product.”
No related content found.
No Top Articles
Digital Rapids provides market-leading software and hardware solutions, technology and expertise for transforming live and on-demand video to reach wider audiences on the latest viewing platforms more efficiently, more effectively and more profitably. Empowering applications from..more