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Sportscasters see money in mobile video
by: May 10, 2010 Print

It's NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs time again, and just as sure as a Maple Leafs no-show, sportscasters have launched their latest digital offerings to bring up-to-the minute action to puck-heads everywhere. This year's ramp-up is in mobile, which is evidently where the money is.

CBC has sweetened its Hockey Night in Canada iPhone and iPod touch app with live streaming of its playoff schedule for $3/game, with Stanley Cup Final games commanding a premium $5 and an all-inclusive package going for $15. By the start of round one, the Ceeb says its app had been downloaded 300,000 times. Its free features include scores, news and schedules, underwritten by McDonald's banner ads.

The Ceeb continues to stream live games at www.cbc.ca, which, according to CBC Sports senior director David Masse, is in keeping with the pubcaster's mandate to make its programming as widely available as possible. Why, then, charge for the mobile experience?

"There are more costs related to undertaking a mobile offering. There's existing infrastructure we have to build [leading] up to this," Masse explains. "There is also a higher tolerance for a pay experience in the app world."

Masse says mobile video is so coveted by advertisers that it garners a higher CPM than broadcast.

"Sponsors love experiences where the consumer really has chosen to be there and really likes being there, and so digital is a space where all sponsors are spending more money," he adds. "There is more stickiness to it."

As the other Canadian rights holder for playoff broadcasts, TSN is also making games available on mobile, but not on the iPhone app it launched earlier this season. As part of Bell's Unlimited NHL offering, Bell Mobility subscribers can watch TSN playoff telecasts, RDS Montreal Canadiens broadcasts, and CBC's Stanley Cup Finals coverage. The NHL service costs $8/month plus data charges.

TSN president Phil King says that while his channel has an exclusive deal with Bell for this season, that won't necessarily be the case going forward.

"There aren't very many wireless deals that would make sense on an exclusive basis. Sports is too mainstream," he says, adding that going with one carrier simply annoys those on other carriers.

The TSN iPhone app, sponsored by Bud Light, has been downloaded more than 250,000 times, and is seeing double its normal download rate during the playoffs. It presently features content from various sports leagues - including NHL text info - but no video.

"It is something we're obviously working on, and frankly we're trying to decide: Should it be advertiser-supported or will it be a pay app or a combination of both?" King says. "We're just trying to read the market and see what the demand is."

TSN tested the waters with last month's free app for The Masters. The Nike-sponsored offering for iPhones, iPod touch and the iPad replicated the TSN.ca experience with three live streams, and was downloaded 40,000 times. King saw it as a crucial - and successful - experiment.

"You better go out and you better do it right the first time, because if somebody spends the money to buy an app or a bundle service on a wireless phone and the experience is not very good, you may have lost that person forever," he says.

Meanwhile, those sportscasters not airing playoff games can only sit back and watch for now. The Score recently signed a deal for NHL clips on its website, but nothing yet on mobile. However, the response to its iPhone and BlackBerry apps has been phenomenal, with three million downloads between them and 1.25 million monthly unique visitors, according to Score Media EVP and COO Benjie Levy.

Even without video, The Score is ably served on mobile because its offering gets right to the core of its brand - it's where people go to find the score. ScoreMobile also deserves top marks for its site design and the simplicity of its navigation.

While the BlackBerry might hail from Waterloo, ON, it's a global device, and as such has brought ScoreMobile across the border, with more than 60% of site traffic coming from the U.S.

"We see lots of opportunity," says Levy. "Based on what we've been able to see with it in the U.S., we are able to expand our reach."

And so ScoreMobile has an international flavor. In addition to the NHL and the other usual North American suspects, the service features Formula 1 Racing and five soccer leagues from around the world. Levy says there is an imminent announcement regarding more global content.

The BlackBerry app launched with support from Budweiser, while ScoreMobile has also done deals with Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures, providing links to movie trailers.

"Because of the intimate nature of the mobile device, where users are only seeing one ad unit, it's a much less cluttered environment," says Levy. "You're seeing higher rates of click-through and engagement with the brand, and that's something that really resonates with the advertisers."

Sportsnet, meanwhile, launched its BlackBerry/iPhone/Android app in January, and at this early stage is modest about the offering, which has yet to land a sponsor.

"It's not a game-breaker app; it's a go-to-market app - something to get our feet wet," says Sportsnet.ca marketing manager Eddie Khang. "We're always looking to improve the application."

And video is the chief improvement the channel has in mind. It hasn't landed any mobile video rights yet, but is actively going after them. The app currently has 20,000 subscribers - a number limited by being available only to subscribers to Rogers Wireless and subsidiary Fido. While parent company Rogers has a vested interest in boosting its carrier brand, why limit potential app users?

"This is the current Rogers Communications mobile strategy," Khang simply responds. Perhaps surprisingly, the busiest times of year for Sportsnet's digital-media platforms are the NHL trade deadline and the summertime free-agent signing frenzy.

But now, as the playoff drama continues to unfold, it's for CBC and TSN to sit back and learn just how much fans want to watch games on their mobile devices - and whether they're willing to pay.

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