Friday, September 17, 2010

Fox Sports North: Enabling the Live Video Web

By Matt Apfel, VP East Coast Content

The limits of the Internet are endless, so it’s really strange that, until recently, live video really wasn’t an option. Sure, there was AIM and chat rooms – if you wanted to type messages in real-time. Yes, Apple has had limited live video chat for a while now, if you can get a good Web connection. Only recently has technology evolved to enable quality live streaming video of events, concerts, sports games, etc.

With the advent of the real-time Web, audiences are finally able to connect a new dimension – video! Now, people can take advantage of the intimate communication and social activity that already make the Internet such an amazing place. For the first time, there will be a face (real and virtual) to support all that typing. We’ll watch it live – and experience it live – together, no matter where we are sitting.

For example, Fox Sports North was looking for a comprehensive platform to power live high school sporting events such as football and ice hockey. This platform is part of a larger, community-based programming effort to engage their viewer in all aspects of their sporting lives. So, using our Coincident TV immersive video editor and player, we developed the Prep Zone, an application that offers an amazingly simple and social way to watch your favorite sports teams live and in action.

Viewers access a landing page with four featured games of the week. Once they click on a preferred game, they’re instantly tapped into a live feed that lets them catch all of the real-time excitement. Meanwhile, users can view team pages and player information without ever surfing away from the game.

Within the video player, audiences can cheer and jeer or rant and rave as if they’re in the stands. Broadcast live with local crews and commentary, the high-quality game feeds run into the Coincident TV player thanks to our partners at Akamai. Fans can simply click on any of the other four games at any time and instantly switch over, carrying on with the interactivity and relevant weblinks without missing a beat.

From local athletes to families, alumni and distant fans, we’ve seen audiences engage with each other and Prep Zone content far after the final whistle blows. Debating specific plays and strategy, these passionate viewers are ready to interact with fellow fans and sports teams. We’ve only been live with Prep Zone for two weeks, and the instant feedback from the 13,000 unique viewers who have tuned in has been phenomenal. Live Web video paired with Coincident TV offers all kinds of interesting brand engagement possibilities – and we’re starting to explore some of them with this project.

For example, in Prep Zone there are four different local football streams. Each has two teams from two different cities. We’re planning to roll out customized, targeted ads depending on which team fans support with the local WalMart or McDonald’s in each hometown. Adding the live dimension offers more possibilities, such as connecting the owner of a regional franchise with the community via live chat, or offering deals and discount pricing for goods within the live Webcast. The hyper-local advertisements aren’t just coupons targeting you via search, they’re engaging retail opportunities that reach you and your community from within your community.

As we adapt the Prep Zone application to offer even more immersive capabilities using Coincident TV software, we’ll see how the real-time social video Web evolves. We’re eager to offer many opportunities for communities to engage with local sports teams, players, peers and commerce and see limitless potential behind the interactive live video platform.

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