Tuesday, November 07, 2006

NHL Video Flow

The NHL is testing out some new ideas in the new media world, partnering with Google to provide streaming video presentatons on the search engines video service.

From the NHL's Interactive Cyber Enterprises offices, Keith Ritter has been delegated to work out a business plan to take advantage of the NHL's vast archive of hockey history and current events.

So far the plan is a simple video selection service, which for now is free of charge and available at the click of your mouse. Perhaps later it will become a pay feature from the NHL website, part of the changing platform of enterntainment that is constantly evolving.

For now enjoy the videos free of charge while they last. We'll set up a line on our left hand column and track the Google Video selections that we pick for the HockeyNation, you can find them listed here.

From the Globe and Mail's website, is the following description of the project and where Ritter might be taking it into the future.

With one shot at the Net, it's all about new fans
The challenge Generate more value from the NHL's vast archive of broadcasts, and introduce to new fans to the game The call Link up with Internet giant Google to offer access to full-length video downloads of hockey games

Globe and Mail website
November 4, 2006

When National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman gave Keith Ritter his assignment last year, the mission was clear: Figure out how to increase the popularity of the game by making use of the NHL's vast store of digital assets.

Mr. Ritter, president of the league's digital arm, NHL Interactive Cyber Enterprises, said he and two other executives were essentially asked "to have a good think, based on the changing landscape, where the opportunities would be down the road."

While the storehouse of game videos was clearly the biggest asset, the NHL also has game audio, reams of data, photographs, and lots of text, said Mr. Ritter, who works out of the league's New York head office.

Mr. Ritter said he and his colleagues have come up with a plan to manage and make money from that vast store of information, and the first element was unveiled this week when the league announced a deal with Google Inc. to make full-length games available on Google Video.

Dozens of recent games can now be downloaded, along with a selection of classic contests ranging from the 1967 Toronto-Montreal Stanley Cup final to the Vancouver Canuck's loss to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Cup final.

The material is free, for now, until the NHL decides whether it will try to generate revenue by charging for the downloads, or by selling advertising, or a combination of the two.
"We're trying to figure that out," Mr. Ritter said. "We're going to see how the fans are interacting with this."

Whatever route it goes, revenue will likely be shared between the league and Google.
While Google is clearly the leader in organizing and displaying information, the main reason the Web search giant was chosen as the partner for the venture is that "they are one of the primary destinations where fans go to find video," Mr. Ritter said.

The NHL will benefit if this traffic creates new hockey fans. If someone who sees a Sidney Crosby hat trick on the Internet decides to watch a hockey game at night, "or better yet, buys a ticket and goes to see one in person, we're all for that," he said.

Boosting interest in hockey is a key part of the NHL's long-term strategy, Mr. Ritter said, and the link with Google should help. "Our ability to sell digital content is directly tied to the league's ability to grow the game and increase fan interest."

That philosophy has also ensured that the league's traditional broadcast partners support the digital-distribution plans, Mr. Ritter said.

"If we can add another hockey fan [because of the attraction of the archival material], they'll start watching the broadcasters, so it grows their pie as well."

The league sees particular potential for increasing interest in professional hockey in the United States and Europe, but also wants to make sure young Canadians maintain their traditional strong interest in the game.

While Mr. Ritter is coy about other plans for making money out of the NHL's archival assets, beyond Internet video, he said the league recognizes that "we live in an on-demand world" and it's going to have to serve fans on a wide range of electronic platforms.

That means exploring delivery of NHL content to fans through laptops, BlackBerrys and cellphones as well as through web browsers and television, he said. "Our responsibility is to [deliver content] where they want, when they want and how they want it."

The league has already worked with Apple Computer Inc. to provide some playoff highlights on the iTunes system, and tried some score and statistics downloading with cellphone partners.
But it's not at all clear which platforms will end up being money-spinners for the NHL, Mr. Ritter said, resorting to a sports metaphor: "This is really throwing a lot of stuff at the net, and some of it's going to go in, but no one knows which."

He notes that the NHL already has "very robust" business in selling products -- such as DVDs, clothing and souvenirs -- off its website, so it is no stranger to ancillary business ventures.
But the existing NHL website has nowhere near the traffic of the most popular sports sites. According to data from Internet consulting firm ComScore, NHL.com had about 1.6 million unique visitors in September, compared with 16.4 million at the National Football League's site, and 9.1 million at Major League Baseball's site.

Still, Rick Broadhead, an Internet consultant based in Toronto, said the NHL has enormous potential to make a lot of money from exploiting its video archives.

"They're sitting on a gold mine of content -- not just the [recent] games but all the classic games and highlights."

He thinks people will certainly be willing to pay, if the downloads are reasonably priced. That could generate a key stream of revenue at a time when the league is struggling to generate ticket sales and to keep its teams afloat, he added.

Choosing Google as a partner also made sense, Mr. Broadhead said, because "it already has the platform, the technology, the resources and the bandwidth" to handle distribution of the videos.
"It's a smart move," he said. "More and more, the computer screen is competing with the television screen."

Keith Ritter, NHL Interactive
Title: President
Age: 51
Born: Scarsdale, N.Y.

Education: Degrees in English, education and music.
Most important college course: Educational psychology, because it's about how people learn, and that's helpful in marketing and sales.

Career: Worked in marketing at ABC Sports from 1978 to 1997, when he moved to CBS Sports. Joined the NHL in 2001.

Management style: A facilitator who helps his staff meet the goals set by the NHL commissioner and board of governors.

Sports: Played hockey as a kid, but switched to basketball because he was tall.

Earliest memories: Watching New York Rangers games on black-and-white television on Saturday nights

Favourite NHL team: Diplomatically, he won't say. "We want all of our clubs to do well."

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