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NHL Launches Ambitious Next Phase In Broadband As Stanley Cup Playoffs

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imageThe National Hockey League continues its aggressive broadband push with a new video player for, more ad options and a batch of channels timed to launch when the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday. This week’s launch includes access to three years of archived clips by date and player, as well as several hours a day of programming. It’s just the beginning — a taste of what’s coming this summer when all 30 teams will start using the player to distribute their own programming, and when relaunches completely in September. Andre Mika, the NHL’s VP-broadband and new media production, walked me through this week’s launch and some of the changes on the way:

First seven channels: The new channels, organized around themes, give the league a way to pull its digital content into linear viewing instead of piecemeal. At the same time, users have flexibility to pick clips and to go deep. For instance, click “more” under the results of a game in the Game Highlights channel and you can see a list of goals and click on the corresponding video as I did with Sunday’s 500th goal by Keith Tkachuk, then click on his name and see video clips for his goals stretching back to November 2005 after the hockey lock-out ended. Mika said they aren’t sure yet how deep the archive will go.

Coming next: Two more channels are slated for launch this fall: a channel populated by user-gen content and one called MyNHL. The user-gen video will be moderated with league sensibilities in mind; “it’s not a blog,” Mika said. Don’t expect content that breaks team rules, like chunks of videotape from inside arenas, but a brief clip taken with a personal device — say of the celebration after a milestone goal — might make it in. The real emphasis is on “fandom,” says Mika, given fans a voice online. MyNHL uses info gleaned during registration to deliver users their own channel of video that meets their interests. It also takes the embedding the league already offers a step further, allowing users to snag video as they watch and drop it into their own feed that can be embedded on their own site. They originally planned to launch that feature now but decided to wait for more personalization. More after the jump.

The player: Produced with NeuLion, the player is a major update from 2007’s NHL Integrated Video Portal. In addition to an improved video experience with a full screen option, the player offers more advertising positions, including skins and rotating panel ads.

Advertisers: Three of the channels launching this week have exclusive sponsors.:
The Hockey Show: presented by Anheuser-Busch: The Hockey Show has its own on-air talent and new episodes every weekday during , apre-season, regular season and playofs well as VOD. A-B is taking advantage of geotargeting by advertising Bud Light to users from the U.S.; ads for users in Canada will be from Labatt Breweries, which brews and distributes Bud Light in Canada.

The Playoff Channel: presented by Dodge: Dodge is using the playoffs to launch its new Dodge Journey targeted at ages18-35. The channel includes a series of videos called Journey to the Cup.

LiveWire: presented by Cisco: Cisco’s (NSDQ: CSCO) channel focuses on live events — press conferences, morning skates, etc. — and original programming.

Exclusive advertisers automatically get the rotating panels — “if you own a channel you own those panels,” says Mika. As for pre-roll, “every channel has its own behavior” but all with one rule in mind: “We don’t stop video just to run ads.” The Hockey Show starts with a five-second billboard; the first 15-second ad runs after the first segment with an ad running every 2.5-3 minutes. Each time the video ad runs, the panels on the sides of the player will flip to show Bud Light, creating a close to immersive ad opp.

Teams: The NHL player operates on a network level but the teams will get the player this summer to create their own channels — and their own advertising opportunities. Mika: “This gives teams ways to monetize their own environment.” They’ll be able to sell sponsorships, for instance. At the same time, the league is also using more team-created video to encourage fans to move beyond the tribal and stay passionate about hockey even when their own team isn’t in action.

NHL on broadband: The move follows a recent deal with Hulu that includes games, highlights and a Hulu-only show. The NHL’s other broadband deals include a strong relationship with YouTube, a channel on Joost and plans for Sling Media’s still -unreleased Clip+Sling. In addition, the NHL has its own broadband version of the out-of-market Center Ice package. Mika: “We’re working on relaunching Center Ice online this fall into a much more robust experience.”

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