Manchester United fans served with new Web site, Internet video
By Carolyn Braff
Manchester United fans may still be brooding over their country s untimely World Cup exit, but their club team has come up with an impressive distraction for the bereaved.
Manchester United Interactive teamed up with Servecast, a company delivering audio visual sports content over broadband and mobile applications, to re-launch the club s broadband video service, MUTV Online.
Some of the fans obviously follow their international teams, so post-World Cup they tend to come back into club mode, explains Mark Hargreaves, general manager of Manchester United Interactive, regarding the timing of the site s re-launch. Certainly our traffic has grown massively since the end of the Cup.
Piggybacking on the interest generated by post-World Cup trade speculations, Servecast worked with the Premier League team to redesign and reengineer the club s website, www.manutd.com, and its broadband portal, MUTV Online.
Expanding the club s online offerings will help take advantage of the increasingly international make-up of the team. Manchester United s first team includes players from 14 different countries, including Argentina, Norway, Serbia/Montenegro, South Korea, Spain, and the United States. This is a very global brand, and the fan base internationally connects it, says Darach Deehan, CEO of Servecast. It does start to align itself with ManU s global brand ambitions to reach a broader global audience, especially with South Korean Ji-sung Park joining the club in 2005 and bringing an unprecedented level of Korean traffic to the site.
Strict television rights in the UK disallow Internet broadcasts of in-season matches, but the subscription service offered by the club is the next best thing. ManU fans worldwide can choose a monthly ( 4, about $7) or yearly ( 40, about $70) subscription, which buys access to match highlights, player interviews, press conferences, club news videos, historical features, classic matches, and live match audio commentary. The site also includes a historical section and full coverage of the Academy and Reserve squads, and subscribers can opt to receive SMS alerts about the team on their cellular phones.
One of the good things that Servecast brought that s fresh, apart from a new look and feel, is you re able to browse all of the content that s available, even though, apart from the free-view channel, the rest of content is effectively behind subscription, Hargreaves says. The free-view channel includes a few selected video highlights, including nominees for Goal of the Season honors.
You can see all the content and have a look at how in-depth it is before you purchase, he says. At the heart of the new site is Servecast s Media Studio platform, developed specifically for sports subscription services. The company has been streaming sports content online since 1998 for clients including Sky Sports, Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC, Arsenal FC, and Rangers FC.
Our platform handles billing, ticketing, digital rights management, content management, and reporting, and has analysis capability, Deehan adds. It s built for the sports industry, and it s flexible to meet the needs of a strong marketing brand in terms of promotional analysis. The platform itself gives us a real advantage in the marketplace from multi-vendor solutions, since we do it all end-to-end to ensure a totally seamless and effective platform.
In addition to categorized content offerings, select preseason, tournament qualifiers, and friendly matches will be streamed live through the MUTV Online portal, including a pre-season friendly against Preston North End on July 29, and the club s season-opening friendly against UEFA Cup champion Sevilla on August 12. The team s South Africa tour will also be broadcast to subscribers over the broadband platform.
If you think of the Internet as a forward-leaning experience as opposed to lean-back kind of experience, this site allows fans to really indulge in the club with which they have an affiliation, says Deehan. It s a menu that s attractively presented, constantly updated, and allows them to keep abreast of current events within the club.
Despite the restrictions keeping live matches off of the online portal, other content with limited rights value, such as historical matches, can only be seen over broadband. Such content wouldn t have any place in a television schedule today, Deehan explains. The Internet provides a much better platform for that interactive search capability for fans. Content that might be historic, but not of value for the broadcaster to put into a schedule, certainly fits within the content of a premium service.
As far as future plans to expand MUTV Online coverage are concerned, the decision lies outside of the club s control. Any push to broadcast live matches via the broadband portal will be contingent on the wishes of the rights holders.