SI.com Makes Live-Streaming Splash With ‘The Battle for I-95’
Weary basketball fans facing the prospect of an NBA-less autumn were granted a brief reprieve on Sunday, when Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and other NBA superstars took part in “The Battle for I-95” at the Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania campus. The game, the first live basketball game ever produced and streamed by SI.com, generated more than 235,000 video streams, an SI.com record.
“This was the biggest and first full broadcast-quality production that we’ve done without a linear network behind it,” says Ian Orefice, executive producer for video for SI.com. “We were not only able to bring great production quality, but we also brought the sensibility and storytelling that SI is known for.”
Not Your Typical Basketball Coverage
Produced in conjunction with WebStream Productions, the SI.com Webcast used a NewTek TriCaster Extreme 850 and six cameras: two baseline cameras, two at midcourt, a slash position, and a roaming handheld. SI.com’s coverage did not feature a traditional play-by-play and color announcing team but rather deployed Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix as a roaming host. Mannix interviewed attendees, other reporters, and players and added his own commentary.
“Our goal was not to produce a television broadcast; it was to produce a unique Sports Illustrated [program],” says Orefice. “We wanted it to look professional but also to step out of the way and let the viewer watch. It’s the same sensibility and voice that we have always had, and we are now bringing it to this live medium.”
The game was streamed on SI.com’s proprietary video player (developed by Turner/SI Digital) at up to 2 Mbps and used adaptive bitrate to give viewers the best possible resolution, depending on connectivity. Users with less than 1 Mbps download speed could not access the stream, because Orefice and company “didn’t want [viewers] to see it at all if it was a poor video experience.”
In addition, SI.com produced two highlight packages that were available on the site within hours of the game’s conclusion: a primary package chronicling Team Philly’s upset of Team Melo, as well as a top-10-plays piece.
SI.com Gets Foot in Live Video Door
In July 2010, SI and fellow Time Warner property Turner Broadcasting System formed Turner/SI Digital, a digital partnership that looked to combine SI’s editorial prowess and online presence with Turner’s profusion of sports-video rights and production capabilities. However, despite the promising marriage, SI.com has yet to throw its hat into the live-streaming realm.
Although SI.com has featured a handful of live sports streams over the past year, nearly all of them have been supplied by fellow Time Warner entities, such as the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz weigh-in (through HBO Sports) last week and the PGA Championship earlier this month (through Turner Sports).
The Battle for I-95, however, may be a sign of bigger things on the live-video horizon for SI. The Team Melo vs. Team Philly showdown was by far the first high-profile SI.com-branded live stream to date and could be just the catalyst that SI needs to become a legitimate player in the live-streaming sports market.
“Our job is in no way about reinventing the brand; we want to take the brand truths of SI and make them come to life in live video,” says Orefice. “This opportunity presented itself, and we were happy to have the ability to do it. We are always looking for new ways to make the site and brand feel alive. This was a unique opportunity, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”