Live from Houston: AOL’s Conroy discusses localized sports

While Google steals the streaming video headlines its services like AOL that continue to grab eyeballs with a high-quality streaming experience. And the company isn t stopping at simply DVD-quality video: it s also developing rich video search tools and is looking to sports as a way to increase its local presence. Kevin Conroy, AOL executive vice president, spent a few minutes with the Sports Video Group discussing the future of sports online.

What do you think sports rights holders should be doing to get the most out of online opportunities?

Everywhere we look we see signs of technology having an impact on consumers desire and ability to consume content immediately on

demand. And given the nature of sports there is an unbelievable opportunity to take advantage of that, to harness it, and to put it to work for the leagues. And if they do it right they can enable the fans to become more engaged with the sports they want to watch.

What does that mean for traditional media?
Traditional media has done a great job of presenting those things that appeal to the largest number of people in a mass market offering. But the reality is that technology provides the ability to actually segment audiences. And what you can do is take advantage of that and let people go deeper into the sports they love.

Imagine, for example, you re watching something on TV and you want to see it again, instantly. Broadcasters should serve that behavior. And if somebody wants to see something that isn t being presented on television they should be able to get a closer look or access to those events that the large broadcast networks can t offer to a mass market.

Do those services become competitive with the main broadcast?
No, they become complementary. I feel that new technologies allow us to do things with media that traditional mass market media has not. It s really about complementing coverage, not cannibalizing or replacing coverage.

How are you integrating sports into the AOL product?
Sports are extremely popular across a wide range, from mainstream big sports to college and local sports. So we re actually very focused on providing an array of coverage that allows our users to be able to get access to the information and content quickly and on demand. We have relationships with most of the leagues and we re working with them to support their current models but to also, frankly, develop new models. Because we re getting into what we believe is the finish line: when consumers can watch what they want, when they want, and however they want. And as long as we re able to do that, protect the rights, and monetize the usage, then we should all be focused on those goals.

You mentioned local sports and one of the things our group is interested in is helping small colleges and high schools see the way they can monetize a local high school production. What is that opportunity?
It s all upside at this point. We know that a lot of ad dollars are spent locally but we ve never really had a good ability, from a media perspective, to target those dollars. And the very nature of technology, until this point, has been to focus on large audiences to effectively serve advertisers. And now what we see is the ability for technology to discretely reach individual users and build business models that are both ad supported and also have micro payments around things that matter to people locally.

Can you give me an example?
The simple one is creating a new kind of local access or coverage with local media on demand and marry it to the spending that is local in nature. We actually have good local penetration with AOL Cityguide. And one of the opportunities we re looking at is how can we serve those audiences better by expanding coverage around more and more content that is uniquely relevant to a local market.

We all know that the Internet grew up as a very effective communication medium with email and instant messaging. But in the past couple of years we ve seen the true potential of the Internet as an interactive broadcast medium that can deliver audio, video, graphics and text packaged in unique ways that serve different size markets. And that gives the ability to target and segment the audience and marry consumers with economic models that work on that level.

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