March Madness Is Mobile, Thanks To MediaFLO

By Carolyn Braff

Just in time for March Madness, help has arrived for college basketball fans who can’t always get to a TV. MediaFLO USA began streaming college basketball games to cell phones on November 11, and through the end of the NCAA Tournament, the company will stream more than 300 live college basketball games to the cell phones of anxious fans nationwide.

MediaFLO works with partners CBS Mobile, ESPN Mobile TV and Fox Mobile to stream mobile content through its FLO TV service. Rather than pulling the games from television feeds, MediaFLO simply encodes other mobile feeds into its own platform, eliminating the complications involved in converting a TV stream into a mobile version.

“CBS has a full-time 24/7 channel on our FLO TV service,” explains Mike Bailey, vice president of programming for MediaFLO USA. “In their mobile master control center, they will, in collaboration with us, select the most relevant matchups at any given time. It is part of their objective to put as many games on their mobile TV channel as they possibly can over the course of the tournament.”

MediaFLO does not edit the content, but rather brings the feed through its own broadcast operations center in San Diego. The content is then encoded for mobile delivery over the MediaFLO network.

“It’s just processed to efficiently travel over the MediaFLO platform, but there are no edits of any kind being made to the stream,” Bailey says. “It’s effectively a pass through of their signal.”

So what’s the difference between the CBS Mobile feed and its MediaFLO counterpart? Quality. Re-encoding the content allows MediaFLO to offer the highest-quality video currently available on a mobile platform.

“Compared to what has been out there up until now, it looks like HD quality,” Bailey says. “It is a tremendous leapfrogging of any quality standards that have been in the mobile marketplace up until now.”

MediaFLO can boast such crystal-clear streams because the one-year-old company owns its own over-the-air spectrum. “What that allows us to do is to deliver really high bandwidth video to an unlimited number of users simultaneously,” Bailey says. “And then along with the great video quality comes fast channel changing time, efficient power consumption from the battery and a really friendly and intuitive user guide.”

Verizon chose MediaFLO, which powers Verizon’s VCast Mobile TV service, as its broadcast video partner because of MediaFLO’s ability to handle the burden of such vast amounts of high-quality video on its own network. Owning its own spectrum puts the onus on MediaFLO to live up to its name and provide video that does, in fact, flow. And for Verizon it frees up cellular bandwidth to be used for low-data intense phone calls and text messaging instead of high-bandwidth streaming video.

“The fact that we have the spectrum and we’ve developed all of the technology around it – the high video quality, the channel changing time, the battery life – allows us to deliver these especially epic, once a year, live sports events,” Bailey says. “It enables our carrier partners to deliver that service and a really unparalleled user experience.”

MediaFLO delivered coverage of several regular-season games in 2007-08, most notably last week’s marquee Louisville-Georgetown, UNC-Duke and Oklahoma-Texas rivalries. Next week’s major conference championship games will be available as well, along with a slate of more than 25 women’s games, including the Division I and II championships. No blackouts are required for the upcoming basketball tournaments, so subscribers in any market can watch any game at any time.

As for commercials, advertising decisions are made by each of MediaFLO’s providing partners, but the company is in the process of experimenting with the available advertising space that they do control.

Currently, Verizon is MediaFLO’s sole carrier, but a signed launch with AT&T is pending. Still, at this point, there are no plans to make the games available on demand.

“They’re available live because sports is fleeting and you want to watch it live,” Bailey says.

With MediaFLO, no matter where you are, as long as you have a cell phone, you can now do just that.

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