iPhones Break New Horizon With HLN Mobile

By Carolyn Braff

For the past few years, the Horizon League athletic conference has been committed to streaming its men’s and women’s basketball games so that fans can keep track of their teams, no matter where they are. Now the League is taking that commitment to a new platform, HLN Mobile, which delivers highlights and original content from all 10 Horizon League member schools directly to fans’ iPhones and iPod Touch devices.

“I think that this is the future of where everything’s going: putting your technology and your video on as many different screens as possible,” says Nate Flannery, director of new media and technology for the Horizon League. “If people need to access something and they’re away from their computer, they still have that ability.”

Flannery and his team began discussions with LaViaz, a mobile-applications developer located in Carmel, IN, six months ago. Powered by LaViaz SportsView, a modular application platform, HLN Mobile allows the conference to deliver its video content to fans via wireless devices. The league determined that the iPhone would give users the best experience, so the application is tailored specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

“LaViaz really kept us on the leading edge of technology,” Flannery says. “We’re one of the first collegiate conferences to have something like this.”

To access the content, iPhone owners perform a one-time download of the free HLN Mobile application from the iTunes store. The HLN logo will appear on the device, where fans can choose a channel: a general league channel offers recent news stories and up-to-date schedules, and each of the conference’s 10 member schools has its own channel, which filters content by school.

“If someone is just interested in Butler University basketball,” Flannery explains, “they can click the Butler channel, and it will filter just Butler-related content: Butler’s latest news, men’s and women’s basketball schedules, information on how to purchase tickets at Butler or get involved in their alumni association.”

The channel content comes from each member school, which is required by the conference to stream the majority of its men’s and women’s basketball games live online, using a NewTek TriCaster. At the game’s completion, an operator at each school cuts the highlights directly on the TriCaster and uploads the highlights file to the conference FTP site, following conference-provided specifications. That file is then reformatted accordingly.

“They send us the one high-quality file, and we are able to distribute it to all of our potential platforms,” Flannery says. “We kick out different formats to iPhone, our own Website, Facebook, and a few social-media sites as well.”

In addition to game highlights, each channel includes a weekly update show, coaches’ interviews, and men’s and women’s plays of the week.

The application went live on Jan. 5, but Flannery’s team has spent the last month working through bugs and making sure the video runs smoothly.

“When we first launched the application, we were having trouble with video on the 3G network,” he explains. “We changed the speed and the size of the files that we’re streaming, so now, whether you’re on 3G or WiFi, you’re still going to get the video within five seconds, which is important to us.”

With so many college students tethered to their cellphones and PDAs, Flannery emphasizes the need to reach fans on their terms, which, for him, translates into the iPhone.

“For these students, if it’s not on the phone, it’s nonexistent at this point, so we think we can have them become real fans of the Horizon League Network via this application,” Flannery says. And he doesn’t plan to stop at the highlight stage: “We’re hoping to turn this all into live streaming to the mobile device — just as soon as we can.”

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