NHL, NeuLion See Huge Early Numbers for GameCenter Live App

The NHL drastically expanded its digital efforts going into the 2010-11 season, making its NHL GameCenter Live out-of-market streaming service available on selected mobile devices for the first time. Judging by the early returns, the league and its technology partner NeuLion have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts: NHL GameCenter Live online subscriptions were up 30% over last year through the first week of the season, and the first day of the season drove the highest single-day subscription total ever.

“Hockey fans around the world have an insatiable demand for NHL content and want a multi-platform experience that includes their wireless handsets and tablets,” says Perry Cooper, SVP of digital media for the NHL. “Our mobile products put the best NHL content in the hands of our fans — no matter where they live, what time of day it is, or what mobile device they own.”

This year, the NHL GameCenter Live app is available on selected Android and Blackberry devices, exclusively for Verizon Wireless subscribers. NHL GameCenter Live broadband service is $159 ($169 after Nov. 1); the mobile service, $79.99.

Dozens of Feeds for Multiple Devices
NHL GameCenter Live streams up to 40 out-of-market games per week and introduced the choice of home or away broadcast feeds this year for every game, meaning NeuLion is responsible for up to 80 total game feeds per week.

NeuLion ingests the RSN feed for each team via satellite or fiber (depending on the regional sports network) into its data center. Each feed is encoded via NeuLion’s H.264 encoding software at a high bitrate, usually 3 Mbps. The feed is then transcoded into several formats for each platform that NHL GameCenter Live runs on. The live video feed is distributed out to the various platforms that support an adaptive bitrate.

“The consumer gets to choose between home or away video feeds. That was a big thing for us this year,” says Wagner. “If you’re a Rangers fan, you get nothing but MSG feeds, Flyers fans get nothing but Comcast feeds, L.A. Kings fans get the Fox feeds. That really localizes the game. But it requires a lot of sophistication to take all those multiple feeds, marry them up with the consumer request, and then chunk them up to all those different platforms.”

Expanded Highlights Package
NeuLion is responsible for creating all highlights and edited files that come out of a live NHL game broadcast. These highlights are then used for NHL GameCenter Live as well as for the NHL’s digital platforms.

To handle this volume of content, NeuLion has about 30 editors on staff to cut highlights. They post game highlight files about an hour after the game concludes and selected single-play highlights within a minute of the play’s occurrence in the game. This video is then noted on the NHL GameCenter Live broadband app with an icon on the scrubber bar. Viewers can click the icon to view the highlight in full-screen or picture-in-picture with the live game. These highlights are also available instantly to the NHL.com editorial staff for syndication to the NHL’s various digital platforms.

“Just to give you an idea of the volume, last Saturday, we created 15,000 video files in a single day,” says Wagner. “That’s a combination of highlights and condensed games. Those highlights are not just for NHL GameCenter Live; they also get syndicated out to NHL.com and across all the [platforms]. The NHL editorial staff can actually go in real time and pick those highlights for their needs.”

The Free Side of NHL GameCenter
NHL.com and NHL GameCenter, the league’s free advertising-based service, have seen sizable traffic early on this season. Season-to-date, unique visitors to NHL.com increased 23% over last year, video starts were up 145%, and mobile page views increased by 46%. In addition, on Saturday Oct. 10, NHL.com scored the second-most regular-season video starts in its history.

NHL GameCenter features live scores and in-game stats for every team and player; a live Ice Tracker that shows the locations of goals, hits, and saves on a virtual hockey rink; searchable highlights (on broadband only); game photos; schedules and standings; player profiles; archived results; and stats for the current season.

“We syndicate all of our highlights into the free NHL GameCenter broadband service,” says Chris Wagner, EVP/co-founder of NeuLion. “All of those highlights are available much more quickly than last year. NHL GameCenter sponsors and advertisers get the advantage of that content going into the system quicker than ever before.”

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