Digital Networks: Customizing the Experience

While digital networks are quickly becoming all the rage in the college space, each university has to take care to design its platform to fit its program’s unique needs.

Where that process begins is simple: what should the content be?

“You have to take a hard look at the type of content you have and the type of fans you have,” said NeuLion VP Ed O’Brien, speaking at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum presented by Sports Business Journal/Daily last week. “So it could be different for certain schools at certain levels and conferences. Really, you have to look at what the engagement rates have been in the past, what content you have, and what content you could put up there and build a model around them.”

Revenue Generation
One important goal of that model is to generate revenue, and there are two primary ways for a collegiate digital platform do that: subscription fees and advertising revenue. The Big Ten Network, for example, has built a top-level digital experience with the Apple-device release of BTN2Go, the network’s multiplatform application. Although the app is a free download, BTN has done a successful job of increasing the network’s value to distribution partners while monetizing its content.

“I think subscription revenue, especially in sports, is something that’s alive and well,” said Michael Calderon, VP of digital and interactive media at BTN. “We play in both areas, as we have a pretty successful subscription business of our non-televised Big Ten events and we also distribute a lot of video in a non-subscription environment. So there’s a hybrid model that works nicely there, too.”

Much like many conferences and individual universities, Calderon and BTN have worked closely with to maximize BTN’s online video presence through distribution and syndication efforts. Such as approach has proved successful for many.

“We’ve continued to grow despite the economy,” noted Patty Hirsch, SVP/GM, College Network. “I think that’s a tremendous sign.”

Know Your Audience
Experienced industry professionals also advise that different types of content — live/archived games, highlights clips, documentaries, interviews — lend themselves to different platforms, and that needs to be considered in programming apps.

“Take, for example, a full archived football game. Most people aren’t going to watch a 2½-, three-hour football game on the phone,” said O’Brien. “They will on a tablet, though. Knowing those viewer rates and who is watching what on what platform helps you to really customize the viewing experience.”

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