It’s part TV, part broadband content and part video-on-demand. Put it all together and you have the operating strategy for CSTV: College Sports Television.
“As we look at this business, the way the pieces weave together is with the recognition that college sports fans have multiple touch points with college sports,” explained CSTV president and CEO Brian Bedol.
“They watch games in person or on TV. They go to the Internet to check scores and highlights. And some want to get more deeply involved.”
“Different platforms do a better job delivering on each of those different promises,” he said. “If we want to be the category leader in college sports, we have to have the best and deepest relationship with the fans.”
The brand’s 24/7 linear TV network carried 350 games over its first year, along with news, highlights and documentary programming. CSTV is available on Time Warner Cable, Adelphia Communications Corp., Insight Communications Co. and DirecTV.
Over the past several months, it’s begun offering those affiliates an ad hoc amount of VOD programming, notably a series of documentaries it had in the can on the University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball teams. This fall, CSTV is considering a VOD college-football highlights package.
WEB SITE BUY
Earlier this year, the network closed on a deal to purchase www.collegesports.com, a college sports site covering 150 schools. The site offers a monthly subscription package of audio feeds of top-tier college football and basketball games.
“We put together an online network that supports our TV network and gives college sports fans a single relationship that satisfies their needs for immediate instant gratification for scores and news, and sends them to a cable network to satisfy the demand for more linear entertainment,” Bedol said.
Those elements not only serve college sports fans, but also other industry segments looking to blend platforms.
Bedol said cable and direct-broadcast satellite affiliates don’t look at CSTV’s 24-hour linear network in a vacuum. “They are looking at how [they can] maximize revenue throughout multiple platforms,” he said. “Affiliates are trying to market to their customers.”
Yet another segment is advertisers, who Bedol said “are actively searching for ways to establish relationships with a more and more fragmented audience.”
“We put all those pieces together. The product works on multiple technology platforms. Affiliates are searching for multiple-technology platform plays, and advertisers are looking for content that crosses the technology.”
The collegesports.com purchase has been key to CSTV’s efforts. The site is home to 150 colleges and their entire athletic lineup, from marquee sports like football and basketball, to baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey and track and field. Its College Sports Pass provides audio feeds of live games plus video highlights from more than 50 schools for $45 a year. Subscribers have access to more than 2,000 live events each year.
In March, the site recorded 246 million page views from 8 million unique users, and it boasts 325 advertisers. More than 75% of the site’s users have broadband connections.
“Certain things are better served on broadband,” Bedol said. “That’s the reason sports fans go to the Internet to check their scores. It’s an experience that can’t be duplicated on TV.”
The core product on the linear network is the 350 games CSTV delivers each year. It will range from Division 1 football from schools not included in national cable and broadcast packages to minor sports.
Most of the primetime product CSTV produces itself, but it also carries games produced by colleges. Games account for about 60% of the schedule, Bedol said. The remainder is filled with highlight shows and documentaries.
VOD is a new product in CSTV’s stable. “We’ve just started to tiptoe our way into VOD,” Bedol said. “It’s a good way for us to extend the reach of the network.”
According to Bedol, “VOD is good as a source for an ongoing topical highlights package,” which CSTV intends to launch this fall for college football. “It’s easy to digest, and we’ll refresh it on a weekly basis.”
The company uses In Demand for distribution today to deliver its highlights packages to affiliates quickly. For instance, CSTV turned around its UConn basketball package for VOD in 48 hours. Bedol said CSTV is talking to DirecTV about using the same VOD content as a digital-video-recorder play with the DBS provider.
With every sport available from major schools, it’s possible an SVOD business model will evolve that allows an Ohio State fan pay $4.95 a month for all sporting events from the university.
The Web presents a good precursor to such business models. According to Bedol, College Pass “has performed better than expectations each year. There is growing acceptance among broadband users to acquire subscription product. [Major League Baseball] has been one of the pioneers.”
Colleges are beginning to add small video highlight segments to their audio games. “We have begun to seed many of the 150 sites with relevant video clips to increase awareness and cross promote the network,” Bedol said. “Broadband online are an important component of the network experience, but it’s critical that broadband isn’t ever used as a substitute for watching the network.”