MaxPreps, Comcast Team On Video-On-Demand Play

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High-school sports leader MaxPreps.com is teaming with Comcast to bring football highlights and other segments to the operator's Houston-area subscribers on a video-on-demand basis.

Over the course of the 2009-10 school year, MaxPreps, a division of CBS Interactive that supplies the latest high-school sports news, analysis, rankings and streaming content from around the country, is producing hundreds of segments that Comcast Digital Cable subscribers can access for free through the “Get Local” section on the top cable operator's VOD platform in Houston.

The VOD gambit, the terms of which were not disclosed, comes as high-school sports grow in importance as a point of differentiation in cable's battle with its satellite and telco competitors. Moreover, national sports services like CBS College Sports and ESPNU, as well as regional sports networks, are providing more coverage of prep competitions. In Houston, MaxPreps.com has made its initial foray into VOD, exclusively producing all of the content, which is delivered to Comcast Houston through Clearleap, a Web-based TV technology platform.

MaxPreps.com president Andy Beal said the deal emanated from work the high-school proponent did last year for the Comcast SportsNet regionals in Chicago, Atlanta and Sacramento, Calif., whereby it supplied half-time and recruit content for the networks' “high school sports-desk-type programming.”

Houston became the test ground for VOD programming because it's the largest metro area, outside of California, where MaxPreps has its deepest connections, he said, and because Comcast wanted to extend its reach into high-school sports.

“This partnership allows us to deliver on our commitment to offer more local high school sports programming,” said Tony Speller, senior vice president for Comcast's Houston region. “Through video on demand, viewers are able to access exclusive programming they can't get anywhere else.”

Beal said the goal is to give the kids and their parents a chance to see them in action on a local basis.

Beal insists it's “not all about football.” To achieve Comcast's objective to provide a broad look at the high-school experience, MaxPreps is also covering girls soccer and volleyball this fall, he said, with presentations of winter and summer sports on tap over the course of a 38-week season. Some of that content is also expected to run on Comcast's RSNs.

Drawing from the work and content it has streamed on its Web site, MaxPreps has been able to easily execute the VOD play thus far.

“We've been doing this for several years, building our streaming scale. This is a little different because we're provisioning the content to appear on TV through VOD,” he said, noting that vendor ClearLeap has proven to be a most effective delivery partner.

“Clearleap is a very efficient distributor of content from Houston to our editing bays in [our Cameron Park, Calif., headquarters] and then sending the VOD content back to Comcast,” he explained.

“This is a great example of how programmers and cable operators can benefit from leveraging our Web-based TV technology platform,” Clearleap CEO Braxton Jarratt said. Beal said that MaxPreps retains the rights to a small amount of content, but upward of 80% has been provisioned exclusively to Comcast.

From a promotional standpoint, Beal has been pleased by the commitments made by Comcast and CBS that “let people know we're doing this and where they can watch it.”

After evaluating the performance in Houston after the school year, MaxPreps would like to work with Comcast in other markets. Beal said the company is also open to other distributors as well.

“Clearly, other cable operators have interest in tying into high school sports. They view the content as a competitive advantage,” he said. “MaxPreps is ready to help execute that vision.”

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