Stakes Are High, but Joe Inzerillo Is Batting 1.000 With BAMTech
For a lot of kids, having a professional sports photographer for a dad, one who would occasionally take you to Comiskey Park to see the Chicago White Sox players up close, would be a dream scenario. And for Joe Inzerillo, it was—but not for the reasons you might think.
“He would introduce me to players, but I was way more impressed with the 1-inch tape machine than I was with Chet Lemon,” says Inzerillo, who by that time was already geeking out over computers and video production. "You see the stuff on TV, and then to actually go behind the scenes and see how it’s made, it’s like being able to go into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if you’re into that sort of thing.”
Inzerillo was most definitely into that sort of thing, and his passion for technology and video turned into a career that would eventually bring him to the top of one of the most innovative streaming tech companies today, BAMTech Media, where he’s now the executive vice president and CTO. He’s been innovating every step of the way, beginning with a job with the White Sox as the first professional video coordinator for Major League Baseball (MLB).
“The video coordinating was really the combination of technology, principally video, but increasingly statistics,” Inzerillo says. “Moneyball-type stuff, working with players and coaches to try to improve performance. If you can drop a guy’s ERA a couple tenths of a point, that’s a big deal—getting a couple more wins a year could be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. We were very much looking for any competitive edge we had.”
Inzerillo moved from the South Side to downtown Chicago when he became CTO of the United Center, where he implemented technology like the first Wi-Fi network in a major sports arena to make the fan experience more interesting and exciting for Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks fans, as well as continuing to help players and coaches improve performance.
In 2003, Inzerillo began working with Major League Baseball Advance Media (MLBAM), which had just begun streaming all MLB games. “We built the first network that connected all the ballparks together to central entities so we could backhaul all the video for the games and make the streaming product,” Inzerillo says. “The great irony was that the streaming product actually had a better selection of games than the out-of-market television product, because of all the work we had done to pull that stuff together.”
Eventually, MLBAM started taking on projects and clients outside of baseball, including the first-ever streaming of all NCAA March Madness games for CBS in 2005. “CBS was looking for some folks that had the ability to stream at scale, and who also had the operational support and logistics to get that done,” Inzerillo says. “After that, it kind of snowballed very quickly.”
After adding additional clients like ESPN and continuing to improve the Major League Baseball streaming product, MLBAM created its first end-to-end client solution, the streaming network for the WWE in 2014. “Before that time, OTT as a topic didn’t even exist. That acronym didn’t even exist,” Inzerillo says, referring to over-the-top. “We were just trying to sell our product.” A year later, MLBAM would launch both the PlayStation Vue and HBO NOW streaming services.
Once MLBAM had the ability to offer end-to-end solutions to outside clients, Major League Baseball decided to spin off the advanced media division, and MLBAM became BAMTech Media. In 2016, Disney bought a 33 percent stake in BAMTech for $1 billion as it prepared to launch its own streaming service as well as streaming services for other Disney-owned companies like ESPN; in August 2017 Disney paid another $1.58 billion to take a majority stake in BAMTech. In the meantime, BAMTech has helped launch MLS Live and Hulu’s live TV service, and has expanded into Europe, where it is working with Discovery Communications to expand the Eurosport service ahead of the 2018 Olympics, which Eurosport has the rights to.
That’s a lot of innovation in less than 15 years, and while the end products have been successful across the board, it hasn’t been easy. In fact, in a 2015 interview with The Verge, Inzerillo compared the challenges of OTT video to living on Mercury. “The planet is completely inhospitable,” he said. “Every day all you’re doing is [fighting] a battle for survival in a place that really does not want you. Streaming video on the internet is sort of like that.”
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