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Case Study: Game On—Bringing the NHL to IPTV

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Hockey moms across America and all hockey fans around the world changed the way they watched the sport during the 2007–2008 season thanks to a partnership between the National Hockey League’s (NHL) IPTV service company NeuLion, Inc. and its partnership with content delivery service provider BandCon.

The relatively young NeuLion, founded in 2004, wooed NHL execs in 2007 with its ability to broadcast games live and on-demand around the world. Fans could access an integrated video portal on the league’s website, NHL.com, allowing them to switch between live games, on-demand highlights, behind-the-scenes footage, clips from morning skate, and pregame and postgame interviews and commentary.

Enter BandCon
Pulling the strings behind the curtain to help make this deal happen was BandCon, the Orange County, Calif.-based company that describes itself as a "major CDN buyer and big-time aggregator." The 9-year-old company provides a one-stop shop for co-location, transit, transport, and CDN, "all bundled together in a seamless solution," says Mike Flatin, BandCon’s COO and co-founder.

Because it is a Tier 1 ISP with co-location facilities in the 10 largest cities in the world, BandCon was able to reach across to the East Coast to support New York-based NeuLion’s mission: helping companies that want to reach target markets anywhere, anytime. By signing with NeuLion, the NHL joined niche content providers with viewership all over the map, such as Baseball Cubano, the International Football League, Africast, China’s KyLinTV, the Philippines’ ABS-CBN, Sky Angel, and various other faith-based programs. These content providers bring the content and do the marketing, and NeuLion does the rest: encoding, content and subscriber management, digital rights management, billing, customer service, reporting, and delivery.

As for distributing the content worldwide, that’s where BandCon comes in. Prior to partnering up with BandCon, which was ranked as the eighth fastest-growing private telco by Inc. Magazine in 2008, NeuLion had traditionally worked with several CDNs to support the distribution of its video. But as the company has grown, "so has our need for streaming services," says J. Chris Wagner, NeuLion’s executive vice president of marketplace strategy.

That’s why the company began its search for a CDN aggregator and zoomed in on BandCon. What NeuLion needed to find was a company that could sell them a competitively priced, high-quality, high-capacity delivery service for NHL content. Simple enough, but to complicate matters, the hockey season runs only 6 months of the year. So NeuLion was hoping to find a partner that would accept the company for its interesting content and help it stream that content cost-effectively by offering a special billing model, which Ari Benowitz, BandCon’s CEO and president, describes as "contract terms which are half or less than what normal carriers are used to doing."

Finessing the Model
At first, NeuLion asked BandCon to provide a quote on transit "but not traditional transit," says Flatin. Instead of megabits-per-second-as transit is typically sold, NeuLion wanted to buy it in gigabytes transferred. According to Flatin, "They phrased it by saying the typical time that their traffic was going to go down the network would be nights, weekends, and stuff, when games are happening, which is typically off-peak traffic hours for most networks." So the idea was that this traffic could fill the values of the ISP’s traffic patterns and could then be priced aggressively as a service.

With that model in mind, BandCon provided NeuLion with a quote. A few months later, the company changed its mind and decided it would focus on its core strengths and let BandCon focus on its own. Now, the plan was to roll out the content traditionally using CDNs. BandCon leveraged its relationships with Internap, Panther Express, Limelight, and others and went back to NeuLion with a smorgasbord of CDN partners. With their support, BandCon was able to come up with a model for NeuLion that gave the company as much capacity as it needed, when it needed it, and at the right price.

"BandCon gave NeuLion the flexibility of working with them as our single point of contact," says Wagner. "We were able to aggregate our streaming requirements with BandCon, yet still take advantage of the multiple CDN relationships BandCon was using so that we could get the performance required to reach a global audience."

Better yet, BandCon threw out the traditional hard-coded billing system used by most CDNs so that during the off-peak, off-season period, "their bill was put on the back burner, so to speak," says Flatin. "So they could buy the service where they used what they wanted when they wanted it, and the months they didn’t use it, they didn’t necessarily have to pay for it." This is an unorthodox model compared to that usually offered by public CDNs, which tend to be "very monolithic in their thinking," according to BandCon. "Simply said, we got one rate but could move our video anywhere in the world," says Wagner.

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