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Online Video Best Practices Get Fasig-Tipton to the Finish Line First

Would you buy a million-dollar thoroughbred race horse without ever even seeing it? Of course not. Before the Internet came along, Fasig-Tipton, North America's oldest thoroughbred auction company, overnighted VHS tapes and DVDs of horses for sale to prospective buyers around the world. Today, however, a high-powered HD video content delivery system has rendered that old way of doing things obsolete.

Visit Fasig-Tipton's site, and you'll see hundreds of videos of thoroughbreds in action. "The vital piece for our buyers is the two-year-old training track video collection, in which horses perform on a track in front of a live audience as well as the cameras," says Max Hodge, Fasig-Tipton's director of client services. "We started putting those videos on our web site about eight to ten years ago, but it was the pre-broadband era so we were a little ahead of ourselves. Three years ago we started shooting the video in HD, and we were finally able to offer HD quality online."

That upgrade coincided with Fasig-Tipton's collaboration with the content delivery experts at Limelight Networks, who have taken the venerable firm farther online than it could have gone alone.

Fasig-Tipton contracts with a local video production house to shoot all its video, not only the on-track test runs but also the "Horse of the Week," "Virtual Inspections," and various expert chats and talk shows. Once a shoot is finished, the video crew uploads it via FTP, and Fasig-Tipton takes over, organizing and uploading them with the help of a single "one-man IT army," as Hodge puts it.

That man works with a web-based dashboard connected to Limelight Networks' Limelight Video Platform, a cloud-based service that simplifies the process of uploading, organizing, and managing Fasig-Tipton's video collection, which has grown to more than 500 videos.

Getting started with a video platform provider is a highly consultative process, says Edgardo Nazario, vice president and general manager of the video platform solutions team at Limelight Networks. "Some customers say ‘I want this, this, and this, but we still have to understand their use case because the customer doesn't always know what they really need. Luckily, Fasig-Tipton had a very clear vision. We just had to help them implement it."

Nazario adds that Fasig-Tipton was among the first of Limelight Networks' customers to implement HD video and also was also an early adopter of the video platform's player builder tool, which lets it design a highly customized video player without doing any coding.

Ponying up for Service

Activity at the site increases prior to each of the company's 13 annual horse auctions. Buyers evaluate horses by watching the videos and may also send advisors and vets to inspect the animals in person. "For the two-year-old sale, it's our HD motion analysis videos that matter most. They're a critical element," says Hodge. The auctions themselves are streamed online as well, for the benefit of both the buyers and sellers.

Interestingly, the increase in Fasig-Tipton's online efforts has been accompanied by a welcome decrease in costs. "Video isn't a significant percentage of our marketing budget anymore, says Hodge. "We used to pay all sorts of other entities to do all this work for us, and the cost was astronomical, especially when it came to live streaming the auctions. Now all we have to do is take the video feed from the sale that we're recording anyway, run it through two beefed-up computers and some streaming cards, and send it out through Limelight Networks' content distribution network. We don't have to worry about it. It's a great thing."

As is typical in cloud scenarios, Limelight Networks sets up a multiyear contract, charges a monthly platform fee, and then lets Fasig-Tipton add more services and volume as its needs change.

Fasig-Tipton also maintains a mobile-optimized site, but as Hodge notes, with the advent of smartphones with fast internet access, most users prefer to visit the complete site rather than the stripped-down mobile version.

Unlike some other video providers, who strive to grow their audiences and monetize each video view no matter what, Fasig-Tipton doesn't delve too deeply into the kinds of analytics that the Limelight Video Platform can provide. Ultimately, it measures the success of the site simply by the number of horses it sells. "Generally, the horse that brings the most money in the sale is the one that had the most views leading up to the sale," says Hodge. "We get lots of traffic after the sale as well, when the trade journals talk about what happened at the sales."

What Hodge notices most is the increased speed with which the business moves now. "Everything has become compressed," he says. "Thoroughbred auctions used to be a major social event, so they tended to be drawn-out affairs. Now we work on a much tighter timeline and the internet and these videos help us work faster."

The internet also makes it far easier to provide information to what has become an international clientele (Fasig-Tipton itself is owned by a Dubai-based company). Going forward, the company will certainly do more. As Nazario says, "To us, video is the next step. In ten years no one is going to question if you should have video on your site. I tell my customers that they'll want to be ahead of that curve."

Some final thoughts from Fasig-Tipton and Limelight Networks on getting to the finish line first:

  • Shoot in HD. There's no reason not to anymore.

  • If you lack a large staff, don't try to manage your video content delivery on your own, especially if you have a good deal of it. It's faster, easier, and ultimately more effective to let an expert partner tackle the task.

  • Don't waste time on tangential videos. Figure out your marketing mission, and make sure every video you produce and distribute is serving that cause.

  • Remember that having truly relevant video on your site can improve your search rankings.

Don Willmott's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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