SMW '18: JD Fox Talks Making Small-Market Sports Streaming Look Big League

Learn more about live sports streaming at Streaming Media's next event.

Read the complete transcript of this interview:

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media West 2018. I'm Tim Siglin, contributing editor with Streaming Media Magazine and founding executive director of the not-for-profit Help Me! Stream.  Today, I've got J.D. Fox with me from PrestoSports. J.D. you were telling me, though, people know you from another company. What was that company's name?

JD Fox: Stretch Internet. Basically, back in April, we were acquired and part of that is a name transition. So, we're taking three companies in the college sports space, and we're cramming them together into one kind of college sports division.

Where the other companies were mainly focused in the web and in statistics, Stretch Internet was a video streaming provider. So, that's kind of the streaming portion of it as well. We're providing kind of a more end-to-end, well-rounded solution.

Tim Siglin: So, it was Stretch and Presto. And, what was the third company?

JD Fox: SIDHelp.

Tim Siglin: One of the topics you all were starting to talk about in your last panel and sort of got sidetracked on was reach for audiences of smaller leagues. Talk to me a little bit about that because that's intriguing to me.

JD Fox: It really comes down to how do you grow your audience when you don't have that name recognition. If you end up on a platform, whether it's OTT or something else, and people flip through the channels, they may not know your school. So, how do you grab them? How do you get that attention? How do you do something to look big league? And, how do you kind of grab that audience?

And then, the secondary part of that is obviously trying to take your audience and grow it through technology as well. So, whether you're bringing in social media into your broadcasting and bringing in some interactivity to it, or you're empowering the community with bringing in outside people to help run cameras or things like that. And, kind of creating a grassroots movement as well.

There's a couple of different ways that people have done it because, at the end of the day, people are trying to monetize streaming in the sports world. That's been one of the big things that we've seen with ESPN+. Going to the model that they're going to--“Hey, we're going to get rights agreements and the end user's going to pay a small monthly fee.”

That's kind of where the sports world is going. So, what we try to do at the smaller-school level and even for some of our larger-school clients is give them a focused audience. So, basically we have people who are wanting to see that concept specifically and pay for that concept specifically. So, how do we take that and grow it to monetize it for them?

Tim Siglin: Traditionally for small schools, they may have had a campus radio station that people locally who had gone to that school could listen to, alumni. Is the same true for this paid model? Is it primarily alumni for these smaller schools, or is it people who love the sport and are looking to find the next big thing in terms of a small school that has star players?

JD Fox: Parents are the number-one focus group, the targeted market. I mean, they're a built-in audience though. So, really what you have to do is you have to engage with the alumni associations like you mentioned. Or, if you've got a pipeline, a sport that you're really solid in. You're nationally ranked all the time. How do you grow the streaming of that sport which people are interested in? And, how do you attract that audience to the rest of your offerings?

Tim Siglin: What about moving down into high school? Do you think that will happen in the near-term, or will that take some time?

JD Fox: There are some companies that are doing that, and we have some high school clients as well. The big issue that people are trying to figure out is the monetization of that. I mean, really it's tough to get a community in a five-mile radius that might care about a particular school to sit home and watch the game when they can just go to the game.

So, really there are a few different models that people have tried in the high school space, and I think we're all just still, as a community, trying to figure it out. One of things I like trying to approach it as is, we look at the newspaper industry and that bleeds down to where did those newspaper guys start. High school newspapers. That's what I grew up on, and obviously that's no more.

But video programs in high school are big. Now a lot of them are focusing the students on doing things like being a YouTube influencer and things like that. But, you can take that talent and give them a skill that they can go on and go to college for, something like that.

So, being able to run a multi-camera production with students. Make it a class environment and use the sporting as kind of the main thing while also doing other campus events is definitely a way I like to shape it.

Tim Siglin: What may be issue at the high school level is the inconsistency of video capture and live capture. Where at a college level, as you say, you've got a department that's focused on that kind of thing. Is the television and broadcast department saying that the kids are doing that as their extra credit”

JD Fox: It's really because it's kind of required in the college space. It's not at yet to the point where it's required in the high school space. You really have to get them to buy in on something to grow this. Really, student education is the big thing that we try to focus on, and make them realize that in a way you're kind of marketing your school. But you're really providing a service for students.

You're also helping your student athletes at the end of the day. You have a nice three-camera production, and they're trying to get recruited to a big school. Cutting a highlight tape from that is a lot better than cutting a highlight tape off of somebody's phone.

Tim Siglin: That's true. So, what's the biggest technical challenge for these smaller schools?

JD Fox: Connectivity is generally the number-one thing. When we look at school districts, they're a little bit different than a college level. There might be one IT person for an entire school district. While schools are becoming more and more in line with having wireless Internet and having wired Internet, it's getting IT professionals from the district on site to open 1935 so they can stream, things like that.

JD Fox: So, the other is kind of the misconception of how much it costs to do everything. I mean, technology and cameras are getting better, and everything's getting cheaper. We've got great wireless solutions now that are available at a fraction of the price that we looked at wireless before. We have great companies that are doing the automated production that fit really well in the high school market.

JD Fox: So, really it's an education. And, then kind of just clearing the technology hurdle of, “Hey you have Internet, let's use it for the production.”

Tim Siglin: And, is the same true on a technological basis for the small colleges? Do those colleges have connectivity? What might be the technical challenges for them?

JD Fox: The technical challenge is getting them not to just sell. They're basically required for coaching and other reasons they have to film the game. So, we're starting usually with a one-camera setup. It might be a little handycam-style camcorder and getting them to realize that, okay that's great. You guys are getting this content and game online. But if you add a second camera angle, if you add another audio source ... If you do these little minor things, the quality of the production and people wanting to come back and watch it grows immensely.

Tim Siglin: So, consistency of quality is the primary issue?

JD Fox: Exactly. And, from a streaming rights standpoint, we're at a conference level now. So, basically the conferences can dictate the platform, the provider, that sort of thing. So, what you have to do is not compete against the world necessarily. You're competing against your conference.

From a conference's standpoint, they want everybody to be uniform. And, of course that's not going to happen because you've got, generally in a conference, you've got schools that have more resources. Whether it be just from a body count standpoint to just funding.

Tim Siglin: The boosters, sure.

JD Fox: Boosters, exactly. You might have a school that's got a nice TriCaster and running a four-camera setup. And, you might have a school running a on camera hardware encoder with a little $300 handycam. Trying to bridge the gap is also the big challenge there, and getting people to realize they can do that and they can do it affordably.

Tim Siglin: I'd love to check in with you a year from now wand see kind of where that's gone because I can see that we really are on the cusp of at least the small colleges being able to attract an audience.

I guess the last question here is more a business question. You were talking about how people would pay to watch these particular schools. Will there be models that say, whether it's ESPN+ or what have you, that we'll give you free access to all these smaller schools for a week so you can see a whole bunch of schools and decide which ones you want to follow?

JD Fox: From our business perspective, free-to-view is still the primary use. It's just people are now seeing this as a monetization play. They see it as the ability to make money as opposed to spending money on streaming to be able to make money from it. But I do think that once we get more universal monetization, there are going to be some great opportunities to have trials and have ways to show that these schools are stepping up their game and bringing high-quality content that people want to see.

Tim Siglin: Awesome. JD, I appreciate your time. We'll be right back after a break.

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