Surfline Rides the Online Video Wave with Limited Resources

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The site saves money by using royalty-free music for its videos. But these aren’t stock  

Surfing contests occur all around the world, making them difficult for a small staff to cover in-house. But the contests often record and submit their own video, which Surfline’s team then edits for online use. Brands such as Quiksilver and Hurley, which sponsor surf contests or cater to the surfing enthusiast, will also hire their own photographers and videographers, submitting the results to Surfline and other surfing sites. Surprisingly, pro surfers are another source of footage.

“A lot of the professional surfers, how they make their living is being in the public eye, so they want to get their stuff on our site,” says Beaty. “They’re actually hiring their own filmers now to try to get us the best content.”

When editing the submitted video, Beaty looks for high action moments, a storyline, and strong production values. He tries to provide something for all surfers, balancing action, big waves, interviews, and lifestyle content.

“We try to get just the best stuff on our site. If you go to a site like YouTube or Vimeo and such, you’ve got to really sift through a lot of bad content to get the gems,” Beaty says.

For his part, Beaty only covers about four events per year, mostly in California near Surfline’s Huntington Beach, Calif., headquarters (the office overlooks the beach; some surf contests take place right outside). Beaty shoots his original video from land, rather than getting in the water for more dramatic angles.

“You’re able to cover more action from the land. If you’re swimming, you can get one or two quality clips you can use, but if you’re on land you can get a lot more. You don’t miss a moment,” he says.

The biggest challenge to shooting surfing contests, he says, is wanting to surf when he has to work. Like most of the Surfline staff, Beaty is an avid surfer. “I’m passionate about it, and hopefully it shows in what we produce,” he says.

The rest of Surfline’s original event coverage is submitted by its global network of paid contributors.

Set-Top Surfing

The streaming video world is now migrating to the living room, and Surfline is right there with it.

“There might be a special Internet TV channel by Surfline that could be coming soon,” hints Mezger. “It’s in the works. I can’t talk about too many details, but we’re working on bringing all of our video-on-demand content as well as live events to a Surfline channel on Internet TV.” 

Surfing coverage is a challenge for broadcast or cable stations, since competitions routinely go on for days and there can be long breaks when the waves don’t cooperate. That gave Surfline its opportunity to succeed online and will help it do the same with living room streaming. Online coverage is less expensive to produce, notes Mezger. Surfline can run an event’s live stream all day long and easily substitute other material if conditions are poor. None of that is true for broadcast and cable networks.

The company is now working with major set- top platforms such as Roku, Boxee, and Apple to create channels for their devices. Mezger says viewers will see results by the time this story sees print. As with the browser content, the set-top channels will offer a mixture of fee and free content, with the live surf cams requiring a subscription.

“Having the same experience in all the different devices is key,” notes Beaty. While the various set-top boxes may all have different requirements, the consumer-facing channels should feel identical.

“We want to be on every place we can possibly be on,” says Mezger. The move will also help fill the void of surfing coverage on television.

“There are a few obscure cable channels way down on the list [on which] you can find highlight coverage of contests. Maybe here and there they’ll be showing some live contests,” says Mezger. “We’re going to capitalize on that and basically give our users what they want.”

No doubt Surfline will, and it will continue satisfying demand with an in-house video team you can count on one hand. As a company that’s gone from phone lines to the living room, Surfline shows that online video lets smart small companies face off with the major players and carve out their own spot on the wave.

This article originally ran in the August/September issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "Riding the Online Video Wave." 

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