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Soccer Streams to U.S.

Videosport.com, and eMedia are working together to stream pay-per-view (PPV) coverage of European football (or soccer for the U.S.-centric) games. The first webcast is a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Cup fourth round match between Athens and Barcelona, streamed live at www.videosport.com on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 2 p.m. EST. The PPV charge is $6.99 per match.

Sergey Bougaev, president and founder of Videosport, believes that soccer fans are currently underserved in the U.S. market. Television broadcasters in the U.S. have been traditionally uninterested in purchasing large soccer contracts, however Bougaev maintains that there is niche audience that can be well served by Internet distribution. He cited a game in Sept. 1999 that brought 10,000 viewers to the free 56k stream they produced.

Founded in 2000, VideoSport is a USA-based subsidiary of UFA Sports GmbH, which is a part of RTL Group and Bertelsmann. UFA has contracts with many National Soccer Associations in Europe and more than 300 European professional soccer clubs; therefore it can provide VideoSport with exclusive IP broadcasting rights to over 150 professional soccer games per year.

Bougaev said that while Videosport has the rights to 150 games, it is currently committed to producing only 22, and is waiting to gauge the audience interest before increasing its coverage.

For each game, Videosport will receive the video signal, minus any text or voice-over, at its Dallas-based production studio from the local European television station via satellite. The signal will be put through its own video production system, which adds text, graphics and announcing in both English and Spanish. It will then be encoded using eMedia technology on site at 100kps, 300kps and 650kps, as well as in a 20kps audio only (which is available for free) Encoded video programs are then delivered to e-Media's distribution center, which manages the registration and distribution of the two-hour PPV matches.

Conflict with geographically exclusive broadcast rights has limited live coverage of sporting events on the Web due to been the inability to effectively limit the geographic distribution of streaming media. Al Barber, chief operating officer at eMedia, explained that eMedia will be blocking requests from certain geographic locations in the registration process. "We provide geographic control because we know when you register, where you are," said Barber. eMedia can check the origin of the IP requesting the stream and in the case of the game on the 15th, deny access to those located in Greece and Spain (due to exclusive television rights). To handle high volume, real-time payment processing, e-Media has partnered with SuperSpeed technology.

Videosport will also be delivering its branded video feed to Dish Network and DirectTV for television PPV, which will be priced at $13.99.

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