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Streaming Sports Take a Step Forward

Football may be center stage with the ramp up to Superbowl Sunday, but in the wings, other leagues are busy preparing to bring sports fans into the digital age. The National Hockey League (NHL) is turning its All-Star Weekend into a testing ground to see how new technologies can enhance the viewer experience. Additionally, Major League Baseball Advanced Media signed on with Virage to provide online searchable video highlights of the 2001 baseball season.

The 2001 NHL All-Star Weekend will take place on Feb. 3-4 in Denver, and will explore interactive television broadcasts with ESPN, 360-degree webcasts from Be Here, and real-time stats from hockey players' helmets with Trakus.

"These tests will empower our fans with control over their hockey programming and will give us a better understanding of the opportunities that new and emerging media present for the NHL," said Doug Perlman, group vice president, NHL Media Ventures.

ESPN, in conjunction with the National Hockey League, will conduct a live interactive television test featuring prime-time programming from NHL All-Star Saturday. The test on Feb. 3, will cover the NHL Heroes of Hockey Game followed by the Dodge/NHL SuperSkills Competition, as well as the telecast of the Winter X games being held at Mt. Snow in Vermont.

Enhanced features will be available on TV screens of sports fans with suitable set-top boxes and cable from ESPN affiliates Adelphia, Charter, Comcast and Susquehanna. Commerce.TV, RespondTV and WINK, employ software that will allow enhancements to be inserted into ESPN's signal from the company's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Symbols for these enhancements will be displayed through compatible set-top boxes on viewers' television screens. Also, DirectTV subscribers with the latest RCA DSS unit can participate in the test. ESPN is anticipating approximately 2 million homes will take part in this television event.

Participating viewers will be able to individually manipulate the enhancements using their remote controls. The enhancements for the most part take the form of e-commerce opportunities, such as interactive commercials with product sampling, coupon offers, sweepstakes entries and product purchasing, as well as the ability to purchase NHL All-Star Weekend merchandise.

Get in the gameBe Here, a provider of 360-degree live streaming Internet video technology, will be placing NHL.com users in the midst of the action for the Conoco/NHL All-Star Open Practice on Saturday, Feb. 3. Be Here's cameras will be positioned behind the goal and at center ice, streaming live to NHL.com. The technology allows the viewer to navigate through the 360-degree streaming video, placing more control in the hands of the user. Be Here will also take fans on a virtual guided tour of NHL All-Star Fantasy, the League's interactive fan festival, beginning Thursday, Feb. 1.

Coverage of NHL All-Star Weekend will include a demonstration of technology developed by Trakus, Inc. and the NHL. During the Dodge/NHL SuperSkills Competition and the NHL All-Star Game, a select number of players will have a small device inserted in their helmets to track the speed of each skater, the distance skated, the impact of checks, and other physical statistics not accurately measured by the human eye. Each selected athlete will wear a transmitter weighing only 2 ounces. These transmitters send signals to antennas surrounding the ice rink. The signals are transmitted at 2.45 GHz and also use a spread spectrum, a technology once reserved for the military, to simultaneously meet FCC requirements and operate in the presence of other signals. The antennas measure the arrival times of the signal to calculate a player's position and repeat these measurements at least 30 times per second. The resulting statistics will be made available to the broadcasters throughout both telecasts and will be posted after the games on NHL.com.

Major League Baseball (MLB) is also stepping up to the digital plate with plans to provide its Web audience with searchable digital highlights for the 2001 baseball season. Virage, a streaming service and software provider, signed an agreement with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, a separate business entity that is jointly owned by the 30 Major League Baseball clubs, to provide the software tools and application services necessary to bring searchable and interactive streaming media game highlights to the Web. MLB was not immediately available for further comment.

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