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Super Bowl, Boob Bowl — Take Your Pick

The Super Bowl is ostensibly the biggest football game of the year, but it's mostly a marketing machine. After all, the hype lasts weeks before players even take the field. And commercials —especially dot-com ads — sometimes outshine the game.

Although video of the big game won't be streamed, there are a number of events that users can find online. In fact, audio of the Super Bowl will be webcast for the first time ever. The NFL, along with its partners, CBS Sports and SportsLine.com, announced it will deliver an audio webcast of the big game at SuperBowl.com ( www.superbowl.com) . On game day, there will be live play-by-play coverage of Super Bowl XXXV in six foreign languages.

In addition, the site will have other video and audio features like player diaries, an archive of past Super Bowl highlights, live audiocasts of press conferences, and podium feeds. The NFL is using iBEAM (www.ibeam.com) , to deliver the audio and video content.

Even more content is coming from SuperBowl.com TV, which is essentially the longest pre-show game ever. The webcast, from NFL Films, goes on live for four nights (at 7 p.m. EST), leading up to the game on Sunday. It features live, interactive content like interviews with players, bios, polls, chat rooms and more.

The four-night series will be hosted by Rebecca Grant of Fox's, "NFL Under the Helmet." Former San Diego Charger Aaron Taylor, will host the 30-minute webcasts. Providing the back-end support are NaviSite (using its StreamOS management software) and SeeItFirst (with its web-based authoring/broadcasting solution).

According to NaviSite's (www.navisite.com) director of marketing, David Gilby, the company is hosting and distributing traffic through StreamOS. "We helped map out the project. We have a satellite downlink, capture the signal, then encode it live," said Gilby. NaviSite's content delivery partners include Digital Island, Evoke and Enron, who help to load balance and distribute traffic. It is also using PSMG's Globecaster webcasting boxes.

How many people will tune into the webcasts? Gilby says they really can't estimate numbers but are "prepared for the onslaught". He said he's looking forward to working with the NFL. "They are most advanced sports franchise when it comes to the Web," he said, "that's why we're excited to work with them."

SeeItFirst.com's Breakthrough

For Fremont, Calif.-based SeeItFirst.com (www.seeitfirst.com) , this may be its biggest event ever. When the company debuted, its main offering was a "picture-taking" ability, which allows users to take high quality, still images of streaming video. This patented technology requires that video be pre-encoded using a high quality video source file to create the metadata.

But in December, SeeItFirst released its live interactive webcasting platform that it calls a "broadcasting environment". It is a web-based solution that lets webcasters create an interactive player window that pushes video, text, graphics and advertising onto a browser-based window. In effect, SeeItFirst adds interactivity to webcasts (see picture).

SeeItFirst's solution can be used by less technical people, with effective results. It uses a web-based interface where users can define the number and size of each window. They can type in URLs, text, add chat or polling features, and essentially get a program ready for show time. While the event is webcast, someone needs to log in and essentially "push" the content out to predefined frames in the player window. For example, if an interviewer is talking to Jim Rice, the "director" can push stats and a picture of Rice in frame within the window.

Despite competition from the likes of Veon, Hypnotizer, Rotor and Vsoft, which focus on clickable video or SMIL-friendly pages, SeeItFirst's main competition is companies that do it themselves. A lot of the technology that drives its interactive functions can be programmed by a dedicated Web developer.

The truth, says SeeItFirst, is that many people don't have the time or expertise to do it all in-house. "A lot of people have [Microsoft] Front Page," said Scott Gordon, vice president, worldwide marketing for SeeItFirst, "but not everyone does anything with it." The company also says it can provide a full suite of services. Plus, SeeItFirst claims that clickable video tends to distract from a webcast.

Gordon acknowledges the competition, but says where SeeItFirst lacks in the "wow" factor, they make up in customers. "People are paying for it," said Gordon. "People look at the competition, then see that they want this to work now. We're about rapid deployment. We can come in last minute," said Gordon.

Just Tuning in For the Ads?

For those not interested in sports (or the matchup between the Ravens and the Giants), there's the allure of watching the world's most expensive commercials. With a worldwide TV audience in the billions, advertising is one of the biggest draws for some viewers. AdCritic.com (www.adcritic.com), a site that showcases commercials, usually gets its biggest audience around Super Bowl time.

In the past, AdCritic has used (non-streaming) QuickTime to show its archive of 1,700 commercials. But this year, things will be a bit different. AdCritic announced a deal with Microsoft to post commercials online in Windows Media Video 8 format, 30 minutes after they air on TV. Viewers will be able to watch them over and over, then vote for their favorites. All of the ads will also be shown on WindowsMedia.com and at AdCritic.com's Super Bowl site (http://superbowl.adcritic.com/wm/).

Last year's buzz-worthy ads included:

  • EDS' "Cat Herders", which had cowboys trying to wrangle a herd of cats.
  • Nuveen, which showed a computer-enhanced Christopher Reeve walking again.
  • E-Trade wasting $2 million dollars with a musical monkey.

Boob Bowl III

For those not interested in pre-game coverage, the game or the ads, there are alternatives. Danni Ashe, recognized by Guinness World Record as the "Most Downloaded Woman", is webcasting her third annual "Boob Bowl", a four-hour adult-themed Super Bowl party. The webcast, starting at 6 p.m. EST at Danni.com (www.danni.com), will allegedly complement the televised Super Bowl.

Ashe said that she's bucked the lay-off trend by embracing profitable ways to make money online, namely porn. "If the Boob Bowl wasn't a profit center, we wouldn't do it," she said. "I feel that companies like D.E.N., Pseudo and Pop failed to make broadcasting profitable for several reasons, including spending money they couldn't recoup and not managing to produce content that people were willing to pay for. We're not making that mistake," said Ashe.

The site uses a so-called proprietary streaming technology called "DanniVision" from studios in Los Angeles. It currently produces over 17 (profitable) hours of Internet programming a month.

Future is Now

This year's relatively net-friendly Super Bowl can have lasting effects on the future of sports online. Recently there has been a spate of announcements by major sports leagues showcasing their Web initiatives. Virage announced a deal with Major League Baseball to showcase game highlights online (See related story). And there's the ongoing NBA audio subscription package, along with a broader deal to add more video content using streaming services company Convera.

Gilby from NaviSite hopes this is the start of a beautiful friendship with the NFL. Dave Franza, chief information officer of NFL FILMS and executive Internet producer for NFLFILMSTV said he's looking forward to the "first ever" pre-game webcasts.

"Streaming media is the wave of the future and for NFL FILMS," said Franza. "In the words of George Allen -- former Redskins coaching great -- 'the future is now.'"

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