Written by Adrian Pennington
Liverpool FC has seen its online video service prosper since working with StreamUK in mid-2011. Now the streaming media specialist aims to do the same for Europe’s top sports clubs.
With the kudos of working with Liverpool on one of the most successful football subscription services in the world, Stream UK plans to export its technology into Europe.
The London-based specialist is targeting sports clubs and sports business owners with an online video sports solution based on its StreamMP media management platform.
“The LFC experience shows that online video can be a significant offering for sports clubs,” says CEO Duncan Burbidge. “Sport is a driver for online video because clubs own lots of high quality content that people are willing to pay for. It makes it much easier to provide a premium service for owners who can see a ROI on the quality they are serving their customers.”
Although StreamUK had existing sports clients it was its work with Liverpool FC — in the premier league of global football brands — that convinced Burbidge to strategically reposition StreamMP as a sports online video platform.
In a blind test with CDN partner Level3, and against the incumbent CDN, StreamUK were selected by the club last August to power the video behind LFCTVonline.
Liverpool’s previous video streaming service used Flash player with WMP downloads. Its content then and now includes exclusive interviews, match highlights, press conferences, live matchday audio commentary, training ground footage, and reserve team games.
“For the rebuild in 2011, we were looking for increased penetration, better encoding quality, delivery to multiple platforms, and better analytics,” explains Michael Crowder, systems and development manager at LFC. “Also key was the vastly improved search which comes from having the video integrated with the web CMS — allowing a single set of metadata.”
“We built the site, Stream UK built the player. Key improvements for fans have been iOS streaming and adaptive streaming.”
It is believed to be the most successful online video subs service of any football club in the world.
Crowder says, “I can’t give exact numbers but we are confident in terms of subscriber numbers for a pure online video service ours is the most popular. The site itself recently broke (internal) records with almost 7 million unique users in January. Site traffic continues to grow and video is and will continue to be a key part of this.”
Given LFC’s huge overseas fanbase, the October 2011 $3 billion acquisition by Level3 of Global Crossing with its networking services in Asia and Latin America, is a likely contributing factor.
Adds Burbidge, “Sports clubs desire fan engagement but they don’t just want to bombard fans with anything and everything. It’s about carefully selecting the right technology and features so that fans can contribute their expertise. There is a tremendous wealth of expertise among the fan community and if you can bring that to video then you will grow engagement naturally.”
He continues, “We’re working with LFC to give an unrivalled video experience. It’s very much a two-way process and it’s forever evolving.”
Alongside the media management platform SteamMP, the focus of StreamUK’s sports solution is TRIBAL, an acronym for a suite of technologies targeted at growing online fan communities.
Breaking that down: ‘T’ is for Twitter, or as Burbidge explains, “a focus on key social media tools” and the ability to post relevant tweets. “‘R’ is for real-time sharing. Key moments can be shared on social networks, with the most popular shares becoming community markers. You can use the expertise of those who have viewed to index the video for those that haven’t.
“Next is intelligent delivery. Whatever the user’s network, the technology should adapt to give them the best performance. It should be integrated into the web CMS and integrated with video workflow.
“Branding means we don’t do cookie cutter sites. We work hard to make the experience fully branded in a way fans can respond to. Branded can be the background image to the player, the sound of the crowd as it loads, the colours used, or something as simple as the font.
“Accurate analytics and reposts should tell the client what is working and what is not from everywhere the content is viewed.
“There is no magic,” he says. “Just good solid technology combining metadata management with appropriate branding and social media tools targeted to fans.”
The first fruit of this process is a feature allowing users to time-capture significant moments within live and on-demand video and post time-specific content via Twitter or Facebook. It has been used in coverage of several running events in Spain, including Madrid’s BBVA benefit race, a marathon in which 12,000 runners were able to capture the moment they crossed the finish line and find that moment on-demand when watching it back online.
Next up are improvements to social media integration for which StreamUK has will use stats obtained from the Google Analytics plug-in. “Phase 2 of the sharing capability will allow popular shares to be placed on to the client player for a social indexing of games,” Burbidge explains. PVR functionality is also being lined up for release in 2012.
Digital media powerhouse Perform works with a number of English Premier League clubs and powers the online video provision of The Football League which represents the online video interests of 86 clubs in lower divisions, but StreamUK believes its individual brand customisation and ability to integrate video into the client website gives it an edge.
“We are talking with the bigger clubs in Spain and Italy,” reveals Burbidge. “Most European clubs have an immature web video offering compared to the EPL and we can offer them a good return on investment.”
Recent signatories to the platform include the Italian superbike agency and Enda Sports and Media, in which the Turkish production company has produced a series of live football games delivered online with the cost met by providing betting opportunities to viewers.
“The possibility of replacing ads with betting opportunities opens a whole range of possibilities for content owners. It puts the question to advertisers: can you beat the CPM available?” said Burbidge. “The potential is obvious and we have not even utilised our targeting capabilities yet.”
Those capabilities will be enhanced with the integration of Adswizz’s IP targeted online media advertising, the result of a partnership announced in January, 2012.
“Adswizz allows ads to be targeted according to the fan profile,” says Burbidge who says that CPM rates using the service rise from 6 to over 20.
Adswizz, headquartered in Brussels has become a European leader in internet radio ad insertion, recently introducing a video ad server to offer cross-platform campaign support. It is IAB compliant to both VPAID and VAST standards. Its ad-replacement technology is integrated into the U.S. network of streaming media giant Liquid Compass.
“Working with StreamUK is a big opportunity for us because we think our technology and our service can provide an additional way for their customer to monetise their stream,” says Adwizz’s Jean-Claude Morel. “Using our technology companies like a football club can monetise the audience they have on the web by selling targeted ads.”
He adds: “It is a very interesting approach to work with a streamer since they own relationship with customers and the streamer can provide our solution as an additional service. We have a lot of expectation for this partnership.”
Burbidge, a former management consultant, and CTO Joe Bray began the business in 2001 with a content management system which morphed into a video management system around 2006, with all the work done in house.
“Towards the end of 2009 we started to see, with the increased rate of change in the video market, that we were not able to keep pace with developing technology,” he says. “We looked around for a solution, thought of partnering with Brightcove or Ooyala, before we found Kaltura’s open source software. We got to know the code and to work with the community and it allowed us to keep pace with video developments while being able to tweak code for our own purpose.”
They broke the platform into layers of data warehousing, database and transcodes and began to migrate clients over to the system, renamed StreamMP and delivered over Level3.
“We’ve since made several enhancements to the Kaltura codebase including the fast switching of the player; the inclusion of Rohzet Carbon in the transcoding backend so you can upload a piece of content once and have it transcoded into HTML5 or tablet formats, and so on. We’ve allowed users to delve much more deeply into stats and have completely reworked the data warehousing part of the product. We’ve also brought in new players to make the site more ‘sticky’, for example by having related clips built into it and a more sophisticated use of tagging.
“The whole premise is aimed at increasing the amount of video that users watch. At the end of the day we get money from data being delivered, so the development of that functionality is very much in our interest.”
In a competitive market, Burbidge believes StreamUK can distinguish itself from opposition like Brightcove and Ooyala.
“We think we’re best at transcoding quality and at delivering quality, but our single biggest advantage is our responsiveness,” he says. “Because we are U.K.-based, if you have a technical question you don’t have to wait until 4PM to get a sensible answer.
“We can also develop features according to your needs. Brightcove and Ooyala are great companies but they are huge companies so if you have a need for a feature you are much more likely to be listened to by us. We have 40 people in Camden, growing organically and we aren’t up against VC pressure so if you need a feature and it makes sense then we will develop it.”
Already present in Spain and Italy, StreamUK plans new offices in Germany and France and is seeking integration with manufacturers of encoding devices (Newtek’s Tricaster is one) as well as partnerships with broadcasters and satellite uplink providers.
The U.S. is not considered a target because, says Burbidge, “Competition in the U.S. is too intense. Our technical support team in Europe and our ability to develop quickly according to local market needs are key for us.”
Other clients include the BBC and newspaper group The Guardian, which both make use of Stream Crowdsourcer to manage the ingest, transcode, and curation of video, and Yahoo, which has deployed Stream Connect for live webcasts across Europe.
The expansion of IP-delivered content to connected TVs will also fuel the company’s growth. It is on the advisory board of internet TV platform YouView, works with Connect-TV which delivers IPTV to digital terrestrial service Freeview, and is under NDA with Samsung.