Monday, 26 October 2009

Mike Aylward's column on Video webcasting

To Be (Seen) or Not To Be (Seen); THAT IS THE QUESTION (For the CIS):

(Part 3 of 3)…

Videowebcasting:

As discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series; the CIS and its member schools face a major challenge in the 21st Century. How to raise the CIS profile in the national media consciousness in the digital age while facing a lot of economic challenges on the part of the media, the CIS, and CIS member schools?

There has been a slow but steady improvement in the coverage of CIS sports by the national media; but there still is a long way to go.

In this final installment I am going to discuss a way that the CIS, through work by the conferences and each member school, can help themselves in this cause.

There are a wide variety of tools that now can be used to get the information out about the CIS. Every CIS member school (and the CIS and each conference) now have websites of varying quality with information such as articles, stats, schedules, photos, Top 10 lists, etc. Some now have video and audio reports. Many have been jumping on the social media bandwagon with such tools as RSS feeds, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, etc. These are all great tools and will help build a connection with fans and potential fans.

However, there is still an area that is sadly lacking; and that is the video webcasting of CIS major sport live events. Again, this has been getting better but the progress has been excruciatingly slow. I am not going to discuss audio webcasting; because it is already dinosaur technology; it should be offered as an option as part of the vidcast or for minor team events.

Why is videowebcasting so important to the CIS? Because of the lack of national media coverage; the CIS and each individual school must build their own grassroots broadcast network. This is a way to connect to existent fans and to build the fan base and to build connections to the countless alumni in Canada and around the world.

Why have the CIS member schools been so slow to embrace video webcasting? The first reason has been a general lack of vision on the part of athletic directors across the country and conference presidents and the second main reason always given is that there is no money or staff to get it done.

The first is getting better slowly but the fact that many CIS schools are not vidcasting their major sport home games should be a source of shame and embarrassment to these athletic directors. The second, budget and resources, just does not ring true anymore.

There are many ways to get videowebcasts done in the present day. The first is by using a professional vidcast service like News-cast.com out of Fredericton; the first service to every broadcast a CIS event. SSN Canada is making big inroads and also offers a good service. News-cast doesn’t ask for a fee, just that the school supply the broadcast and News-cast gets it money by charging pay-per-view and through ads. Canadians don’t seem to like pay-per-view for vidcasting; but this is a very good service. SSN offers a comprehensive package whereby the schools supply the broadcast and SSN offers a certain number of free views per broadcast event; and it makes its money through ad revenue. SSN is a good option also; especially for larger schools with a lot of teams and a lot of possible home events to potentially broadcast. There are other excellent pro services available in Canada in the USA as well.

However, many schools have either balked at the pay-per-view concept or at the idea of paying a flat fee; this is Canada after all; where everybody wants everything free.

Voila! There are now two excellent free options available; www.ustreamtv/ and www.justin.tv/ (and there are others). These platforms are free to use for the broadcaster (in our case; a CIS school) and free for viewers to watch. Ustreamtv, for example, offers live chat so fans can discuss what is going on and give feedback to the broadcasters, multiple screen inputs (up to four), the ability to pull down external video (such as ads), free game archive service for future views, stats graphic generator, etc. And it’s free! Ustreamtv now even has the capability to broadcast from select cell phone cameras! (not that I recommend that for a CIS broadcast; but hey, maybe better than not having one!)

So, what does a school need to do a vidcast? It needs a hi-speed internet connection, a computer with a graphics card that can upload the broadcast, a video camera, and a microphone for an announcer if you want totally bare bones. To raise the standard a little, throw in a audio mixer, and a couple headset mics and you have two announcers. To raise it even more; bring in another camera and an a/v switcher box and maybe a PVR to do instant replay.

For those schools that still cite budget problems; there is an even simpler style, which has been done by some CIS schools, just broadcast the game video with the camera’s built-in mic picking up ambient sound and no announcers; it is still better than not having a broadcast at all!

Staffing is often cited as a problem; mainly because schools don’t want to pay for a broadcast crew. However, there are lots of ways to work around that; ask for volunteers from the student body as announcers, if there is a campus radio station; work with them, if there is a journalism or communications program at your school; work with them, if there is a community college broadcast program; work with them; if regional cable is doing a TV game; work out a deal to have the broadcast also sent out on vidcast. Be creative.

Budget for equipment is also cited as a problem but the fact is; I am betting every CIS school has the equipment or it is very cheap to buy now; even for cash-strapped athletics departments. They can also offer sponsors ad options in exchange for equipment donations.

So, you can see; there are many ways to get a vidcast going.

The final reason why it bothers me so much that CIS fans don’t get to watch a lot of CIS major team home games is this; and this is the big one! There are two services presently used by CIS member institutions; one is called Game Tape Exchange and the other is Game Film. From what I have found out (and my experience as a former SID), in the four CIS conferences, every game for football, men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s volleyball are recorded onto digital video and then uploaded via the internet to these two services after each game.

The point of this exercise is so that coaches can access these services with a Login and a Password and then view every game so the coach can scout her/his opponents. This is all grand and good and helps the coaches which helps raise the level of the product and in itself; this is a good idea.

But, it’s a very bad idea when only the coaches can watch the games and interested and potential fans can not! Think about it! This means that there is a paid student (maybe a volunteer) operating a camera and a laptop computer with video encoding software so that the game is archived and then uploaded to these services. But we can’t watch the games live! All it would take would be an internet connection and a mic and announcer and the game is vidcasting live and perhaps free if on ustream or Justin.TV; while still archiving for the coaches. Or just do the bare bones and put the video up! Shameful and embarrassing!

On a side note; why don’t these two services at least offer archived game viewing for fan viewing? I know, I know, bandwidth costs; but perhaps that should be part of the contract? However, not a necessary step if the schools vidcast these games live and archived for fans on their own.

If this came to pass; this would mean that every CIS major sport home game would be available for live broadcast (and archiving for fan view) for every team! Think about it! There really would be a CIS-TV; albeit a co-operative one between the schools, the conferences, the CIS, and the pro vidcast services! There really are no excuses here. This basically means that for these sports; almost all equipment and staff are already in place; there just is no live broadcast!

This lack of vidcasting is not the fault of the CIS; this falls at the feet of the conferences and the individual schools who control the regular season and playoff games. The conferences have to mandate that major sport home games are vidcast; just like they mandate that these games are sent up to Tape Exchange and Game Film.

It is also way past high time that Athletic Directors become more creative in their vision and find ways to make this happen; give their Sports Info Directors the needed support in this area; in terms of budget, equipment, volunteers and staff, and not simply tell the SIDs to make it happen or that they will look into it for the future. Remember; it’s not just live games you can vidcast; but media conferences, post game interviews, do live interviews with viewer chat questions, athletic awards ceremonies, etc. etc. etc.

Each week; I can watch Canadian high schools sports, Junior B British Columbia hockey, weddings, bar mitzvahs, you name it; but I still don’t have a very big option when it comes to watching major sport live games from the largest sporting organization in Canada.

I have laid out some cheap and easy ways to make CIS vidcasting happen en masse; however if the schools continue moving at the snail pace they are on; things will slowly get better in dribs and drabs and nice media releases will come out saying how a school will vidcast three of its team eight home games; the CIS status quo will continue. But, meanwhile new revolutions will occur in internet broadcasting and CIS sports will remain five years behind. It’s way past time for CIS vidcasting to join the present.

1 comment:

SSN Canada Championships said...

Hi Mike, Bengt here from SSNCanada. I don't want to hijack your blog, but I think it is important to understand why SSN has a $750 annual fee - not for bandwidth, but for the support, insight, training and marketing of CIS sports. It costs money to make a decent product. Bandwidth is a commodity. Knowledge, experience, and most imporantly assistance when your game is going live is worth something. Really appreciate you pumping the video options for schools. All the best, Bengt.