SBJ/June 14 - 20, 2004/E Sports

Yahoo! solidifies role in college game audio marketplace

Yahoo! Sports has signed a multiyear extension with Learfield Communications and ISP Sports jointly that keeps Yahoo! in charge of streaming live game audio for the 19 major Division I programs whose Internet broadcast rights are owned either separately or jointly by the two collegiate sports marketers.

Brad Smith’s Tigers will begin charging consumers for streaming audio this fall.
The deal, which means nearly half of the more than 100 schools in Yahoo!’s college audio package will offer premium subscription programming in 2004, solidifies Yahoo!’s significant share of the market as the industry inches ever closer to a fully subscription-based business.

“Schools are seeing that this is a valid and growing business for them to be a part of,” said Brian Grey, general manager of Yahoo! Sports.

RealNetworks and the Official College Sports Network, re-branded after it was acquired by College Sports Television in March, in the 2004-05 academic year are expected to add several schools to the 60 college athletic departments currently charging for premium content as part of their College Sports Pass offering. Meanwhile, relative newcomer XOS Networks, renamed after XOS bought New Media Networks in February, has increased its client roster to 15 schools from eight last year, and at least four will charge for premium content in 2004.

Yahoo! entered the live college audio business in 2000, when it began providing the backbone for about 100 colleges to offer the programming for free. The cost of streaming, as well as the subsequent success of OCSN and Real, led Yahoo! and its college partners last fall to begin pushing schools toward the subscription model.

In the 2003-04 academic year, 42 schools, including 16 Learfield/ISP schools, began charging for the School Pass product, which offered audio for the individual school for $4.95 a month or $29.95 a year, and College Pack, which offered the same programming for all participating schools for $9.95 a month or $59.95 a year. Duke, Oklahoma and Kansas were among the schools that made the switch, while Clemson, Colorado and Missouri opted to absorb the streaming costs themselves. That meant the University of Missouri, for example, had to pay about $10,000 in streaming costs.

“Alerting our fans in August was not a good thing from a customer-relations standpoint,” said Mario Moccia, Missouri’s senior associate athletic director.

Missouri, Colorado and Clemson will charge consumers in 2004-05, bringing to 45 the number of schools offering subscription programming through Yahoo! Learfield and ISP have the multimedia rights to more than the 19 schools serviced by Yahoo!, but the other schools either have not recognized Learfield/ISP’s ownership of their Internet broadcast rights or have chosen not to participate in the Yahoo! program.

Industry insiders anticipate a full-scale shift toward subscription-based business in the not-so-distant future.

Craig Peterson, general manager of XOS Networks, said he expects every school with a Division I football program to charge for audio within the next 24 months.

“We want to get fans used to the idea of paying for all live content that gets delivered through the Internet,” Peterson said. “That’s why we’re really standing up and cheering for Yahoo!”

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