SBJ/January 9 - 15, 2006/E Sports

Google gets in the game with NBA

Google Inc., perhaps the most ubiquitous brand name on the Internet, is making its first entry into the sports world through a video download deal with the NBA.

The new Google Video Store, located at video.google.com and announced last week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will feature full-length, downloadable videos of every NBA game this season. The games will be made available about 24 hours after completion for viewing predominately on a consumer’s home computer. Each game will cost $3.95.

Some archival games will also be sold, with a focus on more recent player accomplishments such as Kobe Bryant’s 62-point outburst last month against Dallas. Marquee events, such as recent NBA Finals, will not be available immediately, but are being considered for future release.

Some archival games, such as
Kobe Bryant’s 62-point performance
against Dallas last month,
will also be offered.

At launch, the NBA is the only provider of sports content for the new service. The video feeds will be the same as those distributed through the NBA League Pass out-of-market television package.

The deal does not mean that Google will have a dedicated sports strategy for its Video Store, which may come as a disappointment for rights holders who’ve been anxiously awaiting the influential company to come knocking on their doors.

“We’re essentially content agnostic,” said Peter Chane, senior product manager for Google Video. “What we’re about fundamentally is connecting people with data.”

Rather, Google intends to be a large, accessible destination point for a wide variety of video content, and the move creates an immediate competitor to Apple Computer Inc.’s successful iTunes online store. But the deal nonetheless marks a marriage between the massive consumer reach of Google, owners of the Internet’s most popular search engine, and a sports league eager to make an aggressive move into video downloads.

“This is a natural place for us to be, and really, it’s only the beginning,” said Brenda Spoonemore, senior vice president of interactive services for NBA Entertainment. “We intend to be very aggressive in exploiting all these new channels of content distribution.”

Analysts say other sports leagues will likely follow the NBA’s lead by making dowloadable video available via multiple online storefronts and for various devices. What remains undetermined, however, is exactly how much of a market exists for sports video downloads, making this pact, along with Apple’s recent iTunes deal with ESPN and ABC Sports, important litmus tests.

“There is lots of room to play in this space, and if I’m a content provider, I’m looking at as many distributors as possible,” said David Card, JupiterResearch analyst. “Apple has done a lot to re-energize the music business, but I don’t think they’ll be quite so revolutionary in the video business. Google will have a lot of room to run. And for the NBA, this is a very low-risk move since it’s so early in the development of all this. They’ll have a lot of luxury to play with pricing, content, formatting and so forth.”

A multipronged marketing effort to trumpet the NBA-Google alliance is being developed, league officials said.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the two sides have a revenue sharing agreement for all of the $3.95 download fees collected.

The NBA videos will not be transferable to mobile players such as the iPod. Viewing on regular TVs will also be difficult; while the content can be burned onto DVDs, they will be watchable only in conjunction with Google Media Player software that will be distributed through the new store, ruling out most stand-alone DVD players. The software will be a fundamental component of the store, similar to the proprietary software Apple uses for iTunes.

“The [digital rights management] is all going to be up to the content provider,” Chane said. “That, we think, is a major part of this venture. Some content is going to have very open standards, while some others will be different. We’re providing as much flexibility as possible.”

To that end, the Google Video Store is also offering a rental model in which videos are offered at a lower price but become unwatchable after 24 hours. The NBA video though, will be for sale only.

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