SBJ/20090202/This Week's News

Bell to offer live NHL content in Canada

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association, in partnership with Bell Mobility, will take a significant step in the effort to put live games in the hands and pockets of sports fans this week when they introduce a new mobile offering in Canada.

The live game broadcasts are part of the NHL Bundle, a comprehensive 3G mobile package that includes live and delayed game broadcasts, original video programming and live radio play-by-play of NHL games. It costs subscribers $8 a month, a fee the NHL and Bell will share.

Because of blackout restrictions, the package will offer live video broadcasts and period-by-period highlights only from games featuring two U.S. teams, but the offering still marks a major step in the evolution of live game broadcasts. The only other league that now offers live video broadcasts of games on mobile sets is the NFL, which provides Sprint subscribers with broadcasts of the eight games it televises on the NFL Network.

Long discussed as a hypothetical, streaming live games has become more feasible with the development of mobile phones such as the BlackBerry Storm and Apple iPhone, which offer sophisticated Web browsers and multimedia capabilities. To capitalize on that technology, the NHL made a seven-figure investment and partnered with five technology companies to develop the infrastructure to provide high-quality mobile video and live games to Canadian subscribers. Bell picked up that package as part of the sponsorship it struck with the league late last year.

NHL Bundle offers live games,
original programming and radio
play-by-play for $8 a month.

The package gives the league a new revenue stream, and is expected to make its partnership with Bell even more profitable.

“We see it as a big revenue stream and we’re serving the fan, giving them what they want, when they want it,” said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins. “It’s already a profitable deal and we haven’t even seen the revenue-sharing aspect of it kick in yet.”

The NHL hopes to strike a similar agreement in the U.S. with mobile partner Verizon Wireless at the end of the season, when its deal with the wireless company ends.

Bell Canada sees the package as a real differentiator in the Canadian marketplace, where hockey avidity is often compared to NFL avidity in the U.S.

“We’re looking to take the top content in Canada and make sure our customers can get it on the go,” said Andrew Wright, Bell Canada’s director of content acquisition and distribution. “We expect it to help us retain customers and get new customers.”

The package will include a mix of original video and reappropriated video from Original video offerings will include “Fantasy Fan Blast,” a regular update with fantasy hockey recommendations; “Prime Match Up,” a preview of that night’s best game; “Fantasy Tip,” a recommendation on quick moves to improve your fantasy team; and “Frozen Moments,” still photos of some of the league’s best action that feature the video behind the image.

The average length of original video will be one to two minutes. There also will be 20-minute condensed clips of all NHL games that will be posted within a half-hour of a game’s conclusion and highlights of every game available 15 minutes after the game ends. All of the video will be cut by the existing production staff, a group of 20 employees managed by André Mika, NHL senior vice president and head of new media programming.

Bell will support the product launch with a marketing and promotional push that includes commercials, in-store promotions and on-site activation at Bell-sponsored Canadian teams, the Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.

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