Headquarters: Lexington, Ky.
What’s next: iHigh is making a strong push into national ad sales. In addition, an $11.7 million investment from Cox Media Group will help the company grow.
Jim Host spent decades mining college sports for business opportunities, becoming an industry leader along the way. Now he’s applying the same formula to youth and high school sports with a high-tech digital strategy.
The 74-year-old serial entrepreneur sold Host Communications in 2002. Several years earlier, he took the remnants of the company’s development of the first NCAA Final Four website and launched iHigh. Host alums Tim Campbell and Rick Ford — now the president and CEO, respectively — led the startup. It focused on high school sports marketing, but three years ago made a digital media push.
Technology finally caught up with the vision, allowing iHigh to realize its goal of becoming a digital online TV platform for live games, custom clips and photos. The company now operates in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, Canada and other countries. Twenty percent of its 11 million unique visitors access games and other features on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), according to iHigh user data.
In November 2010, Host returned to the venture as CEO of iHigh.com. All of the technology and development emanates from the company’s Kentucky headquarters. Ubiquitous computers and streaming, combined with iHigh’s custom software, makes game broadcasts as easy as plopping a laptop on a courtside table.
Others see the value of so-called hyperlocal advertising on a national scale. In May, Cox Media Group invested $11.7 million in iHigh and took what both companies described as a strong minority interest.
Powerhouse schools have started using the site to sell custom ads to raise money, a proposition strengthened by the companion game broadcasts. Best of all for the schools, the production costs them little to nothing.
In Cincinnati, Moeller High School has used the site to generate $75,000 in local revenue in nine months. Hoover (Ala.) High School, in the Birmingham suburbs, raises $100,000 annually through advertising and an agreement with a local cable operator using iHigh.
Spinoff uses abound. This spring, 200 high schools used iHigh software to show graduation ceremonies online. Archived videos allow for repeat viewing and, of course, more site visits to prime advertisers. Glee clubs, marching bands, churches and others have also come aboard. Overall, iHigh has done 56,000 live-video events in the past year.
Everything is free for the schools, which provide their own computers and usually already have cameras on campus. The privately held iHigh and participating schools share revenue from ads and sponsorships. IHigh is worth $60 million, based on the Cox investment, the company said. It expects to become profitable in June 2013.
Host sees plenty of cause for optimism, save one nagging problem. “I can’t sleep fast enough,” he said.
Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.