Strong foundation helps Kiswe change how sports look online
■ Headquarters: Murray Hill, N.J.
■ Number of employees: 35-40
■ What they do: Transform video to make it interactive.
As a regional sports network that has become known for its comprehensive coverage of Washington, D.C., area high school sports, Monumental Sports Network’s productions of those local games have always been best described as basic. The OTT service would use four cameras and send a single produced stream to its subscribers.
“That allowed us to have multiple cameras for high school games,” said Zach Leonsis, MSN’s general manager. “It allowed us to provide an unbelievable experience for high school sports for affordable production event rates.”
Even more importantly, Kiswe developed a system that gave Monumental viewers more control over what they were watching. They could rewind any of the feeds. They could clip their own highlights in real time. And they could easily share those highlights on social media.
Suddenly, run-of-the-mill high school football games carried the look of some professional telecasts and the functionality of any mobile sports offering.
That such a solution came from Kiswe Mobile came as no surprise to Leonsis. A group of top engineering minds from Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent formed Kiswe in 2013 to reimagine how sports is presented on mobile networks.
The company, founded by former Bell Labs President Jeong Kim, former Alcatel-Lucent scientist Wim Sweldens and former AOL executive Jimmy Lynn, set out to change the way people watch sports on their mobile devices. Over the past 18 months, the company has added some of the brightest minds in the business. It hired two other Alcatel-Lucent executives, Mike Schabel as CEO and Glenn Booth as chief commercial officer. And it brought on Google’s former head of agency development Khee Lee as chief monetization officer.
“We’ve really always focused on mobile and wireless networks and have built out some of the biggest networks around the world, so we understand this world very well,” Schabel said. “We wanted to take everything we know about mobile, cloud, video and create a deeply interactive experience on mobile devices. We knew we’d end up with more usage and engagement on these devices.”
Kiswe spent the first several years of its existence in a self-described “stealth mode,” where it would build and test its technology through partnerships like one it set up with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Kim is a partner at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Mystics, as well as the Capitals, Wizards and Capital One Arena.
At the beginning of this year, Kiswe executives felt that the market had started to shift more toward mobile, so it pursued more commercial opportunities.
|Kiswe helps make events look better and be more functional.
Over the summer, Kiswe partnered with the European broadcaster Sporza on a deal that allowed Kiswe to operate the mobile application around Sporza’s telecast of the IAAF Diamond League track and field series of events.
Like with the Monumental Sports Network high school games, Kiswe’s mobile service provided multiple camera angles and real-time statistics. During the Diamond League events, the app let users pick the competition they wanted to watch and switch seamlessly from one event to the other.
Usage results were huge. Kiswe executives said that people stayed on the app for an average of 35 minutes, a figure that is four times higher than a stream of the linear video. “When you have a mobile-first audience that skews younger, they don’t use second, third or fourth screens,” Schabel said. “They have one screen. What’s missing is a converged experience where you can actually have all of that, all wrapped into one.”
When Kiswe added social elements to its service, like live chats, shareable game highlights, trivia contests and polling, engagement jumped even higher. Kiswe executives said users who had interactive elements stayed engaged nine times longer than the traditional linear TV stream.
“We realized that the one video screen at the event that really drives deep interaction with people is the Jumbotron, with Kiss-cam and Dance-cam,” Schabel said. “We created the digital equivalent for the digital fan.”
|Kiswe allows viewers to watch individualized cameras, interact socially and play games.
“Nobody gave us an idea to do this — we knew it would work,” Booth said. “It’s re-creating in a digital world what makes people excited and feel together in real life.”
To capitalize on that, Kiswe recently rolled out a social media app called Hang Time, which lets people watch games or movies in a private hang alongside their friends in a virtual, social media world. Within the Hang Time app, users can chat, send emojis, play fantasy, and hit each other with what Schabel calls a “signature bomb,” which was inspired by a pokeball and lets users throw virtual taunts to friends’ phones during the game. The idea is to bring back the communal experience of watching videos together.
“If you can find ways to bind people we care about back together in this digital sphere — whether we’re playing games, having fun or talking together — we re-create that bond relationship that we have in the living room,” Schabel said. “The value of that social interaction, coupled with video, increases engagement minutes.”