StreamGuys Sends Softball Coverage Worldwide
By Carolyn Braff
The sport of softball has made its last Olympic appearance, but, thanks to streaming-media and content-delivery provider StreamGuys, fans can still catch the world’s best as they compete in National ProFastpitch (NPF). The Philadelphia Force, one of the six women’s-softball teams in NPF, uses StreamGuys’ RevenueStream subscription platform to stream live and on-demand video of its games, offering fans the chance to tune in for a game, a series, or the entire season.
Barry Eisenberg, director of broadcasting for the Philadelphia Force, is by trade an announcer who runs a brokerage firm. A year ago, by his own admission, he was ill-prepared to run a professional sports team’s streaming operations.
“Technically speaking, I had no savvy, no knowledge, no know-how going into it,” Eisenberg says. “I learned everything I need to know by speaking with Barry Klein and the technical team over at StreamGuys.”
Klein, senior sales executive for StreamGuys, has plenty of experience consulting with companies that are new to streaming. As a distribution company, StreamGuys provides server space, streaming media, subscription management, and archiving, but the equipment purchases were up to the Force.
“Could we say exactly what cameras to buy? No, but we can say what a camera should be able to do, the features you need in order to interface with a computer, and the kind of connections you want to look for,” Klein says. “We consulted on everything that is within our scope.”
When Eisenberg came to Klein with a proposal for the amount and type of equipment he was set to purchase, Klein told him to step out of the box.
“I had a certain setup in mind, but Barry Klein told me it absolutely wasn’t necessary, that I didn’t need to go that high-end,” Eisenberg says.
The relatively middle-of-the-road equipment he chose includes four Sony HD-500 video cameras, a Data Video switcher, two microphones, and two monitors, one with a quad-split display of the four camera inputs and one displaying the live streaming program. The press-box studio is also equipped with a Canopus analog-to-digital converter to feed the video into a laptop running Windows Media Encoder software.
Eisenberg has a staff of six running his game-day operations, including four student camera operators from local universities. The Force uses Windows Media Flash encoder software to encode and compress the content into a streamable bitrate and format, then sends a source stream over the Internet to StreamGuys.
StreamGuys receives the signal and rebroadcasts the video stream over the team’s Website, www.philadelphiaforce.com, with a subscription layer on top. The RevenueStream service enables the subscriber controls necessary to manage customer access to the stream.
The Force currently relies on space on a shared StreamGuys server but has the option of upgrading to a dedicated server when necessary.
“It’s all about the scalability,” Klein says. “They came in small, they wanted to grow, and they’ve certainly done that in the first year. The growth factor of our clients is something that we are really proud to be a part of.”
During the 2008 season, more than 500 paid subscribers from such countries as China, Australia, Japan, Italy, and The Netherlands accessed live Philadelphia Force games, as well as a number of exhibition and international games. The Force charges $3 for a single game stream, $8 for a four-game series, and $20 for the entire season. For 2009, Eisenberg is looking to expand the streaming service to the entire league, but budget constraints make such expansion a complex endeavor.
To increase streaming revenue, Eisenberg hopes to sell commercial sponsorships during the 2009 season.
“The way the stream was last year, in between innings, you saw nothing but a blue screen,” Eisenberg says. “We don’t have a Tricaster; we have a data and video switcher. But Barry [Klein] was telling me that, through my computer, there are ways that we most certainly could run commercials. That’s one of the upgrades that we’re looking to do this year.”
Other upgrades will include on-demand archives of every game, video clips of players’ clinics, pregame and wrap-up shows, and a scoreboard show.
Although Eisenberg’s cameras are HD-capable, he does not plan to stream in HD just yet. “If we were to stream it in HD, it would eliminate some of our viewer base,” Eisenberg says.
With the current setup, fans with certain computers cannot watch the Windows Media Player streams, and Eisenberg wants to keep his product open to as many viewers as possible.