ezXchanges Brings Digital Game Exchange to Olympic, Women’s Sports
By Carolyn Braff
Football teams have been exchanging game film for years, but, for women’s and Olympic sports, the practice has only recently become commonplace. Beginning this season, the Big Ten and the Ivy League are getting into the exchange game, employing ezXchanges for their women’s basketball and volleyball programs, respectively, to ensure that every team has the opportunity to scout opponents before the big game.
ezXchanges is a Web-based, cross-platform system that enables schools to exchange video through any Java-enabled browser, regardless of operating system.
“The top-selling laptop at colleges now is the Apple,” says Shannon Cotton, CEO of ezXchanges. “As it becomes more of a mixed-platform world on a college campus, you want to have something that plays nice with everybody and is supported for both platforms.”
While most exchange systems work off of PCs, Cotton says, more and more editing systems are being developed for Macs, and the workflow required to convert between the two platforms has become time-consuming and frustrating. By enabling all parts of the exchange process to take place on either a Mac or PC and by hosting content on its own central server, ezXchanges hopes to cut out some of that frustration.
“We use a central-server architecture,” explains video technologist Dan Kinoy. “People upload their games to our servers, we host them, and people download from our data center. They send content to a central location, not to each other. That’s an important distinction.”
Rather than asking clients to open holes in their firewalls to everyone in their conference or require that each participating school host its own video server, ezXchanges lets its clients focus on the video instead of worrying about the exchange process.
“Our system is not only protected by hardware and software firewalls, it’s protected by a full set of permissions inside the data center. Everything’s redundant,” Kinoy adds, referring to the system’s connections to the Internet backbone, storage, and backup. “We’re not on any shared, hosted server; we’re the only people on our servers. As we gain clients, it’s just a matter of plugging in more storage. We just put on another rack unit.”
After completing a game, clients upload the footage to the ezXchanges data center in its native format. Using the proprietary ezRecode system, the servers then translate the game format into other supported formats so that upcoming opponents can download the footage in Windows Media 9 or H.264, the emerging standard for iPod and Apple TV.
“There was a big commitment made on our part, since we actually re-render everything,” Kinoy explains. “We take each file as it comes up and feed that to a series of servers in our render farm that take the video and recompress it to the other format.”
Cotton adds, “The nice thing about our service is, people don’t even realize what original format the video was in.”
ezXchanges also allows for sharing with non-conference opponents as well, through the ezGuest system, which allows clients to invite non-client schools to request games through a guest account.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, even from our guests about it,” Cotton says. “It’s a really streamlined process and has been a huge success through the volleyball season this fall.”
To help coaches and assistants — who are likely more sports-savvy than technology-savvy — to navigate the system successfully, ezXchanges spends a chunk of time with the client long before the season starts, walking operators through the software to make sure they understand the process without getting bogged down in the technology.
“They don’t need to be knowledgeable about all these different formats; that’s what we’re there for,” Kinoy explains. “We talk to them before the season begins, get an idea of what they’re using and what they need to do, and figure all that out for them.”
The company also reaches out to their clients’ third-party providers to get educated on various editing products to better understand where things might go wrong for the end users.
“We’ve gone to the extent of trying to build relationships with the different digital-editing companies,” Cotton says. “We’ve called up tech support for different companies so that we’re learning about the product that our client is using. In a sense, we’re actually supporting that product, but we want to make the process of online game exchange as smooth as possible, and sometimes that means going into other territories.”
In addition to the Big Ten and Ivy League, the Horizon League and Summit League are also using ezXchanges for men’s and women’s basketball, and the company plans to move further into the volleyball, soccer, and field-hockey markets in the near future.
“Right now, the DVD disc is still king, but people are more and more going to video over IP, video over LAN, portable players like an iPod or an iPhone,” Kinoy says. “All of the material that we’re putting out works with all of those platforms.”