NeuLion Leads MLS into Age of HD Streaming

Fresh off a last-minute labor agreement that narrowly saved the 2010 season, Major League Soccer is ready for a clean start, complete with a newly launched Website and an HD streaming-video subscription service, dubbed MLS MatchDay Live.

The new site, MLSSoccer.com, launched earlier this week, and the NeuLion-designed MatchDay Live video player debuted for the Seattle Sounders home opener against the Philadelphia Union on Thursday.

“We did one test game with the New York Red Bulls [exhibition game on Tuesday], and it went well,” says Chris Wagner, EVP of Neulion. “We have a lot of experience with big networks already, and we’re very excited about the MLS.”

The service will offer access to about 160 live out-of-market matches this season plus archived and condensed matches. Subscribers can watch up to three matches at once and take advantage of DVR-style controls as well as instant highlights compiled throughout the match. Other features include an animated aerial view of the match, a live-chat tool, statistics integration, a chat widget, and social-networking capabilities.

Silverlight and Instant Highlights
The MatchDay Live video player, which is powered by Microsoft Silverlight, boasts a streaming rate of up to 2.2 Mbps and resolution as high as 720p. Although NeuLion uses Silverlight for the majority of its 200 college clients, this marks the company’s first use of Silverlight for an HD player.

“This is our first network that we launched an HD service with Microsoft Silverlight,” says Wagner. “As long as you’ve got a solid [Internet connection], you’ll have a smooth 720p HD video stream with Silverlight.”

MatchDay Live, which will cost subscribers $39.95 for the year, offers full DVR functionality, including pause, rewind, and an instant-replay button that can be customized by the user.

“If they saw a great play, they can just hit the instant-replay button,” says Wagner. “You can set it up so the replay goes back 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, whatever, and it gives you an instant replay of the action.”

In addition, NeuLion has instituted a live-editing service that produces instant highlights throughout the match. The MLS site employs live editors who watch the match and create highlights from each match as it is being played. These highlights are published seconds after each key play. A VOD thumbnail and a small marker on the video player’s scrubber bar indicate to the viewer that a highlight is ready to view.

“You can actually run your mouse over the marker, and the metadata for that highlight will pop up on the scrubber bar, and you can click on it,” explains Wagner. “It will instantly open up a highlight player, and you can watch the highlight, then click the ‘live’ button and go back to the live match. Or you can also click the VOD thumbnail, and the highlight will come up.”

A bulk of these highlights is also fed out to MLSSoccer.com and MLS’s 17 club Websites. Fans can then watch this content for free on the club sites using a similar NeuLion-built video player.

A View From Above
An animated aerial view of the soccer field can also be pulled up adjacent to the video player. This “playing surface” displays markers indicating where on the field goals, saves, penalties, and other key plays have taken place during the match. When the user runs the mouse over these markers, a graphic or highlight pulls up right on top of the playing surface.

“This allows fans to graphically follow the match,” says Wagner. “It provides a whole different perspective.”

MLS Multilingual
MLS believes that about a third of its fans speak Spanish, and the league places major emphasis on catering to this audience. Currently, MatchDay Live offers solely an English-language audio feed, but there are plans to expand into a multilingual service in the near future. NeuLion, which holds the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese streaming rights to the 2010 FIFA World Cup as part of a separate deal, will play a key role in the project.

“[MatchDay Live] will launch initially as an English audio feed, but we can actually weave in different audio feeds for different languages around the same video feed and synchronize them,” says Wagner. “Once we get the launch done for English, we will work with the MLS on where we’re going to get our different audio feeds for different languages. We can then create an option for the viewer on the player, just like on your TV at home when you click that SAP button.”

MLS Mobile
An MLS mobile app showcasing the MatchDay Live service is expected later this year. Last week, NeuLion launched an NHL live-mobile-streaming service for Apple and Blackberry in Europe, and Wagner says the same technology can simply be reassigned to construct the MLS app.

“We haven’t finalized the time of it, but we already have the ability to take all of their video to mobile. It’s just a matter of turning it on,” he says. “It’s really a matter of when MLS wants to bring it to market, how they want to market it, what kind of pricing they want — all that stuff. We’ve already finished [the NHL in Europe service], so the app is already built. It is just about redirecting it for MLS content.”

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