Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference Pioneers With OTT Effort
GLVC Sports Network teams with Blue Frame Technology to push live, VOD content to smart devices
Many content creators, media companies, and digital brands are looking to make a splash in the over-the-top (OTT) space in 2017, and experts in the media industry fully expect OTT to have a breakout year. So you might be surprised to learn that one of the trailblazers in live sports OTT is a Division II conference based in Indianapolis.
Through the first month and half of 2017, the Great Lakes Valley Conference has graduated its GLVC Sports Network from a simple online streaming service and has begun to launch apps across the major Smart TV platforms: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and Roku.
For the conference, the migration is seen not just as a natural next step in the network’s evolution as a content provider but as a means for brand extension.
“It has become a major player in our overall mission to promote our 16 members and enhance the GLVC brand,” says Jeff Smith, who has been associate commissioner, communications, GLVC, since 2012. “Ultimately, that’s what we want: we want people watching and getting interested in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. We’ve witnessed more interaction and even some new engagement from our base, and I think that’s where we feel it’s a winning play for us.”
To make the GLVC Sports Network possible, the conference has partnered with digital-video–software company Blue Frame Technology, which serves as end-to-end provider of production and distribution services. Since the launch of the network at the end of 2014, Blue Frame Technology has been side-by-side with the conference, providing production services in the league’s first forays into live event production. Today, the company helps the GLVC with everything from bringing camera feeds into its production software, a cloud content-management system, and distribution services, which now include design and management of OTT video apps.
“We think that providing all of this in a turnkey solution for these organizations who are trying to kind of normalize their production across the entire conference is a win,” says Ben Kant, one of the founding partners of Blue Frame Technology. “I think one of the things [we pride ourselves on] is the ability to accommodate the upper echelon of production capabilities at some of [the conference’s] schools and to work with some of the schools who need more help [with video production]. We provide a solution that isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution but provide the flexibility to accommodate all of it.”
With all of the conference’s 16 schools engaged, the GLVC produces a significant slate of live event coverage — the network live-streams all 40 championships and has covered about 3,500 events in just four years — and now has a place on television, where it can combine a live platform with a robust VOD offering of content produced by the conference and the member institutions.
“We feel like we’re in a good position to make that jump to OTT because of the content that we are providing,” notes Smith, whose previous gig in college sports was at the Big Ten Conference from 2003 to ’07. “It’s not just a basketball game here or there that we are offering. There’s really a good variety of a lot of the sporting events that are being offered.”
To put itself in this position, the conference saw the opportunity to bring the digital rights of its various schools back in-house. Although the league had an expiring agreement with a pay-per-view provider, each school had its own existing deal with such partners as SIDEARM Sports and Stretch Internet. The conference office persuaded the institutions to work on this media thing together under the single brand of the GLVC Sports Network.
The GLVC also made a bold — at the time — choice to not pursue the popular route that many colleges were going with: striking an ESPN3 partnership. Smith didn’t feel that was the appropriate route for the vast diversity in production talent within the athletic departments of his 16 member institutions. He felt that it would put too much pressure on the schools.
“People are quick to jump at that because of the brand,” he observes, “but there are some pretty high standards in production quality that have to be met. We’re in a position right now where it doesn’t necessarily work for us. GLVCSN doesn’t work unless we have 16 schools in one conference unified and moving forward as one.”
A unified brand and a consistent on-screen product and production style — primarily through graphics — was paramount to the league in building a platform that helps advance the brand of all the schools equally.
As the conference moves in this direction, Smith knows that the eyes of many of his D-II brethren are on him. If the league can develop an active viewership and a strategy to monetize its live and archival content through digital advertising (the GLVC doesn’t expect to move to a subscription model anytime soon), many others are likely to follow.
“Over the last couple years, I think, the 23 other conferences in Division II have watched what we’ve been doing and the steps that we’ve been taking. And there has been a lot of communication and a lot of inquiries,” he says. “So I think that, while we continue to evolve, we’re trying to provide as much information as we can to other D-II conferences who are looking to get into this game with a conference-wide network. Because, at the end of it all, it benefits all of Division II, and that’s what we want.”