It's looking like CIS fans may be able to access more game broadcasts, interviews, highlights and other content than ever before in the near future. For this piece in today's Queen's Journal, I spoke with John Levy, chairman and CEO of Score Media, Bengt Neathery, president of Streaming Sports Network Canada and Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports about their plans to expand their coverage of CIS sports. Here's some selected quotes from each on their networks' goals and some analysis of what this could mean for CIS.
Position: Chairman and CEO, Score Media
His CIS goals: Expand The Score's CIS coverage through additional live broadcasts, but especially through highlights, reporting pieces and Internet coverage. Levy wants to meld CIS coverage with The Score's other content as well: the example he quoted was basketball, where they have NBA, March Madness and CIS rights, and they want to try to attract fans of each to the other shows. He also envisions a country-wide network of contributors on campus, possibly through blogs, reporting or submitted pieces. He's a big fan of CIS sports because they appeal to The Score's target demographics of younger sports fans.
- "It’s a great product for us. We’ve been building it for the last number of years, and we continue to be excited to provide that level of programming at the university level. … We have an extreme interest in doing as much as we can at the university level. That’s a big draw for us."
- “A lot of what we do isn’t just broadcasting the games. ... Our network is more about the stories around the games, and universities are a hub for sports activity. … We want to plug into that more directly. I’d love to have reporters feeding into our network from every university across the country.”
Analysis: Levy seems very interested in expanding The Score's CIS coverage, and the online elements he proposed sound particularly strong. His network's done well in the past with their blogs and podcasts, bringing in people that you wouldn't normally see or hear at a lot of mainstream media outlets (such as the Drunk Jays Fans). The highlights he mentioned also sound like a great idea, and sports information directors across the country really should look into packaging and sending off highlights whenever possible. It would probably take quite a bit of time and money, but the potential exposure is huge: you can reach a whole new audience that won't tune in for a full game. The next logical step for The Score in terms of full-game coverage would probably be showing some regular-season basketball games in the lead-up to the Final 8 to build interest. As Levy said, "The more we show, the bigger we can grow the audience." He mentioned that there are some technical and scheduling issues still to overcome with regular-season basketball, but my guess is that you may see some of those games at some point soon.
Position: President, Streaming Sports Network Canada
His CIS goals: Make SSN more of a national network, bringing in game coverage from universities across the country. SSN is also launching a new-look website this coming week, and they're encouraging schools to contribute full games, highlights, interviews and the like. This makes a lot of sense in my mind: there's plenty of people who don't have time to watch a full game, but are interested in the post-game interviews or the highlights, and SSN is wise to show those as separate clips on their website. Neathery said they plan to show show anywhere from 400 to 750 full games live this year in a variety of sports, which is very impressive. Similar to The Score, they're also looking to expand their roster of contributors to include people from schools across the country and bring in a blog system. At the moment, much of the content is provided by the schools' athletic departments, but I got the impression from Neathery that he's open to having students on campus contribute as well.
- “We have a video upload system, an image upload system so schools can take control of their own content. ... A coach or a sports manager or whoever it happens to be can upload their own interviews that they want to do, or pictures of players in action, whatever it happens to be, and that will be reflected on the SSN site as well to give more of a homegrown community feel to it.”
- “Basically, it’s going to be an easier way for different people who know the CIS or the different sports to make comments or do regular reporting for the site. ... On a national level, we should be able to bring people in, bring the content in from any city anywhere and make it simple. We’re using technology to overcome some of the barriers we have in a country of this size.”
- “Right now, we do subsidize universities for their sport streaming program, so whereas it might cost about $4,000 or $4,500 to actually do the streaming, we subsidize about 80 per cent of it, so the actual cost to the school is only about $750. ... Any school that wants to get in, even if they don’t have the capacity to live-broadcast their games, we’d of course be willing to have them create stories, do videos and send them up to us, and obviously the more of them that do that, the easier it is for us. We’d like to see a broadcasting unit, if you will, at each school that is sustainable, sustained by advertising and sponsorship at each school so the product is consistently coming out.”
Analysis: Neathery's plans for SSN are very ambitious, but they certainly sound impressive. I approve of their plan to focus on bringing in as many schools as possible through subsidies at the start: that will give them national content, which should in turn lead to profitable advertising deals and sustainable broadcasting. Queen's would do well to jump on this train (and they may yet). In my mind, a key thing for SSN will be making sure that they have voices outside athletic departments as well: department-supplied content is great, but it's important that there are different perspectives displayed. The blog system would be a good way to do this. SSN is also launching a weekly magazine/highlights show, CIS in Motion: I watched the first episode the other day, and it looks pretty good. It's a promising concept as well, so it will be interesting to see where they take it.
Name: Scott Moore
Position: Executive director, CBC Sports
His CIS goals: Moore doesn't have any concrete plans for CIS content yet, but with the approval of their new sports channel, CBC SportsPlus, it is an area they're looking at as a potential source of content.
- “We feel that Canada’s athletes, both amateur and professional, are underserved. ... I think CIS sport is something that’s under-televised at the moment, underserved perhaps, and it would be an area that we would be perhaps be interested in.”
- “We haven’t really started talking with rights-holders yet. ... We’ll start that process probably in the next month or two. First, you need to make sure that you’re going to have carriage with the cable channels, the CDUs (cable distribution undertakings), and then if you can get that, you want to be able to tell them that you’re going to have great content.”
Analysis: Obviously, Moore couldn't commit to very much, as the new channel is still in its infancy (their application was only approved in August). Still, he seemed enthusiastic about the idea of CIS content, and it would make a lot of sense for them. The CRTC mandated [William Houston, The Globe and Mail] that the channel show at least 30 per cent amateur content per week, and at least 80 per cent Canadian content per year. According to my understanding, CIS sports would qualify as both amateur and Canadian. The CIS is also one of the highest-quality sources of amateur sport in Canada, especially in more mainstream sports like basketball and football. There's also a ton of product available, given the sheer volume of schools, so it likely wouldn't be too hard for CBC to snap some of it up.
Overall analysis: This has to be a positive development for CIS fans, as they may be able to see a lot more of their favourite teams if these initiatives pay off. Streaming Sports Network especially could be fantastic for university alumni in other cities, as their alma mater's athletic departments would now (at least to my understanding) be able to upload any game they were able to videotape, as well as highlights and interviews. The Score's enhanced web content could become a go-to destination for CIS opinions and information, and CBC SportsPlus could give CIS sports some major television exposure. It's looking like a good time to be a CIS fan.
(Cross-posted to Out of Left Field).