By: Deena Higgs Nenad
While their local high schoolers are dribbling down the court, newspaper publishers can be making a fast break (and some fast cash) by live streaming the basketball game on their websites. Not only is streaming sporting events profitable for newspapers, said a former South Dakota publisher who started iNK Barrel Video Networks, but the industry is in a prime position to dominate the live video market. Who better than the local newspaper that already brings in-depth coach and player interviews and statistics to its readers every day.
“Newspapers have been covering local sports forever, and it’s kind of our franchise,” said Stewart Huntington, founder and chief executive officer of iNK Barrel and a 28-year newspaper veteran who spent 10 years as an editor at the San Francisco Examiner and the past 10 years as publisher of the Black Hills (S.D.) Pioneer. “We’ve always been the conduit between (the newspaper) and the kids. It’s easily accepted by the community that we would be doing this and easily accepted by the advertisers that we would be bringing it to the community.”
Some 70 newspapers in nine states have already signed contracts to live stream sporting events with iNK Barrel, Huntington said. Many have taken it a step further, streaming live online election results, hometown parades, and rodeos. Even church services are on the table.
All a newspaper needs is about $3,000 in equipment (a high-speed laptop, a video camera, and a tripod), someone to film ($25 per game for a freelancer is average), and a high-speed Internet connection at the venue. iNK Barrel gets a 30 percent revenue share and provides the technology and infrastructure at no charge.
Gary Blackburn, publisher of the Princeton (Ind.) Daily Clarion spent $2,200 on equipment and easily found eight sponsors to pay $300 each for the season for home basketball games, even though not everyone understood how it would be possible to put games on the Internet. During the Clarion’s live games, Blackburn enters the score while a retired dentist does the play-by-play and plugs advertisers.
“Everyone seems happy with it,” said Blackburn, who gets about 200 viewers every game and enjoys hearing stories about the out-of-towner tuning in to see his nephew play for the first time. “(Advertisers) are not getting a lot of click-throughs, but they’re seeing (their ad) on the screen.”
Otis Raybon, publisher of the Rome (Ga.) News Tribune, is also a fan of iNK Barrel.
The Tribune streamed some high school basketball games in December and plans to stream football in the fall, possibly selling multiple sponsors for both sports. He even plans to add church services, charging about $100 a month.
“We’re not going to get rich … but I do expect to make money on this,” Raybon said. “What it really does is add much deeper coverage for our newspaper and our audience. We’re an 18,000-circulation newspaper. Unless you have a championship high school basketball team, you’re not likely to attract a network or in our case, an Atlanta TV station to local events.”
The Tribune, which owns its own in-house studio and video equipment, also used iNK Barrel to broadcast live mid-term election results from the local county courthouse last November. Floyd County sprung for the high-speed Internet connection, while three sponsors bought in for a total of $1,500. The election (a nail-biter in which Republicans, including a controversial gubernatorial candidate, swept every statewide office) drew more than 1,000 unique visitors to the newspaper’s website, Raybon said. As candidates learned their fate, Tribune Associate Editor Doug Walker, a former radio personality, did face-to-face interviews.
“We would put the interviews on the website and then write about it in the paper later,” Raybon said. “Then we would direct readership from the paper onto our website.”
While newspapers have been slow to grasp multimedia fully, the trend is changing. Newspapers saw a 51 percent growth in video content in third quarter 2010, according to a report from Brightcove and TubeMogul. And while broadcast networks still produce the most online video streams, newspapers surpassed them in total number of minutes in the third quarter of 2010.
“This is only going to expand,” Huntington said. “And that’s what is really exciting. Finally, newspapers are acting at the beginning of a wave and not just waiting around.”
But the clock is ticking.
Many newspapers are limited to live streaming regular season games, while state athletic associations sign exclusive contracts to stream the more lucrative tournaments. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago currently is looking into a dispute between the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association versus Gannett Co. and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. The outcome will determine if newspapers have a constitutional right to stream entire high school games, even if they cut into the associations’ profits.
Huntington said newspapers that already are live streaming and have close relationships with their local schools will be in a better position to succeed no matter which way the ruling goes.
“If the court upholds the earlier ruling it will prod more schools and state associations into trying to sign exclusive deals,” Huntington said. “We need to be in a position to be the ones striking those deals. Even if the court overturns the ruling, the case will just give more people the idea that this could be a business and will bring more potential competition to the market.”