Is this BYU football independence thing paying the dividends it was designed to yield?
Amid talk of a new division in the NCAA, the landscape is evolving. BYU, without conference affiliation, is teetering on the edge of uncertainty as that power play unfolds.
But exposure is working, especially the ESPN partnership and the technological advances of BYUtv worldwide. The private network just made its sports programming available to 80 million people who don't even need a TV service to tune in.
There’s the Internet, which is exploding with streaming options. Warning: This gets a little nerdy.
BYU’s brand is now amassing increased digital exposure, according to BYUtv managing director Derek Marquis, whose development team just released a Microsoft Xbox 360 channel. For $60 a year ("gold service"), the channel enables Xbox console owners to watch BYU sports content in full high-definition all year.
With just over 100 days left before BYU’s season kicks off at UConn, the Xbox gaming market has grown to 80 million. Along with already-released iPhone, iPad and Android apps for phones and tablets and the popular Roku streaming device, Marquis is chasing the digital audience because viewers are migrating there from regular television.
“We’ve taken the position at BYUtv of being platform agnostic,” Ryan Holmes, BYU Broadcasting's director of digital media, explained in a BYUtv.org Q-and-A provided to the Deseret News.
Exposure? Um, yes.
“Our mission is to create and deliver our content, including BYUtv sports programming, to billions of people worldwide. On the digital media side, we want to be known for innovation, and we want to be known for delivering a high-quality service," Holmes notes. "These three ideals — massive distribution, constant innovation and high quality — are the foundation of our strategy and are the motivation behind what we’re doing now, including the recent Xbox 360 channel. We’ve worked really hard to make sure our traditional television sports broadcasts will rival in quality any network out there. Our digital offerings should be no less.”
"According to Holmes, BYU was an early pioneer in live video streaming in 2003 with the help of the folks at Move Networks, offering programming 24/7. "
This digital arms race isn’t without challenges. Every new device that pops up in the market needs to be studied to see if BYUtv should build on that platform. “We have to pick our spots carefully,” said Holmes. “A good example of the kind of challenge we face is the new regulation that requires that we provide closed captioning support for all content that originates on TV," said Holmes.
This forced BYU to retrofit all apps and websites.
“Another factor that adds complexity is content rights. Every piece of content we produce or acquire has rights associated with it that specify how, when and where that content can be used. The more expansive the rights, the more expensive they are. The more limited the rights are, the more complicated it is to distribute on a digital platform. Consumers rarely think about such things, but we have to."
BYUtv owns global rights for most of its content, which enables the network to make it available everywhere. On acquired rights — like away games — it is more sticky. That's why some away games are not aired on BYUtv.
This may underscore why BYU has tried to keep rights to home games when negotiating during conference expansion, like with the Big East two years ago.
"Fans don’t always accept or even understand why BYUtv isn’t airing an away game. Believe me, it is rarely because we didn’t want to but rather almost always because we couldn’t get the rights. The home team and/or conference almost always control the broadcast rights, including digital media rights.”
Another strategy by Marquis, Holmes and the broadcast team is offering more features than anybody in the industry, and doing it for free.
Said Holmes: "All apps on iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android, Roku, Xbox 360 and all websites (BYUtv.org, byutvsports.com) that stream live TV have unrestricted access to our entire video-on-demand library, including thousands of hours of sports content.”
BYUtv’s digital machinery is free, with no authentication from a cable or satellite provider. That’s what makes it popular to U.S. military members in Afghanistan, Germany, Korea and other bases of operations.
Holmes' digital team consists of seven full-time employees and some students.
Now that the Xbox channel came out April 22, Holmes and his crew are preparing major redesigns of their websites for 2015, including incorporating sports offerings into BYUtv's main site. A major update for iOS app is optimized for iOS 7. Hundreds of thousands have downloaded the BYUtv Apple platform. “It will be our best app yet,” said Holmes.
BYUtv's Roku channel "has been a home run," according to Holmes, with several hundred thousands users using BYUtv on that platform. BYUtv gets to Apple TV through AirPlay and Holmes' team is working on getting on Google Chromecast's platform, a technology that allows projection of programs from a phone, tablet or laptop to a tV.
So, if exposure was a goal four years ago when BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe announced departure from the Mountain West Conference, it's hard to argue that the school hasn’t made strides.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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