Monday, November 06, 2006

The NHL Gets Google Video

As a hockey fan, I am used to being considered a fringe sports fan. On ESPN, the sport falls somewhere between IRL and Soccer in importance, and it's coverage elsewhere is lamentable. Any serious hockey fan has to turn to Canadian sources (eg. TSN where hockey leads the list of sports) for any in-depth coverage. Why, the only TV deal the NHL has is a $200 million three-year deal with OLN/Versus because no one else wanted to front the money. Compare that with the NFL's $8 billion six-year deal with the networks.

With that I am ecstatic that the NHL has announced a partnership deal with Google Video to host full-length games all season long as well as other video content. The service has a delay built in of a couple days so the service doesn't directly compete with the NHL's Center Ice package that goes for $169 a season, which is exactly how the NHL should balance its contractual obligations while extending its reach. And yes, it comes without ads too. The head of the NHL's online division said:
When web users are searching for diverse video content, Google Video is the first place they go, just as is the first place hockey fans go when they want NHL video... The combination of our content and Google's massive reach is a terrific pairing, and we're excited to add fan-generated content to the mix.
Get that? The NHL has its own videos it needs to be seen on its site, but has made it official policy to use Google Video to get hockey seen by as many people as possible. And since the service comes without ads, this isn't like one of those sketchy online video deals being struck these days or a strong armed negotiating tactic. Perhaps the NHL isn't suffering from poor management after all.

This is especially great given the NHL's new unbalanced schedule, where the schedule emphasizes division rivalries and reduces inter-conference games. The new schedule has led to the absurd result of having the Washington Capital's and Alexander Ovechkin (greatest goal ever) going on a road trip to Edmonton in the first month of the season, and not only not playing another game the rest of the year outside the Eastern time zone, but it being three years before Edmonton fans can see him play in person again. You can blame the league for the new schedule - and it looks like they're listening because it's up for discussion at tomorrows GM meeting in Toronto - but it appears that the NHL does in fact understand that it's good to let fans follow the exciting new players in the league. These are games that fans can't see unless they're paying for Center Ice and the NHL is letting fans be fans by letting these videos out on Google Video.

But free full length games isn't even the best part. The Google Video NHL page also allows users to submit their own videos. The game videos can be downloaded without any DRM, but it looks like you have to download the Google player, so it appears that the NHL is in part looking for user remixes of game footage. Want to put together a highlight reel of last night's games? You can. Want a NY Rangers only clip fest? You can. The NHL is even putting up select games from years past, including 1994's Game 6 Game 7 between the Rangers and Devils (Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!) and Game 7 between the Rangers and Canucks. All of these games can be downloaded and played with.

I coach a Pee Wee hockey team at a grade/middle school here in New York and have always wished I could put together a highlight video to watch on the bus trips to our rink in NJ. Say, how certain teams break out of the zone or how someone like Chris Pronger patrols the front of the net and the corners. Maybe even a reel of Alexi Kovalev on the importance of making sure when you make a drop pass just inside the blue line that someone on your team is there to pick it up.

While this all seems silly, it is this silly stuff that makes the NHL's move here smart. Hockey has a notoriously loyal fan base (albeit a bit smaller than other sports) who rabidly consume everything hockey. Give those fans the tools to be creative and to help market the game through online video and who knows what will happen, but it's a safe bet it can only do good. Here I am as a coach wanting to mix clips as a teaching tool, which will make my kids better at and more interested in hockey, which makes them much more likely to shell out money for season tickets in 15 years than anyone else.

Dare I say that the NHL is actually being a leader in professional sports with this move? I think so, and it's also a sign that a huge entity with IP rights and licensing deals to worry about is letting their stuff out into the Internets tubes for fans to download and play with. The NHL as a leader in the changing entertainment business? Now that's tough to swallow.
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Blogger yohaas said...

The Matteau game was game 7, not game 6.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

How embarrassing... game 6 was Messier's guaranteed win/hat trick night. good catch.

1:08 AM  
Blogger yohaas said...

I see you fixed the posting, but the link is to Game 6. For some reason they don't have game 7 of that series! Thirteen years later and I still want to watch it over and over :)

12:56 AM  

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