The first-annual 2nd Screen Summit: Sports event on Tuesday kicked off with an inside look at the forthcoming NFL Now video-streaming service, which will offer fans a new customizable stream of NFL video content that pulls from the league’s vast video library as well as feature breaking highlights and analysis segments.
Co-produced by Sports Video Group and the 2nd Screen Society as part of CE Week in New York City, 2nd Screen Summit: Sports drew more than 175 attendees to the Midtown Loft & Terrance for an afternoon chalked full of expert panels and technology showcases focusing on how sports content continues to lead the way in the world of multiscreen video production and distribution.
Chris Halpin, the NFL’s VP of Media Strategy & Business Development, started it off by giving attendees a preview of what the league expects to be a powerful new arrow in its digital quiver – NFL Now. The new service, which will launch in early August, will be 100% video-based, according to Halpin, and feature content from across the league’s portfolio, including NFL Films, NFL Media and NFL Network, and all 32 teams.
“For us, this is our next generation video offering using the wealth of video content we are already creating across all our platforms as well as some live [content],” Halpin said. “We have seen that NFL fans’ appetite for our content is voracious and seems continue to grow upon itself as we [make it more available]. So our view was we were meeting fans’ needs in a lot of good ways, but a true multiplatform service that provides greater content and more long-tail content to fans [was missing].
The Freemium Model
NFL Now will feature a free and a premium tier for users. The free tier will include instant highlights; short-form news, analysis, and features; live-streamed programming, including press conferences and production at tent-pole events like the Draft and Combine; at least 2 ½ hours of content per week from every NFL team using their inside access and talent; and some NFL Films content. The premium experience, meanwhile, will include “the most robust in-game NFL Sunday highlight experience we’ve ever created,” according to Halpin, as well as the full library of NFL Films content (including franchises like Hard Knocks, America’s Games, Top 100 organized by title and season), and a reduced ad load.
“The idea here is that we [can provide] a variety of use cases. On your smart phone or tablet you can go into your feed and catch up on your breaking news. We are also going to be available on connected devices and smart TVs so you can have more of a lean-back experience with your own channel or long-form content.”
The Focus on Personalization
While the NFL already serves fans plenty of highlights and other video content via NFL.com and the NFL Mobile app on Verizon, the key to NFL Now will be personalization. When users register for NFL Now, they will enter their favorite team, upload their fantasy football roster, and choose other favorite players or themes (Draft, Combine, Free Agency, etc.) to follow. The NFL Now personalization engine will then stitch together and serve up the most relevant and recent video to the user based on the initial data entered as well as consumption data.
“The idea is to create for people their own channel within the app experience,” said Halpin. “It’s great to have the world’s largest library [of NFL content], but how do you make it discoverable and easy to find? Our solution is to build a personalization engine.”
The NFL Now personalized user experience will feature an HD-video player with a customized playlist of video clips on the left-hand side. The user has the option of switching to full screen, jumping and re-ordering clips, and the ability to instantly share a video clip. At any point, the user can minimize the personalized experience and go into the general video library, which includes VOD clips of the day (news and highlights), the NFL Films library and other content.
“One shift we have all seen, especially in the younger demographics, is people are being trained to expect control and personalization,” said Halpin. “Whether it’s Twitter or Netflix, there is a whole generation that is being shaped that way. This is meeting that demand.”
Platforms Already on Board
The NFL has already announced a string of deals to make Now available on a variety of streaming platforms, including Amazon Fire TV and Kindle, Android devices, Apple iOS devices, Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming console and tablets, and Roku OTT boxes, as well as Verizon’s NFL Mobile app and on upcoming eMBMS (multimedia broadcast multicast services) LTE-broadcast offering. In addition, Yahoo will distribute NFL now via its screen app and on Yahoo Sports.
“Our goal here is to make NFL Now available to users on any internet-connected screen though a browser or app anywhere,” said Halpin. “We are trying to get there on as many devices as possible in time our launch in early August and we will continue to add on new platforms in the coming months. The goal is having a synchronized user experience across all those platforms.”
Ingest, Metadata Assignment Steer the Ship
In terms of the backend workflow, all video feeds (content from NFL.com and NFL Mobile, NFL Network, NFL Films, the 32 clubs, as well as game feeds from broadcast partners) will be received into a central video ingest platform at the NFL Media facility in Culver City, CA. Each clip is then tagged with the relevant metadata and then placed into the NFL Now library for distribution. The NFL.com and NFL Mobile video-clip-production operation has also been enhanced for the upcoming season to increase the number of clips and highlights published for NFL Now.
The NFL has also built out additional studios and production facilities in Culver City specifically for Now that will be producing news and analysis segments on a 24/7 basis.
“At the end of the day, Now is essentially a massive ingestion platform that uses metadata tagging to serve the one-to-one digital relationship based what we know about the registered user,” said Halpin. “We can then serve them the most relevant clips based on interest, popularity, and recency.”
The Road Ahead
While NFL Now promises to be a significant addition to the NFL’s growing media portfolio, Halpin said a number of the league’s other subscription-based services – such as NFL Audio Pass and Game Rewind – could find their way under the NFL Now umbrellas at some point down the line.
“This is the Now product for this year, but it is a dynamic organic product that will grow over time…and I think more rights may move into Now and we might look at the products coming together, but it’s a case-by-case basis,” said Halpin. “We wanted to start with a clear message of ‘all video.’ NFL Now is fitting within those existing products and also catering to where we are see video and cross-platform consumption going. It felt like the right product to add to our portfolio this year.”