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Case Study: Online Fight Channel — Niche Sport Webcasting That Pays

About a year ago, I wrote an article for Streaming Media about advertising models and the sustainability of online video publishing, given the scale of real-world revenue possible through advertising. I have always had concerns that the ad revenue in the streaming business is often too low (for small audience streaming) to support the production and distribution of quality content.

At the time, I found only a couple of companies that were profitable from ad revenues. Given the plethora of services out there, it is still a concern that a lot of the infrastructures have been built with a hope that revenues will come. Sustainability is often, seemingly, only an afterthought.

I have always been aware that sport delivery online faces far fewer challenges than many other types of content, mainly because the value of sport content is high enough initially to often support pay-per-view or underwritten sponsorship, regardless of the advertising, and the content itself has a very short “tail”—meaning that individual events lose their value so quickly that the piracy problems faced by the movie and music industries have a far lesser impact on sport content.

That said, it is still not inexpensive to film and produce content of any type: sport requires frequent and geographically “available” production teams—even if the cost of production is small compared to a film shoot or the production of an album.

Accordingly, it was a delight to pick up on the progress of a personal contact, Gus Oliveira of Online Fight Channel (www.onlinefightchannel.com), an online portal providing a range of information services about all aspects of the sport.

The service provides news, contact details and information from right across the ju-jitsu world, and—in the way that many niche interest web services work—keeps its overheads down by relying on feeds of information from local enthusiasts (although it is tightly edited so it avoids becoming a directionless UGC service).

The really interesting element is its use and production of video. In this community there are many masters of the sport, and very often, the masters leverage their success in the arena to build schools and training programmes as their own means to survive.

Oliveira and his team have noticed this and realised that the most famous “brand” fighters have global followings. While the niche sport equipment manufacturers helped to get the initial framework of the service up and running by buying traditional ad spots on the site, it is to the masters that Oliveira and his team have focussed their attention when looking at models to cover the costs of video production and distribution.

Many of these masters are now building online training programmes with Oliveira, and they are making extensive use of video to convey moves, techniques and strategies to their audiences. Some of these are loss-led by the masters, who benefit by upsell to either selling places in real world training programmes or who are even going as far as producing full series of training programmes entirely online, which they are distributing through Online Fight Channel on a pay-per-view/revenue share model.

Given that ju-jitsu is a niche sport compared to football or baseball, the production workflow design is critical to ensuring that costs do not exceed revenues.

Oliveira keeps the production team extremely small. “People-time is usually the biggest overhead, so keeping the teams really small is vital,” he says. “For events on location, it’s ideally no more than a two-man job for interviews and content we can postproduce. We are building out a network around the world to cut down on time and travel costs too, however, we keep the production standards controlled and centralised. This is important for our brand. It has to be a good-quality viewing experience.”

Typically, the video news items are shot direct to Adobe’s OnLocation software, which comes with Premiere Pro CS5. It allows Oliveira to shoot direct to disc—in his case, to a Terrastore connected to his Mac—and this allows him to shoot about 24 hours of footage at DVCam quality, which is more than enough for his team to compile even relatively lengthy items without needing to manage dozens of tapes and loosely coupled metadata. OnLocation allows the team to draft out a script or storyboard on the software’s timeline in advance, and then team members pretty much just fill in the sections by selecting the stage of the script they are filming, pointing the camera and pressing record. If they want to reshoot, they can just click on the timeline and add a new take. It allows Oliveira to create tight program-format templates and maintain a consistent production standard.

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