Local VOD Sports Yields Bucks For Buckeye

Buckeye Cablevision has found that adding local high-school and college sports to its video-on-demand content package has boosted the service’s interest and usage, and serves as another key differentiator in its battle against direct-broadcast satellite.

“The story starts with Buckeye Cablevision Sports Network,” said MSO director of product development Denton Parson.

The company launched a 24/7 regional sports network in January to help combat EchoStar Communications Corp.’s impending introduction of local over-the-air TV signals via its Dish Network. BCSN started with high-school and college basketball and volleyball games. In the spring, local baseball was added, including games from the minor league Toledo Mud Hens.

This fall, high-school and college football made their debut.

“It was all about reducing churn and fighting back against the Dish,” Parson said. “Our customers really liked it, and it was obvious we were on to something.”

Buckeye also found out how much customers liked watching their kids play in high-school sporting events. “We had 15 to 20 calls a day to make them videotapes of their son’s game,” he said.

Buckeye launched VOD in the summer of 2003. The company was looking at buying a local encoder to handle some news content. Parson and company put two and two together and began encoding the high-school games that ran on BCSN, then placing them on the VOD server.

“We were going to get a local encoder for local news, and we realized it was a great way to put sports content out there,” he said. “In the summer, we started encoding live games. We have about 50 games on the server, and we keep the games on [for] two weeks or so.”

The move helps ease the cost of the mobile production equipment Buckeye bought to launch BCSN. “We have two production trailers and three cameras per video crew,” Parson said. “There is a couple of million dollars there, so there was a big commitment on our part.

“The other huge expense is the transport from the high schools back to the headend,” he added. “That is all fiber.”

Though cable plant passes most schools, fiber doesn’t necessarily reach all sports facilities. But Buckeye has a sister telecom company that helped it extend fiber to locations where it was needed.

Buckeye will often repeat games in the middle of the night and encode the off-air feed for VOD platform, saving a few production steps, Parson said.

Local VOD is but the latest element to Buckeye’s on-demand platform, which serves some 133,000 subscribers.

Buckeye launched VOD last year, using servers from SeaChange International Inc. and TVN Entertainment Corp. to both procure and deliver content.

The company boasts plant at 870 Megahertz and distributes VOD via Internet Photonics Gigabit Ethernet transport gear, through edge quadrature amplitude modulators from Motorola Inc., Parson said.

TVN supplies Buckeye with hit Hollywood movies, as well as a $4.95-per-month kids package filled with content from Sesame Workshop, PBS and Scholastic Inc.

HBO On Demand is available to Home Box Office subscribers for an additional $4.95 per month, Parson said. Starz On Demand is packaged within the Starz premium service.

Parson hopes the combined content package will be enough to blunt the inroads from Dish, though he said he has no hard numbers as to the effect on subscriber churn.

“We’re in a dogfight here,” he said. Because of local-into-local DBS service, “we have a more difficult fight on our hands.”

For now, it’s a matter of getting the word out about Buckeye VOD.

“We put a crawl on-screen during a live event to let people know it will be on the VOD platform,” said Parson. “We need to get them to be aware of it.”