Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gently Down The Stream

TigerBlog used to live with a guy named Jim Chesko, who at various times was the color commentator for Princeton basketball and the PA announcer at Princeton football.

Chesko was a human DVR back in those days, as he would set his multiple VCRs to record multiple television shows, edit out the commercials and then watch them. It was revolutionary stuff at the time, back when he had a library's worth of "Seinfeld" and "Friends" and "The Gary Shandling Show" and others.

Chesko and TB lived in a row house in South Trenton, on Chestnut Avenue near DeKlyn Avenue. It was a nice, quiet place, with a little grassy yard in the back.

It was also a short walk from there to a vacant area on the Trenton waterfront that, shortly before TB left, started to be populated by cranes and construction vehicles. It was on that spot that Mercer County Waterfront Park - the home of the Double-A Trenton Thunder - was built.

TB was completely certain that the entire idea was headed for disaster. When Tom McCarthy left the Trenton Times to go work for the Thunder, TB told him that it was a mistake, since the team couldn't possibly succeed in Trenton.

Build a stadium there? Expect people to come into Trenton at night? Whose idea was this? The alternate idea at the time was to build the stadium in West Windsor's Mercer County Park, but the Mercer County executive at the time (as TB remembers it) was the driving force behind the Trenton site.

TB was not alone in thinking that this would never work; his Trenton Times colleagues at the time Harvey Yavener and Mark Eckel were also certain.

So what happened? Well, nearly 20 years and millions and millions of fans later, the franchise has turned into a model for both minor league baseball and small, local business. TigerBlog has never been more wrong.

Of course, he was just as certain a few years ago that Princeton athletics had no sustainable way of bringing live and archived video to the fans who are interested in watching it.

Now, a few years later, TB would say that this is the single biggest challenge that Princeton has in athletic communications.

The basic history is that a long time ago, Princeton figured out that it could get the TV feed for football and men's basketball from the old cable company (it was called C-Tec back then) onto its webpage, back when it was and not

After years of not having any sustained video effort, the current video model began to evolve in something known as TigerZone off of Today, all of this is housed on

The tv site has live and archived game video, as well as original content that is created through athletic communications and marketing. Those original pieces (interviews, features, bios, facility tours) have been extraordinarily well-received, and TB isn't talking about those when he talks about the problems with video, only with the live and archived.

To videostream a game, all you need is a camera, a laptop and an internet connection (preferably an ethernet connection rather than wireless). All you do is plug the camera into the laptop and away you go.

It also became apparent early on that you could stream multiple sports at the same time.

At first, all of this seemed like a great thing. Parents and friends and such could now watch the games whereas before there would possibly be livestats or audio. And now it was video, right there to see.

And then the list of obvious problems began to materialize:

* web providers viewed streaming as a revenue source, so it became necessary to charge a subscription fee. Once a fee is charged, no matter how small, the level of expectation of the viewer goes way up.

* the feed that is usually being shown is from the coaches' camera, which is usually being handled by an injured player or team manager. The entire feed consists of one camera that never changes position, with no replays or multiple camera looks.

* for the majority of games that are streamed, there is no audio, and it's often difficult for the viewer to know what point the game is at, what the score is, etc.

* there is nobody at Princeton who is a designated video person. This means that either an assistant coach or a member of the marketing staff or both have to coordinate having the laptop in the right place, making sure the computer is connected and anything else that is involved in getting a videostream going.

* multiply this by the number of sports that want to stream their events.

* all subscription information is done through neulion, not through Princeton.

* and the biggest problem is that there is no way of troubleshooting during a game if something does go wrong, because the resources here don't permit us to have a video coordinator. Instead, if the marketing staff has set up the game with the assistant coach, then they're both busy once the game starts - or often times, the marketing staff doesn't remain at the game.

When Princeton has a game on Verizon Fios TV, it's able to take that feed and stream it directly. This results in multiple cameras, announcers, graphics and such and makes the presentation immeasurably better.

Unfortunately, Verizon Fios TV only does a handful of games.

The result of all of this is that demand for video far exceeds our ability to supply a high quality product at this point. has a feedback section, and the overwhelming number of them refer to video efforts. Most of those are about subscription issues, but many are technical as well.

People are used to watching sports on television. When videostreaming first started, the attitude was something of "hey, this is great; it's way better than nothing."

That attitude is no longer true. Now, there is a much higher level of expectation for the quality and reliability.

Here at Princeton, there are no plans to add additional staff. The challenge - our biggest, actually - is to figure out how to meet the demand.


Brett said...

I think that the first thing to consider is what this service really should be. In truth, there isn't enough revenue to consider it a revenue stream. One has to think in a much longer term. If Princeton would make an investment in video over traditional forms of communication, it would be returned in fundraising, advertising and recruiting over time. I'd radically change the staffing, eliminating traditional communications and marketing duties and feed the web need. There is no greater potential for pay off.

Bob Wenzlau said...

Brett has it right. A carefully executed approach would enhance the experience of athletics as well as academics using web media tools. Princeton should be commended for the progress, but should not rest at this point, as the post seems to imply. I do appreciate how the team took the time to outline where the effort stands.