Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The NHL Gets It

Last week, I mentioned that the MLB was frowning upon the Slingbox place-shifting device, pulling the copyright card by saying that the device constitutes an unauthorized redistribution of content. (The Slingbox lets users access a connected video source remotely from their PC, anywhere in the world where there's a high-speed connection). This week, the NHL has announced a partnership with Sling Media, makers of the Slingbox, to offer “clips” from games on a dedicated section of Sling Media’s Website via a new Clip+Sling feature.

With Clip+Sling, Slingbox customers can essentially record a clip from a broadcast (say, the awesome play Mats Sundin just made), and e-mail it to a friend. The e-mail contains a link that directs to a dedicated Webpage, where the recipient can view the clip. Whoa, back up here. So the NHL is not only giving the Slingbox two thumbs up, but it’s also permitting hockey fans to actually record short clips from the game, then redistribute them online? Not only this: the NHL and its clubs will work to organize the content so it’s easily searchable by web surfers; and even add its own content to the site!

In MLB’s defense, the firm's argument isn’t focused on the redistribution of content, but rather the fact that it’s being done without the firm’s “express written consent”. That, I can understand. But in the same respect, shouldn’t I be fined if I invite three friends over to watch a movie that’s playing on cable? After all, they aren’t subscribed to the service, so why should they reap the benefits?

It’s important to note that video content from the Slingbox can only be accessed through the installed software application on one remote PC. This means that it’s likely one person watching his favourite show in a hotel room while traveling on business to Japan; or maybe even a few people gathered around a 17-inch notebook screen to watch the final game of the playoffs while vacationing in Europe. In essence, all the Slingbox is doing is letting someone who subscribes to the cable service already enjoy the content anywhere he wants. If you ask me, that’s more of an incentive to sign up to additional channels, especially for sports fan!

Companies like the CBC and NHL get it. The CBC has partnered with everyone from Amp’D Mobile, to DivX, and even Sling Media, to offer its content throughout various platforms. And they’re undoubtedly reaping the benefits, both by viewership and financially. MLB offers its content on a subscription basis through places like U.S. mobile phone providers Verizon Wireless and AT&T, which is great. But there are other methods of distributing content; and they are becoming more and more innovative by the minute. What all content providers need to understand is that in the end, the consumer needs to win. A business can’t exist without consumers. And happy ones, at that.

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