Bell service offers Canadian hockey fans NHL content on mobile phones

Canadian hockey fans now have a new way to follow the nation’s favourite sport as the National Hockey League (NHL) brings live and on-demand video content to Bell Mobility’s wireless phones.

Fans will be able to watch and listen to live hockey games on their smartphones, or view video highlights from recent games. A mobile site will also help fantasy league players get current with player and team stats, and text message alerts will be delivered to keep the faithful up to date on their favourite team.

Bell launched the service on Tuesday. They recommend a smartphone such as the BlackBerry Storm, HTC Touch Diamond or the Samsung Instinct to view the content.

“We’re bringing…you hockey content and services that Canadian fans never seem to get enough of,” says Adel Bazerghi, senior vice-president of products at Bell Canada. “They hunger and thirst for hockey.”

Customers of the Mississauga, Ont.-based carrier will be charged $8 per month if they want to access the NHL content, he adds. The content will also be a part of other plan bundles.

For the NHL, the deal with Bell marks another step in the transition to a content creator – as opposed to the traditional licensing role the NHL has played in the past, says John Collins, chief operations officer of the NHL. That move has focused on the mobile channel over the past year.

“We got our foot wet with the all-star voting, where we received 15 million text votes,” Collins says. “We know that we have the most affluent, the most passionate, and the most tech-savvy fan-base of all sports.”

The NHL isn’t trying to compete with the content providers it has traditionally licensed to, such as the CBC and TSN. But it wants to offer unique content that provides fans with a more personalized experience and complements the TV broadcast of games, he adds.

The League has re-launched its Web site and re-vamped its online live game video streaming product, Game Centre Live, in the past year. Now it will produce more unique content for Bell’s service.

“We’re not going to spoon-feed you a bunch of content you don’t want,” Collins says. “We’re going to get you the information on your favourite team or fantasy team.”

The NHL Player’s Association (NHLPA) will add to that content. Original content for the service will include a weekly video focusing on fantasy league strategy, and a daily feature of the premiere game of the day.

“It’s designed persons on their way to work, looking for that little bit of information,” says Kevin Lovitt, director corporate sponsorships, NHLPA. “It provides a deeper and broader window for the players too.”

The Association will create video for Bell when the athletes come to its Toronto office, he adds. The NHLPA has access to over 700 hockey players in the league.

Fans will get to know more about their favourite players through features such as music playlists created by the players, and other information.

Bell will push out about 40 games a week on its live broadcast service. The local TV feed is digitized by Bell into a 3G video format suitable for its devices and then served up to users when requested, Bazerghi explains. The video will play at 12 to 14 frames per second.

But most games featuring Canadian teams won’t be broadcast live because of broadcasting blackout rules.

“Given that we are a Canadian national carrier, we’ll have to respect the blackout rules for local teams,” he says. “The games will be provided live on audio, so you will be able to listen to them.”

Still, all game highlights will be available on the service.

Asked if NHL Mobile would eventually be available on other carriers, NHL’s Collins didn’t exclude the possibility.

“Our arrangement is that it would be exclusive,” he says, bu added that the deal just “scratches the surface in terms of what the opportunity is here.”

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