Curling Association sweeps games onto the Internet

The Canadian Curling Association plans to broadcast matches this year through video streaming over the Internet and provide content not available to TV viewers.

Orleans, Ont.-based CCA plans to provide video footage of several events

— including the Canadian Mixed, Nokia Brier, the Scott Tournament of Hearts and the Continental Cup of Curling, scheduled Nov. 27 to 30 — using MultiCast Networks Inc.‘s Streaming Simplified Software Solution (SX4)

During last year’s Brier, the CCA was able to stream video footage of curling events to a maximum of 250 users, but it received 50,000 requests.

Now, Ottawa-based MultiCast Networks can provide streaming to an unlimited number of users, said Danny Lamoureaux, CCA’s manager of curling club development.

Some games will be streamed free of charge to any high-speed user who wants to watch it, while others will be provided on a pay-per-view basis. MultiCast will collect revenues and share them with CCA.

Several tournaments will have more than one game, and users won’t necessarily want to watch the game that the television network chooses to broadcast, said MultiCast president Marc Brunet.

Brunet added that video streaming provides an advantage over television, in that advertisers can tell how many people in a given area are logged in and picking up the stream.

“”If you’re Nokia and you sponsored the event, and if they put Nokia commercials in there, you can actually go on and see how the commercials are doing,”” he said. “”It’s not like television or radio. You can see who viewed your commercials.””

He added the advertisers won’t be able to get data on every individual who saw a commercial, but they can get aggregated statistics, such as the number of users within a certain geographical area.

They can then follow up and determine whether sales increased in that area after the ad was broadcast.

Lamoureaux said the CCA conducted a video streaming trial two years ago, but concluded at the time they could not make a profit from the service, partly because there weren’t enough high-speed users online at the time.

The CCA’s streaming service will be available on Windows machines running either Internet Explorer 5.5 and higher, or Netscape Communicator 6 and higher.

Brunet said MultiCast programmers could write code for Macintosh browsers if there is sufficient demand.

MultiCast plans to release the second version of SX4 this month. Version 2 is designed to make it easier for producers to send streaming video.

“”There’s no real technical knowledge about Web streaming that’s required,”” said Glenn van Gulik, vice-president of Ottawa-based Weblance, which developed the encoding technology SX4.

He added there have been several advances in video streaming over the last four years.

“”Instead of forcing a user to download an entire video clip before they play it, the live encoding and live receiving in the stream is a lot quicker,”” he said, adding it’s easier for users to insert ads and even produce videos before they’re streamed to users.

Brunet said the curling fans should be able to get video at about 26-29 frames per second (VHS quality is 30 frames per second) and will be able to watch it within five to ten seconds of logging on.

Companies who stream video over the Internet need to keep in mind that they’re competing with television, which provides much better quality, says Mukul Krishna, a San Antonio, Tex.-based industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

“”I would rather watch it on my 27-inch television screen than on my 15-inch monitor,”” he said, adding viewers who pay for content tend to get annoyed by advertising.

Krishna said video streaming has other disadvantages, such as lower resolution, smaller viewing area and the amount of time it takes to buffer the content.

Van Gulik said a key recent development in streaming technology is the ability to confirm users have actually received the streams.

“”In a lot of the pay-per-view cases, one of the worst things is when a client signs up and pays and then they say, ‘I didn’t get the stream.'””

The streaming service is designed specifically for high-speed Internet users, Brunet said.

“”Even if your speeds are down to 150 (Kilobits per second), you’ll still be able to see it clearly,”” he said.

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