Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Survey… Feedback from HLN Viewers

The most important part of the Horizon League Network is the user experience. This has been the driving force behind the development of the website and everything else that the Network has to offer. By creating a site that is as user-friendly as possible, I feel that HLN differentiates itself from many other online video sites. Also, the constant tweaking of the product as I receive feedback has significantly improved our product’s efficiency.

Customer service is a vital part of creating an optimal user experience. If users feel they are being listened to and that HLN will help them through their issues, they are more likely to develop an affinity to the website. I personally answer all feedback on our website in an attempt to help people access our content and better understand the product.

Recently, HLN has finished its most comprehensive user feedback tactic by sending a seven-question survey to all of its registered users. The results of the survey will shape the future of the Network and I thought publishing the results in this blog would be very interesting to some readers.

1. How did you become aware of the website?
a. Google / Search – 7.0%
b. Friend / Family – 17.6%
c. Alumni – 17.6%
d. Student – 7.1%
e. Athlete / Coach – 10.2%
f. Facebook – 0.3%
g. MySpace – 0.1%
h. Print Ad – 1.8%
i. Radio Ad – 2.3%
j. Online Ad – 10.1%
k. Other – 26.0 %
i. Most from university websites

2. What was the purpose of your first visit?
a. Live Sporting Event – 80.8%
b. Archived Footage – 2.2%
c. School Spirit – 5.4%
d. Curiosity – 8.9%
e. Other – 2.7%

3. What other content would you like to see?
a. User Generated Content – 9.4%
b. Stills of fans in game-day garb – 16.3%
c. Campus / Lifestyle – 20.2%
d. Episodic content / shows – 10.4%
e. Sports commentary – 51.7%
f. Student Life – 11.5%
g. Former Athletes (Where are they now?) – 42.9%
h. News Videos – 25%
i. Forums / chat – 16.9%
j. Vlogs and Blogs – 9.8%

4. Would you purchase DVDs of past games?
a. Yes – 33.9%
b. No – 66.1%

5. If yes to question 4, how much would you be willing to pay?
a. $15 – 58.5%
b. $20 – 10.1%
c. $25 – 2.1%
d. Other – 29.4%
i. Most $10

6. Would you be interested in being on a user panel to help us continually improve the Network?
a. Yes – 36.4%
b. No – 63.6%

7. How would you like to find out what’s new at
a. E-mail – 61.4%
b. Text – 0.2%
c. League website – 19.0%
d. School website – 15.0%
e. Facebook – 1.7%
f. MySpace – 0.4%
g. Other – 2.3%

Over 2,300 people completed this survey, which gives us a pretty good idea of the user sentiment (at the time 17,000 were registered for the site, so about 13.5%). We will be acting on some items immediately, but others will be implemented in year two. I found it very interesting that the majority of people wanted to see sports commentary though. It shows that people are looking for online video to mirror its over-the-air counterpart.

HLN Fact: As of 2/28/08, people from 87 different countries have visited the Network. The U.S. is far and away the leader with Canada, Finland, Germany and Mexico rounding out the top 5.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Online Strategies…

I want to pick up right where I left off in my last blog entry, our online strategies behind capturing the casual fan. This has been one of the most difficult areas of the entire project. Since there is no true TV guide to the Internet, it is very tricky to target individuals that might be interested in our content.

To combat this, I’ve decided to couple together ordinary online marketing techniques with some other more obscure methods. As most online entities do, we take full advantage of e-mail marketing and online ad placement. We’ve sent numerous e-mail blasts and have had ads placed on several newspapers’ websites in our markets during the first few months since our product’s launch.

The e-mail blasts have been sent to our existing list of registrants and our current registrants, so their true intent is not to find fans. They serve more as a tool to let our user base know when specific events are happening. The online advertisements have all been placed within the sports sections of newspapers’ websites. These are truly meant to capture the casual fan as they peruse the local news.

The most exciting online tactic (well, at least in my opinion) we are using right now would have to be Facebook. Most companies utilizing Facebook are simply creating applications, which I feel do not capture the true essence of the platform. Creating an application and throwing it on the platform is limiting and does not always support social interaction between the company and its supporters. According to O’Reilly, “87% of the usage goes to only 84 applications!" Taking a different approach, I have created a Horizon League Network Facebook account as if it were a living and breathing being. More than 100 people have friended this profile, with more than half being student-athletes that have starred in HLN videos. This also provides a great service to our athletes because all of their friends can see the videos they’ve starred in.

This is an area that there is no real precedent. As our product grows, so will its online presence and the tactics we use. Upstart FindInternetTV is a new website that is helping online video sites by setting up a directory and schedule (almost an online TV guide). I see sites of this nature taking off in the near future as Internet video “comes of age.”

Finally, this is another way we are increasing our online presence. Blogging. I have to admit at first I didn’t know about the whole concept. I was apprehensive to start a blog as I didn’t think people would care about my ramblings. Obviously, some people do. This blog has brought in hundreds of users to the site in the last month. So, you are reading and using it as an entry point to our site… thank you.

HLN Fact: Wednesday night’s Butler at UIC game set a single-game high for viewers with 3,248. If you watched, thank you. If you didn’t, you should go watch the archive!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Why HLN? -- Advantages of the Horizon League Network

The other day someone posed an interesting question to me… “Why HLN?” My first thought was, ‘why not?’ But, as I started to think about the question a little more, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be able to answer it with facts that supported and proved broadband distribution is the best model for the Horizon League.

I went to work on some preliminary research and started with three major categories: Cost, Control and Exposure. I felt that these were the major advantages that broadband distribution had over the television model.

The financial aspects of the model are by far the easiest to prove. Instead of having 10-15 games on regional sports networks, the League is able to produce hundreds of events each year at the same cost.

Control is a little harder to substantiate, but I see three distinct advantages of the broadband model.

1. Games can be played at desired times
2. All commercial time and additional online inventory available to sell
3. Ability for Horizon League to brand games

In the TV model, these items are for the most part out of the League’s control. The games will be played when TV dictates, commercial time will be split (with the vast majority going to the network producing the game) and the brand will be consistent with the other telecasts.

What does having control mean in the end? Essentially, more money, or the opportunity for more money.

Finally, the toughest item to prove would be exposure. I would say in the world of sports the ultimate exposure is primetime on ESPN or a weekend afternoon game on a major national network (i.e. CBS). It’s tough to argue against that, but when looking at the overall “potential” audience, these networks are limited compared to broadband.

CBS reaches 112.8 million homes (Nielson), while ESPN and ESPN2 are in about 96 million homes (ESPN). By the end of 2007, broadband reached approximately 300 million homes worldwide (eMarketer). This is where the reach of broadband gets scary. According to my math, the Horizon League Network is available in at least 187 million more homes than CBS.

To counter my own argument, which yes, I am allowed to do since this is my blog… the area that broadband distribution still falls short compared to television is the acquisition of the casual fan. In the TV world, people click through channels in an attempt to find something on. This gives the consumer a chance to accidentally stumble upon a show or event that they did not know about. Contrarily, the Internet does not give the user the ability to “click-through” channels. The Internet’s answer to this is search. With companies like Google and Yahoo!, you can be very specific and never come across a topic that deviates from the general topic your search. In the next post or two, I will breakdown our strategy behind finding the casual fan through search and other online tactics.

Obviously, this is only the starting point for an answer to the question “Why HLN?”