European Tour launches IPTV channel

The European Tour is launching the eponymous European Tour TV channel, a brand new golf channel that can be accessed via the Tour’s website. The service is being provided by deltatre, which already has a data services relationship with the Tour, and leans heavily on Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based services for a planned two-stage roll-out.

Stage one sees ETTV soft launch with a library of highlights culled from the past decade’s action in the European Tour and Ryder Cup. The expectation is that this will build up to around 500 hours of content before stage two launches later in the year. This stage adds live streaming of Tour events to the mix, though only in territories with no current broadcast agreements or where we the rights are non-exclusive.

“During the first stage of the ETTV project, Diva will provide a rich DVR-type functionality within the player for users to shuttle easily through content,” explains Jim Irving, commercial director, deltatre media. “Where applicable, timeline markers will indicate key points in the video at which users can rapidly access interesting portions of content. In preparation for the launch, all of the HD archive material will be available for users to view full screen on desktops. Search filters and editorial curated playlists will help drive relevant content to users.

“The secondary stage of ETTV will see Diva providing live streaming coverage of tournament play in designated markets,” he continues. “These live streams will be equipped with greater editorial input including timeline markers to signify noteworthy moments in play so that user can re-play a shot or quickly catch up on what they have missed.”

Azure will provide cloud-based transcoding and origin services for the on-demand content at the launch. This will extend to live operation in the second stage of the project roll out, effectively both creating multiple bitrate versions of content and hosting them for use and integration into the Diva player.

“We were very impressed with everything we saw around Azure during the Olympics,” comments Mark Lichtenhein, head of television, digital media and technology at European Tour. “Not just the scalability of the services, but particularly the ability to quickly generate multiple file types with the cloud-based transcoding services. And as a long-term customer of Microsoft in many other areas of IT, we obviously had confidence in the product.”

Irving says that the new channel is all part of a movement towards global access to digital sports content, and further that this trend is growing in importance to leagues and federations.

“It’s really about controlling our own destiny,” says Lichtenhein. “Rather than adding value to someone else’s channel bouquet, we wanted to establish stronger B2C relationships and to offer more direct value to users. We also wanted to be able to fine-tune the geographical access in real-time as our broadcast agreements around the world allow us different usage rights in various territories. And when Microsoft explained to us that they were looking to expand the use of Azure Media Services into other sports post-Olympics, it seemed like the right partnership.

“At the same time we will continue to use our YouTube Channel, albeit primarily for our advertising campaigns, competitions and vital marketing, such as Every Shot Imaginable.”

ETTV is also another stage in the two companies’ ongoing relationship, which began with the re-design, build and management of the website in 2009. Since then that has evolved to include the provision of graphic design services to European Tour Productions, work with the European Tour’s live scoring team to ensure a streamlined scoring data feed is provided to all platforms, including third party federations and broadcasters, and the building and managing of the Tour’s recently released iPhone app.

As to the challenges of this particular project: “As with all archive projects, the challenge that is presented by assembling and re-formatting a variety of content collected over a long time-period was present,” says Irving. “For ETTV, archived content ranges from SD 4:3 to HD. Therefore, processing and presenting all the video content in a uniform manner proved challenging.

“Additional challenges existed during the re-editing of content originally created for a broadcast audience and delivering it via multi-platform digital media,” he adds. “This required the assurance that any monetisation hooks and metadata were incorporated into the workflow during the re-editing process; thereby safeguarding a clean viewing experience around key user journeys. The ability to deliver great HD content quickly and with minimal effort has been the primary driver at all stages of this project.”

With the first major of the year done and dusted, and the European season just getting into the swing of things, the timing of the launch makes good sense, both on the world IP stage and behind the scenes. “We’ve had this idea in mind for some time, based on feedback from our users on wanting more access to long form highlights,” says Lichtenhein. “Since we are not in the DVD business, extending in this way seemed like the logical way forward. The timing has a lot to do with changes in our main broadcaster contracts which now allow us to stream highlights the week after tournaments have finished and the fact that we were introduced to the Azure team during the Olympics last year.”

And as to future plans: “Down the line we plan to offer the channel as a ‘while label’ service to those broadcasters who currently do not have an online offering , mainly in developing markets,” he concludes.

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