Thinking about transitioning from a free-to-view live stream to pay-per-view streaming (PPV)? You’re not the only one—lots of organizations are making the switch.
The Northwoods League, the largest organized baseball league in the world (and a Stretch client) switched to PPV nearly seven years ago. And according to Glen Showalter, VP of Operations, they’ve never looked back. We talked with Glen recently about the League’s PPV experience and why they decided to switch to a paid live streaming model in the first place. (For more background on how the Northwoods League manages its complex live streaming operation, check out this article.)
Northwoods League: The Decision To Switch To PPV Streaming
The Northwoods League has been around for almost 25 years, but didn’t begin live streaming its games until about 10 years ago. At that time, the League started broadcasting on a no-cost platform.
“For that first year or two, I believe the League was trying to understand the live streaming platform and the process, and was doing its best to get personnel on all the teams up to speed,” explains Glen. (The League included about 16 teams at the time.) Back in 2010, he says, getting involved in live streaming was a much bigger challenge than it is today. The cost of equipment was higher, and fewer people knew about live streaming, making it more difficult to get answers when they ran into trouble.
The Northwoods League considered offering PPV in 2010, but Glen says, “I think it was probably something that would have been difficult to do right out of the gate. I believe the League had an internal expectation that it needed to deliver a certain level of quality to our customers before we could start charging for content.”
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Soon after the live stream launched, it was clear that the broadcast wasn’t attracting the right demographic on the free platform. There were a large number of viewers, but viewing times were short—approximately 20 seconds on average. Most viewers weren’t really interested in watching the whole game (or even a few minutes of a game!), but dipping in and out of free hosted streams on the same platform was easy for casual visitors.
Over the next few years the broadcast improved, but the viewing times didn’t increase significantly. Eventually, the conversation came back around to pay-per-view streaming.
Live Stream Pay-Per-View: Benefits For The Northwoods League
The benefits of pay-per-view streaming became clear pretty quickly: The overall number of viewers dropped, but the ones that remained were watching for a longer period of time—more than 20 minutes. This indicated that the PPV broadcast was hitting the right demographic, and was keeping audiences engaged.
The goal of PPV, according to Glen, was to provide a better product in the long run. “Unlike most organizations, for us, [live streaming] is not a moneymaking venture. The cost of our live streaming operation is significant—with 20 teams, 4 cameras per team, 20 switchers, etc.—and the numbers get pretty big. By going to PPV, we can recoup some of those costs and put money back into the program, making [the broadcast] better for future seasons.” This strategy has worked well, as witnessed by the League’s continuously improving quality of their live stream.
The professional-quality live stream is also an important marketing and branding tool for the League. It’s helped to improve name recognition well beyond the Midwest. The Northwoods League is viewed as the premier baseball league for all summer college players, drawing approximately 800 players each year from around the U.S. Odds are good, Glen says, that anyone interested in collegiate baseball has heard of them, and their live stream only helps boost that profile.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the live stream is extremely valuable to fans of the League. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer to players, their parents, their family members, and friends. Players come from all over the country—from schools in every state. For parents in California to be able to watch their son play in a league in the Midwest is terrific, especially when it’s a high-quality broadcast they can watch with Apple or Android TV, or another home streaming device. They can really see what’s going on and hear the action.” When parents found out that the games were being live streamed, most were thrilled that they could watch their kids play without having to drive for hours or take a flight out to see a single game.
The Northwoods League’s Live Streaming Program Today
Today, the Northwoods League uses Stretch as its live streaming platform provider to stream more than 750 games, for 20 teams, every 3-month summer season. Its viewer numbers continue to rise.
Glen says that moving to pay-per-view streaming was the right decision for the League, made at the right time. Part of the reason they’re able to continue pulling in so many viewers is their flexible subscription model, powered by Stretch. Fans can choose to watch as many games as they want—from a single game, to a half-season, a whole season, championship games only, and more. Giving people choices makes them more willing to buy.
And with such a huge live streaming operation, Glen notes what a relief it is to have Stretch for help with both production issues and fan support. “We found that, with some platforms, the support isn’t there. It’s hard to get in touch with an actual person. Stretch customer support is great.”
Are you interested in trying pay-per-view streaming?
Consider the benefits your own organization or sports league might get out of live stream pay-per-view; is it time to stop giving away your valuable content for free?