The 2012 – 2013 figure skating season gets underway August 22nd thru the 26th with the ISU Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Courchevel, France. Nearly simultaneous posting of program videos from this and all JGP events will be available for viewing on the ISU Junior Grand Prix YouTube channel @ http://www.youtube.com/ISU JuniorGrandPrix.
The following week, August 29th to September 1, the JGP Lake Placid, USA takes place. This is the only JGP event to be seen live on IceNetwork.com this season.
The ISU Grand Prix series beginning in mid-October (except for Skate America which U.S. Figure Skating holds live streaming rights) will not be available for simultaneous live streaming on IceNetwork this season along with UniversalSports.com. This change has been bought about by a UniversalSports.com change in their internet subscription policy. They have opted to discontinue individual event purchases and season subscriptions to anyone, in favor of an authentication process similar to that used by NBCOlympics.com during Olympics coverage. If your Television provider carries the Universal Sports Cable Channel on their system, you can purchase a season pass to view their offerings. Those who do not receive Universal Sports Channel on their systems will no longer have internet viewing access.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at this change and attempt to bring some reason and positives regarding future coverage of the sport.
First, what does this change in UniversalSports.com policy mean for IceNetwork.com? What Universal Sports’ new arrangement has done is restrict their ability to license live streaming to a third party like IceNetwork.com. Thus the simultaneous live streaming agreement that these two web entities have had the past two seasons is not possible this season. U.S. Figure Skating was however able to convince them to allow content to be made available via video on demand (VOD) on a one week delay. Considering their new carriage arrangements, this agreement is unprecedented but comes at a further financial cost to U.S. Figure Skating.
So what we have now is a step backward for skating fans who want at least the same or more live coverage of the sport especially on the internet. We can all thank Universal Sports for this. U.S. Figure Skating has done due diligence within the constraints dumped on them. It is not a satisfactory solution and they understand this fact and are no less frustrated than those of us they serve.
There is one positive to take away from this situation. This is the last season that Universal Sports owns the rights to the ISU events. Sources within U.S. Figure Skating indicate USFS is working closely with all key parties, including the ISU, to make sure that the future U.S. rights holder has clear and direct expectations on distribution of TV and digital content. U.S. Figure Skating’s message on this to the ISU “has been heard “according to the background information I have received. USFS officials are said to be confident that a more fan friendly arrangement that is good for the future of the sport will come from these efforts.
Next let’s address the chaff and chatter we are reading on forums, Facebook, Twitter and blogs regarding IceNetwork.com subscription costs.
Why is the IceNetwork.com season pass price of $39.95 staying the same particularly when live Grand Prix coverage has been denied them by UniversalSports.com? There are several factors in play. The foremost one is that IceNetwork.com is still paying a fee to license the video on demand rights even on a one week delay. Live coverage of both the Junior Grand Prix Lake Placid and the U.S. International in Salt Lake City events have been added at additional cost. According to information obtained annual costs have not gone down but in fact have increased as pricing to deliver content on IceNetwork.com has increased. U.S. Figure Skating may be lucky to just break even while not raising the annual IceNetwork.com subscription cost.
Also read internet-wide, have been suggestions that a majority of subscribers purchase season passes only to watch live Grand Prix events. Information I have access to indicates that this just isn’t the case. Video on demand actually dominates IceNetwork viewing statistics and surprisingly, not only VOD within 24 hours of an event but VOD numbers up to two weeks after an event outpace live viewership. This indicates fans have a passion for viewing well after events conclude. You can bet that USFS is counting on this trend to help carry them thru this coming season until better streaming arrangements can be obtained well into the future.
What about the new discounted annual subscription price of $19.95 for USFS Members? Well there is reason and strategy behind this effort and it comes with a calculated risk too.
Sources tell me that USFS members have not embraced the IceNetwork Season Pass as they hoped they would. This reduced price for USFS members is an effort to get a large increase in member participation. If successful in this regard the discounted subscription rate can become permanent. If not, USFS will not be able to recoup the lost revenue for offering it.
Finally, I have been an IceNetwork subscriber and long-time member of U.S. Figure Skating. I love the sport with all my heart and want both entities to succeed. I am most appreciative of the discounted season pass cost and intend to take full advantage of it this season and hopefully well into the future. I believe it is imperative that all current and future members of USFS take advantage of this discounted season pass and help IceNetwork become the première streaming site for the sport web-wide. Please go to http://web.icenetwork.com/ and subscribe today!
Editor, Blazing Blades