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Web super-TV turns EXTREME sports fans into sofa-dwellers

Epic telly hopes for market in Europe for its OTT service

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Over-the-top content (OTT) – the online delivery of video and audio content that cuts out the ISP – has always seemed perfectly made for a global age where communities are widely distributed, and now we have the first pan European service for extreme or adventure sports enthusiasts.

Branded Epic TV and funded by Finnish telecoms company Elisa, it is available on iPads and PCs driven by the Tvinci OTT platform, and on Samsung smart TVs for which Accedo provides the engine. The deployment has been quite well thought out, with the logic at the back end, and the ability in principle to support multiple DRMs so that it can readily be extended to additional devices, with other makes of smart TV an early target, as well as Android smartphones and tablets.

There are two back-end components: a media hub providing management of content, metadata, content bundling, and the DRM; and a mediastore incorporating all elements relating to social engagement, and management of the user interface from the server side. A key point is that there is no client logic, relying on APIs to connect to different devices.

For now there are two DRMs: Microsoft’s Play Ready for PCs, and via a downloadable agent for iOS devices; and Widevine for Android devices and connected TVs. Likewise two HTTP streaming methods are supported: Apple’s HLS for iOS and Smooth Streaming for the others. In any case content can be accessed over any broadband connection, via Wi-Fi, or LTE/4G.

The service will be available initially in 15 European countries, for a subscription of €6.90 per month. Signup and verification requires either an active Facebook account with at least 50 friends, or a credit card transaction, for an initial month's free trial.

Success will depend on content and promotion, and Elisa does seem to have done its homework. The target is largely participants, since adventure sports do not attract a huge following of non-playing couch potatoes, but Elisa has found there are more of these than many would anticipate, even if its prediction that it will gain tens of millions of subscribers is bullishly vague.

It has also found that, almost by definition, the audience will have money to spend and will therefore be an attractive target for niche advertising, since active sports tend to be expensive. About 10 sports are initially supported, including skiing, snowboarding, surfing, climbing, mountain biking, and base jumping (parachuting off tall buildings). But there are many more sports that can be added to the catalogue, including obscure ones such as racing trucks up slag heaps, some of which are occasionally shown on more mainstream sports channels such as Eurosport.

Epic TV’s strategy involves interactivity and active participation with promotions and some user-generated content. The service will be offering grants for extreme athletes to create podcasts as an ongoing blog on their activities and training. This risks diluting quality, so applicants are required to provide evidence not just of ability at their sport, but also film-making and editing capabilities. The grants will then be awarded on the basis of votes cast by other subscribers, with Epic hoping this process itself will pull more people in.

This alone would not attract a big following without securing the best content around adventure sports, and Epic TV believes it has this in place through several deals with content providers such as Red Bull TV, which specialises in this area. Epic TV will act as an aggregator, giving such content providers greater device and geographical reach.

If successful in Europe, the service will be expended overseas, especially as there are many global events for some of the adventure sports covered.

Apart from the subscription, there is monetisation potential for targeted advertising on the basis of individual subscribers’ sporting preferences, location and level of participation, including products directly and indirectly associated with the activity concerned. Scope for cross fertilisation with non-video online activities and social networks is considerable, and there will be interest in progress as an example of the new wave of multinational OTT service.

Copyright © 2012, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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