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Hockey Team to Start Internet Channel

May 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Before each home game, Trent Hunter, right wing for the New York Islanders hockey team, heads to Vincent’s Italian restaurant near the Nassau Coliseum and, like clockwork, opts for the “chicken parm.”

While a little inside tidbit like that is unlikely to appear in the coverage on ESPN, Fox Sports, OLN or any traditional TV sports outlet, such details are the stuff that ravenous Islanders fans eat up. So that’s what the team plans to serve to the die-hard fanatics when it introduces its own Internet TV channel this fall that will be delivered through the Web to a traditional television set.

Technological tools are making it possible for virtually anyone to become a broadcaster, and the Islanders are among a handful of organizations and affinity groups that can now easily provide specialized content to their fans. But the Islanders strategy is noteworthy because it relies on technology from NeuLion, whose approach to delivery of Internet TV preserves the behavior of watching television as a familiar, lean-back experience.

NeuLion was among a fresh crop of Internet TV enablers angling for a piece of this emerging business last week at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.

Like its competitors, NeuLion uses the Internet to distribute content for its content partners, which include Islanders TV, Chinese-targeted entertainment service Kylin TV and Catholic IP TV. But NeuLion’s competitive differentiator lies in the small box it provides to consumers that turns the Internet TV content into something watchable on a TV set rather than on a PC.

NeuLion acts as a “private label” distributor for its partners, branding cable-modem-size boxes for their services. The box simply plugs into a video input on the TV set, said Chris Wagner, executive VP of NeuLion. “We send over the public Internet and when it gets to the TV that box unsqueezes it,” he said.

Set-top boxes generally must be rolled out by a distributor, such as a cable or satellite operator. However, NeuLion’s content partners sell directly to consumers, the niche groups that are passionate about Chinese entertainment, New York hockey teams or Catholicism, for instance. Because the boxes are effectively plug-and-play, the sales model is direct-to-consumer. The content partners provide the boxes to their customers, who sign up for the specific content packages they sell. NeuLion’s business model relies on a revenue split with its content partners.

“The same experience you have at home with your clicker we can deliver through the Internet,” Mr. Wagner said.

Islanders TV will carry one to three hours of behind-the-scenes material, pregame shows and interviews before each hockey game. The service will roll out in the fall, and the team plans to charge $10 to $25 per month for the content, Mr. Wagner said.

NeuLion currently delivers service Kylin TV for $15 per month to about 4,000 subscribers.