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As another weekend of SEC football approaches, let's acknowledge that multibillion dollar deals that the conference worked out with ESPN and CBS have largely been a boon for both fans and the league's athletics departments. There's only one real blockbuster game on the menu this weekend -- Georgia vs. Florida in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party -- and yet every game will be widely available. Sure, you'll need ESPNU to find Kentucky at Mississippi State and The SEC Network or ESPN3.com to watch Tennessee at South Carolina. But compared to where we were 10 years ago, when some of those games weren't on television and certainly weren't on the non-existent ESPN3, that's incredible progress.
What hasn't worked out so well is the SEC Digital Network, the partnership between the SEC and XOS Digital that was announced more than a year ago to great fanfare. The conference made the right decision by reserving the digital rights for itself and the rebroadcast rights for itself and its schools, but it hasn't made a good call on how to use those rights, even by the standards of its own announced plans for the Digital Network.
Content won't include live games, but the league said full replays and searchable highlights will be available, along with post-game interviews, press conferences and breaking news. Much of the content will be available within minutes of a game's conclusion, the league said. Also available will be nearly 10,000 hours of video from the SEC's library.
If the Digital Network does include some of that content, it's well hidden. The only highlights that can be found aren't really searchable at all; you can get is the same kind of highlight packages you've likely seen on your local TV news recap, with the only possible difference being slightly better production values. I couldn't find press conferences or breaking news or anything of the like. There are full-game replays and the league occasionally rolls out a historic game tied to the weekend's events, so there's that. Oh, and there's a Tony Barnhart preview of the upcoming weekend if you want to watch it.
What's frustrating about the SEC Digital Network is that there could be so much more. Why can't a fan go to the website, go to a search box and type in "Julio Jones one-handed catch" and get an SEC-approved version of this:
This isn't just an idealistic, "wouldn't this be great for us as fans?" kind of question. The SEC could make buckets of money off such a site. Instead of going to Google to search for each individual clip of a great play, fans would be going to the SEC Digital Network site and looking for all the great plays. The SEC could put a quick ad at the beginning of each one -- as they do with the current highlights. And fans wouldn't have to view a three-minute highlight package to find the one play they want.
That should be the least that the SEC and XOS could do to improve the site. What could really increase the Digital Network's footprint, bring the SEC more money and increase fans' use of the site would be embeddable video. This is not cutting-edge stuff that's on the verge of new media technology; YouTube's been doing it for years. That's one of the reasons that YouTube videos are so popular on the Web. Branding helps, but that brand was built in part on the fact that websites have been using YouTube videos for years.
And it's not like other media companies aren't doing this on a fairly regular basis. You can pull video from MSNBC, for example, and put it on your political blog. Why shouldn't you be able to do the same on a sports blog with video from the SEC? And of course, the SEC could sell ads for the embeddable video, short 10-second clips right before the highlight. Then include a link to the SEC Digital Network website and drive more traffic for the site.
None of this is really all that hard. People are already doing it across the Internet. And the SEC, with a rabid fan base and more media outlets and blogs devoted to covering it than the league knows what to do with, has positioned itself perfectly to capitalize on that market and enhance the fan experience.
Which just leaves one question. Why don't they?