In our weekly feature Chris Williams looks at the future of iFollow
Be warned, readers, this week’s feature may get a bit overly Geeky for most because I’m about to draw you in to a nerdy world of live streaming, rights issues and online technology. The aim is to try and answer a few questions about iFollow and explain what we would, ideally, like to provide for you next season.
Let’s start with the basics. Back in 2002 a very nice man with a very nice beard from the EFL came to see me and told me they were going to set up something called ‘Yellow World’ where fans could subscribe and listen to Oxford United games. I explained patiently that it would never work because A) the technology wasn’t there yet and B) nobody in Oxfordshire can say World- we all sound like we are saying wur-uld.
Initially I was right. While commentary worked brilliantly on a fast internet stream in a plush technology company office in London it dropped out on a frighteningly regular basis for most home users. It got better when someone invented broadband, but the damage was done early on when fans told each other that World didn’t always work.
To get World in motion you have to move and give but do it at the right time so eventually it was rebranded as Yellow Player and by that stage we were back in the Football League and ready to add video content. I actually started adding video interviews slightly earlier, during the promotion season of 2010, because outside the League all bets were off and commentary was available online via BBC Oxford and Jack FM so what were subscribers actually getting? Amazingly over 900 fans stuck with us, paying annually for something they could basically get for free! Oxford fans are amazing.
Back in the League there are rights issues which mean that online commentary can ONLY be available within the club’s subscription zone. We work with BBC Oxford and as Yellow Player evolved we were able to marry up video content, highlights and commentary and numbers grew rapidly.
Just to clear one thing up. We have exclusive rights to match commentary online but not to the BBC Oxford phone in after games. It's slightly annoying for overseas listeners but the big button saying' go back online' gets pushed in Summertown soon after the final whistle and that's why you can hear people tell Jerome they weren't at the game on BBC Oxford online while iFollow subscribers get video reaction instead. (We aren't quite there with live video interviews yet, hence the slight delay while I edit and upload the reaction pieces)
Still with me? Then let’s move on to iFollow.
This was the third incarnation, launched last summer, and meant that fans outside the UK were able to watch the whole game live while, domestically, you were able to listen to it as usual. During the season we experimented with the Checkatrade Trophy games to allow UK fans to watch live. It was a good way of judging interest plus monitoring the technical problems of doing that.
By my calculations about 80% of subscribers do so for the live games. The pre and post match interviews, features and Preview Show add colour but we’re not kidding ourselves; people pay to hear/see the games not the interviews.
So next season will see another interesting development. Saturday 3pm is untouchable but midweek games will be available to view in iFollow, domestically. Not all of them - SKY have the rights and if we have a game shown live on Sky we won’t be able to stream it on iFollow. But most Tuesday night games will be available online.
We are also pressing very hard to be able to sync this with BBC Oxford’s commentary for every game because we think that will give the best possible coverage. Again, bear with, but to simplify; the radio commentary goes down an ISDN line to one building and the video goes down a fibre optic cable to a different place. Marrying them up is a nightmare, especially at away games, but we ARE getting somewhere and if it is physically possible then trust us, we will make it happen.
There are a couple of points to note. Firstly to fully build and test the new packages we have had to unplug the flux capacitator and recalibrate the hyperdrive, so for a few days we can’t accept new subscribers. If you are already signed up you won’t notice, but if you were looking to join today then just be a little patient.
But from Tuesday 19th June we will be back up and running, better than ever and offering domestic fans (UK/Ireland/Isle of Man/Guernsey/Jersey) a season pass but also a monthly option and the Match Pass where you can stream individual games. If you live abroad then there’s a season pass which means you can SEE all the games, and we’ll offer an individual match pass as well.
Finally, you may have seen mentioned elsewhere that your friendly neighbourhood media team are moving to the new training ground next month which should mean we can bring you even more video content. Will we bring back old favourites such ‘The Bucket Challenge’ ‘The Name Game’ or even the infamous (unfinished) cricket based ‘Damian Bats’ and ‘Clist in a Lift’?
Who knows? IFollow; it’s a brave new wur-uld.
The weekly feature is a summer experiment to see if there is still a place for longer written articles on the official website, some of them even mildly amusing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback.