Every so often, we run up against a harsh reminder that not all iTunes stores are created equal. Rights issues — as in carriers other than AT&T (NYSE: T) have exclusive rights — will keep North American hockey fans from access to NHL Ice *Time* 2010, a new freemium iPhone app (slide show) being launched by the National Hockey League this week in the UK and Europe. Why there? Simple math: nearly one-fifth of NHL.com uniques come from Europe — and nearly one-third of European mobile access comes from an iPhone/iTouch. That tracks with the 26 percent of NHL players who come from outside North America. Europeans are also the heaviest video users on NHL.com, says Perry Cooper, SVP-direct/digital marketing & fan analytics.
Cooper explains: “You literally have countries like Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Slovakia consuming video on NHL.com at double the rate in most cases to the North American consumption rate, which is 20 percent. It does start to identify a real need.” That perceived need is time shifting for fans who are sleeping while the NHL is playing and want to wake up to scores. The paid version matches that interest with the heavy video use by offering condensed games and highlights, not live video of full games. The league’s research also shows willingness to pay for the right app.
What about the U.S.? Verizon holds the exclusive mobile rights and already offers some video through its deck. But the NHL also will have a presence in Verizon’s new app store, with a free stat app coming soon and a video app to follow. (Bell Mobility has exclusive rights in Canada and offers live game video and audio.)
Cooper isn’t concerned about cannibalization from the NHL’s other offerings. “We’re nowhere near saturation when you just look at penetration rates across a lot of metrics of consumption against our avid fan base. We need to be more widespread through more channels.”
Bundling: “It’s something we’re definitely looking at in the future, going to live on every platform accessible to a fan or consumer.”
iPad: This app would seem to lend itself to an iPad version. Is the NHL exploring the possibility? “We are and I think any active and forward looking publisher is. Absolutely.”
NHL Ice Time (NYSE: TWX) 2010, developed with NeuLion, follows the increasingly popular freemium model:
– the rather robust free “basic” version comes with schedules; live in-game stats; a live-ice tracker (shows location of hits, goals, saves and even fights on virtual rink); player profiles; search and some personalization.
– the in-app upgrade adds video, including condensed versions of every game; highlights after every period; clips linked to the ice tracker; video woven into player profiles; and a video archive. No live video but it has live game audio. The cost: $7.99 U.S. (