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Multiplatform Rollout: Q&A With Christy King

NEW YORK—The Ultimate Fighting Championship organization has grown to distribute digital content to 135 countries, often reaching 6 TB of video a day, in the nine years Christy King has been vice president of Technology Research & Development for the franchise. She led the effort to develop the systems and workflow to distribute video on every platform and device available to consumers around the world.

King recently announced that she is joining Levels Beyond as their chief operating officer as of Jan. 1, 2015. She talked with TV Technology’s Deborah McAdams about the growth of the UFC and how the organization met and accommodated an increasing number of multiplatform, multiformat distribution challenges.

TV Technology: OK, seriously; 1,400 flavors of Android?
King: Yep—that’s the goal. Our stuff likely doesn’t play on all of it every day, but we genuinely attempt to use vendors and partners that get our stuff to play on everything.

TV Technology: How many devices, platforms, regions and languages was UFC accommodating when you joined versus what it handles now?
King:When I joined, we were capturing events on tape, making copies, and shipping those tape copies all over the world via mail. Live content was distributed via traditional broadcast and satellite systems. Since 2006, there has been a worldwide explosion in devices, formats, and delivery mechanisms for video. We did our level best to be one of the first on every one of those platforms.

TV Technology: Why?
The UFC’s marketing team learned that we needed to make the video of our past events available for consumers in new markets. There is a predictable pattern of adoption of the sport. Often, it is the “cutting edge” technologies that have the highest concentration of the demographic that appreciates the sport of MMA.

TV Technology: The UFC has been growing in popularity globally through deals with the likes of Globo, Televisa, Fox Sports, YouTube, PS3, Xbox, Hulu, and Apple. How have you adapted to get live and pre-produced video to all those proliferating devices?
King: It truly has been a mind-boggling ride. When I started with the UFC in early 2006, there were 51 people in the company and I was supposed to figure out how to get video on UFC.COM “faster.”

Just prior to my arrival, a pivotal event changed our understanding of the marketplace. One of the original legendary athletes decided to retire after losing a fight. The lone PR staffer at the time happened to have a cheap consumer video camera and recorded the fighter’s announcement. It was terribly shot—lighting so dark you could barely see him speaking, audio was a blown-out mess—and yet that video rocked our world.
In a time when people’s cellphones only made phone calls, YouTube was just a twinkle, and home pages often took a good minute to load. This little video caused a sports news sensation. It created the largest number of impressions our website had ever seen, news outlets actually acknowledged the event, and UFC’s management team suddenly understood that putting video on this magical place called the World Wide Web was going to get us in front of an audience in a whole new way.
Since then, developing processes to provide both live and pre-recorded video on every device and platform imaginable has been the central consideration to every production system we’ve integrated.

TV Technology: What was the aftermath of the “pivotal event?” Tell us about developing those processes. Did it begin with the creation of a web player, more exploitation of YouTube?
King:At first there was a bit of a battle of video players and format wars, but media players quickly settled to a couple of major players that nearly everyone used. Then everything went crazy again with the proliferation of mobile devices. That craziness still hasn’t ended. That is the reason that to this day a “simple” live stream is encoded into no less than 25 versions on six different CDNs to feed all of the platforms, devices, and players available to consumers around the world. And that’s just the live stream! When the event is over and the production team is pushing replays or highlights, Levels Beyond stores around 200 different delivery specs for all of our partners and their systems.

TV Technology: Did wider distribution affect demand? Was there an accelerated growth of popularity around the world you could quickly identify? If so, where did it begin and tell us about what challenges were inherent in accommodating those new markets.
King:Our widening distribution was really a result of our own drive. UFC leaders understood that they were introducing a new sport to a new audience in each new region. Based on our experiences in television and on examining early website users, our marketing folks knew that video of our events needed to be ubiquitous for a certain period of time. Once that happened, the new market would have experienced just the right amount of exposure to support ticket sales to a brand new live event.

TV Technology: What were some of the obstacles you ran into, how did you work around them?
King:Oddly enough, we still have issues getting a reasonable amount of bandwidth inside of nearly all of the sports venues around the world to get our work done. I still don’t have a great solution other than to wait for venues to see that providing access to significant bandwidth would be a fine source of revenue from any customer who uses it, whether a concert, business event or sport. We all have to push digital content to social media and our many staff and partners around the world. It is not a choice anymore.

TV Technology: You recently provided a user report about leveraging the technologies of Aspera and Levels Beyond. Something obviously impressed you about Levels Beyond. What was it that set the company apart for you and UFC?
King: I have been a customer of Levels Beyond since they were a couple of guys hiding at a folding table at the back of the South Hall of NAB. I worked with a very bright editor at the time who had the foresight to see what was going to need to happen to our production workflow to conquer this brave new world of digital-everything.
He introduced me to the team and we spent the next years inventing a new way of tackling distribution.
My sports business contemporaries roll their eyes at me a little bit because I am the only one who gleefully smiles and says DAMs and MAMs are great! I don’t have horror stories of integrating with legacy systems from hell, or mutinies staged by hordes of angry editors or, most damning of all, the one who never had to explain a million dollar cost/time overrun to her CFO.