NHL PrePlay App Looks Beyond Check-ins, Tune-ins and Social TV

I don’t know hockey. In fact, as I admitted to Chris Golier, VP, mobile marketing and strategy at the National Hockey League, I may not be clear even on what a “body check” is. As longtime readers may recall, I am famously ignorant of sports. When my wife or daughter sees any sports event on our TV they ask, “what are they making you write about now? Do you even know what is going on here?” they chide. It is a good bet that I was the most hockey-oblivious person Chris would encounter this week.

But I do know second-screen apps, and the NHL even got me a bit engaged in its new sponsor-branded Molson Canadian NHL PrePlay game for the iPad. “We are trying to build experiences,” says Golier. The company already has its live video access apps in the NHL GameCenter. And it works with check-in provider GetGlue and Shazam to grab audiences that way. But many of these programs help with check-in and tune-in prompts. “We wanted something that kept the fan in their seat for the whole game.”

In a new deal with NBC, all of the NHL playoff games over the next month are being broadcast across several of the NBC properties on cable. NHL wanted a way to grab even the casual viewer, help them find where a game was being broadcast, and keep them engaged both in a specific game and in the ongoing series.

The answer was a video game-like experience. NHL PrePlay actually revives a long-standing “predictive play” model that I remember being used by sports content providers on their Web site many years ago. The user is challenged to predict the next key action in the game. They accrue points that carry over throughout the post-season to establish them on leaderboards. It all works while one is watching the game and remains in sync with the live action.

The technology behind this thing is pretty wild. While some second-screen TV experiences have types of synchronized complementary content, this one is working in real-time and in response to what has just happened in a live game that may be broadcast on several different channels. The NHL delivers a real-time data feed of the action to their partner PrePlay so it can deliver relevant questions about the next play. The points awarded reflect the level of risk in getting the right answer. The user can invite friends via the social networks, and of course the leaderboard is an ongoing goad to watch more and play more.

In my limited and admittedly hockey-ignorant use of the game, I was happy to see a good modulation of interactivity. The questions did not overwhelm the second-screen user. One didn’t feel as if he had to tend the tablet. There was also not a flood of secondary content to distract you from the main TV screen. Ultimately, Golier says they will offer users more content and perhaps more incentives to play.

NHL appears to be the first major sports league to issue a highly interactive second-screen experience of its own, although others will surely follow. Sports content is among the most fertile fields for this kind of experience. But the real goal here is not just to master the second screen. For Golier, TV clearly is the primary medium here, and the app is designed to address the challenge of playoff content scattered across different places on the cable grid.

One function of the app is that it tells you where among your own cable channels the games can be watched. “We are driving tune-ins and sustained viewership,” he says. Since NBC is following a model much like the Olympics of pushing live coverage across multiple non-sports properties like MSNBC, “we wanted to get you watching and to find where it is being broadcast.”

For sole sponsor Molson, the app is offering an opportunity for persistent brand presence between commercials. “We have aligned objectives,” he says. “They want people in bars having a fun time and we wanted people playing along.” In the Canadian market, users of the app get a “Hockey House” finder that can show them where in their area Molson is served and can invite friends. Golier is working with SecondScreen Networks on tests of synchronized ads where on-air Molson spots will get complementary ads in the app. The in-app ad will be more personalized to region, offer the opportunity to get more information and to locate a Molson retailer.

The app just arrived for the iPad this week, so there is no early activity yet to report. But Golier says there should be a rich target here. They already know that people who have subscribed to the multi-screen Gamecenter access really are using those screens. “About two-thirds of users are logging in from more than one screen,” he says.   

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