Spalk eyes US market for 'unique' sports commentary technology

New Zealand's Isaac Letoa competing in this year's FIBA under-19 basketball world cup, where 32 games were commentated ...
FIBA/SUPPLIED

New Zealand's Isaac Letoa competing in this year's FIBA under-19 basketball world cup, where 32 games were commentated on by 93 different people.

On the far side of the roomy offices of business incubator Icehouse there is a picture of Justin Marshall on the wall.

Underneath the picture sits a young company keen to "get rid" of the polarising rugby commentator.

Now that company, Spalk, has got $500,000 in its locker and a proven tournament where 93 people commentated on 32 different games as it embarked on an ambitious 12 months ahead.

"We've got quite a unique pitch," chief executive Ben Reynolds said.

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"No one else is executing on this idea yet."

The Spalk team from left to right, Alex Porte, Ben Reynolds, Cameron Ekblad, Dion Bramley, Jacob Meyer, Michael Prendergast.
SUPPLIED

The Spalk team from left to right, Alex Porte, Ben Reynolds, Cameron Ekblad, Dion Bramley, Jacob Meyer, Michael Prendergast.

Spalk's idea was two-fold: selling technology it had to existing sports broadcasters and letting amateur sports use its You Tube-style platform to broadcast content.

But to understand the business you first have to understand where it all started for the group of mates back in 2015.

They would get together and commentate different sports for fun, slowly attracting an audience of thousands of people.

It was impossible to synchronise their commentary with the video feeds of games, and so they built something to fix it.

Reynolds said Maori Television approached them in early 2016 because it wanted to have multiple alternate languages commentating its sports content.

Spalk's own broadcast platform on its website is still young, but the company plans to tap into the US college sports market.
SUPPLIED

Spalk's own broadcast platform on its website is still young, but the company plans to tap into the US college sports market.

Spalk's first event was the high school basketball championships in October last year, when professional English commentators, professional Maori commentators, and fans commenting in a variety of languages were all part of the broadcast.

The team of three quit their jobs and became six, at which time they developed a clear strategy.

"We figured if Maori TV have this problem, probably other people do too, and we started looking more in the broadcast market, rather than just amateur sports."

The company had decided to shift away from the idea of being crowdsourced commentary to one they called demographically targeted commentary.

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For instance, broadcasters might be put off by a young kid in their basement commentating a feed.

But when you considered a good portion of the Auckland central business district was made up of recent immigrants, Reynolds said Spalk allowed broadcasters to offer that audience specialised content with a commentator relevant to them.

"Suddenly that audience is more likely to watch your content, rather than wherever else they're stealing it from online."

Reynolds said he had had talks with the Australian Football League and Cricket Australia, both which wanted to get more girls playing the sport.

"Having Shane Warne commentating isn't necessarily particularly appealing to a 12-year-old girl.

"Having somebody else instead doesn't alienate your original audience, it just means those other audiences can pick who's the most relevant to them."

To do this at the moment, broadcasters would need multiple commentary boxes at the stadium, which was cost prohibitive.

Each stream you produced would need a different audio track.

"But the clever piece of technology that we've built is when a user clicks, 'Hey I don't want to listen to Justin Marshall, I want to listen to whoever else' ... our system swaps out the audio track in real time and keeps it synchronised.

"It's a single video, multiple audio track."

The company recently completed a $500,000 investment round and was targeting another in the United States by the end of the year, where sports broadcast rights were worth $25 billion a year.

Its own broadcast platform on its website was still young, Reynolds said, but the company planned to tap into the US college sports market with it.

Earlier this month, Spalk was used for the International Basketball Federation's (FIBA) under-19 basketball world cup in Cairo, Egypt, where 32 games were commentated on by 93 different people.

FIBA head of digital Nicolas Chapart said the Spalk collaboration had been extremely positive.

"More than 4 million people have tuned in to watch the group phase games and having fans commentating the games has greatly contributed to this success."

"Spalk will definitely help us to localise and enrich our live stream experience while also keeping production costs under control."

 - Stuff

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