SEC slams door on Web videos from games


Florida's Tim Tebow sings to fans in front of many photographers following the Gators 45-12 victory over FSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Saturday, November 24, 2007.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, August 7, 2009 at 2:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 at 2:46 p.m.

The Southeastern Conference has decided to ban media outlets from posting game highlights online, beginning with the upcoming football season, as it prepares to offer the content on its own Web site.

Last month, the SEC and XOS Digital announced a deal to launch the SEC Digital Network. The Lake Mary-based company is revamping the SEC's Web site to provide highlights and complete game replays. Fans will be able to view the content free on the site or pay for downloads to computers or portable devices, according to a company official.

As part of the agreement, media outlets no longer will be allowed to post clips from games on their Web sites. TV stations will be allowed to broadcast the footage only as part of newscasts, while also facing limits on using footage more than 72 hours after the game. Exceptions are limited to universities and those holding or paying for specific rights.

The limits are meant to "protect the rights of the conference and the schools in the conference," said Charles Bloom, the SEC's associate commissioner for media relations.

"This is not a restriction of overall coverage ... It's a restriction of video," he said.

SEC and XOS officials would not disclose financial terms of the seven-year deal. The University of Florida benefits from the deal in getting old footage digitized and receiving a cut of sales, associate athletic director Mike Hill said.

He said the university plans to formally notify media outlets of the policy Monday, which he described as similar to restrictions of live footage being broadcast.

"Not just anyone can walk into our stadiums and broadcast a game live," he said.

David McCraw, an attorney for The New York Times Company, said in a written statement that news organizations would seek to change the policy or pursue legal remedies. The company owns The Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner.

"We believe that the new policy is an arbitrary attempt to limit independent news reporting on SEC sporting events and ultimately to restrict the coverage that SEC fans have long enjoyed and have every right to expect as supporters of SEC teams and taxpayers financing SEC institutions," McGraw said in the statement.

Over the past two years, the SEC has reached an agreement with CBS and ESPN in which they're paying a total of more than $3 billion over 15 years to broadcast games.

As part of the deal, the league retained rights to past and futures games.

XOS Digital, a division of XOS Technologies, is making digital copies of those games for the Web. The company also will be packaging highlights of upcoming games and other content for the SEC Web site and other sites such as AOL.com, CBS.com and Hulu.com, said John Christie, a company official serving as general manager for the SEC Digital Network.

He said the content will be offered free online and supported through advertising. The company also will provide options for downloads, he said, which will be sold in a way similar to iTunes.

The prices are being determined but are "not meant to be cost prohibitive," he said.

The changes are part of a trend by sports leagues, led by the National Football League and Major League Baseball, in restricting online coverage of their events. In 2007, the NCAA made news when a reporter was ejected for blogging during a University of Louisville baseball game.

Media organizations should be able to provide their own coverage of sporting events, said Rick Hirsh, senior editor for multimedia and new projects for the Miami Herald and board president of the Florida Society of News Editors.

"There is a difference between the controlled video that is from an authorized source and allowing the media to cover an event as news," he said.

Bloom said details also are being worked out about how post-game interviews might be limited. Other parts of the policy might be tweaked before the start of the season.

"There's still some discussion as to maybe coming up with a little bit of leeway," Bloom said.

In the past, UF has put time limits on the use of game footage and last spring lowered those limits. Time limits remain for television along with the ban on online videos.

The new restrictions are a way of protecting content in an evolving media landscape, said John Wright, dean of UF's College of Journalism and Communications.

"It looks to me to be a smart and prudent thing to do to protect the rights to their product," he said.

Jim Osteen, executive editor of The Gainesville Sun, offered a different perspective.

"We are disturbed that the SEC would choose to implement a policy which prohibits fair and competitive Gator sports news coverage," he said in an e-mail.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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