NHL can make history by opening up

This video is one of many, many parodies of the National Hockey League’s History Will Be Made ad campaign for the 2010 playoffs.

Some are hilarious. Some are awesome to watch. Some are head-scratchers. Some talk about the history that wasn’t made. Some are bitter (with reason). Some look like they’ll be killer until a monumental letdown at the punchline.

Some make fun of officiating. Some make fun of journalists. Some just make fun of Ryan O’Byrne.

As the playoffs come to an end, the NHL is tooting its own horn about the campaign, and specifically about the fan-produced videos, which are made possible mainly by the simplicity of the ads’ creation – just a piece of video with cheap old-movie-style effects, played backwards in slow-motion with a piece of instrumental music.

It’s a case study for the power of viral marketing, and how giving people the power to make their own media can be better than making it yourself.

But while these videos are all over the place, the NHL didn’t make it easy for people to use the source material, and the thing executives are heralding now could soon become illegal.

Digital locks

The Canadian government recently introduced a bill, Bill C-32, which would update the Copyright Act to reflect changes in the digital age. I won’t go too much into the details (feel free to read Michael Geist if you want to learn way too much about it), but there are two provisions that are pertinent here. One makes it legal to do mashups under certain circumstances (one being that it’s not done for profit), which is certainly welcome.

The other is a much-criticized provision that, put simply, says that you can’t circumvent a digital protection measure or “digital lock” on copyrighted content. That program you use to download DVDs to your hard drive? Illegal. That program or website that allows you to download YouTube videos? Illegal. It doesn’t matter how easy it is to circumvent the lock, as long as the copyright holder tries to lock something down, you’re not allowed to have access to it. And you can’t have access to the tool that circumvents that measure either.

Among the most protective copyright holders are sports leagues. Before live broadcasts, many of them include a reminder that videos, photos or even descriptions of the game (by this they usually mean radio play-by-play) cannot be retransmitted or republished without the express written permission of the league. Though the NHL isn’t as bad as Major League Baseball of the National Football League, those same conditions apply.

Except for recording off a TV, there is no easy, legal way of downloading video of these iconic (or just funny) NHL moments of history in order to create these mashups. Even buying a DVD wouldn’t make it legal under this new law because those DVDs have digital locks. Creators have to first get access to the videos through some grey or black market – or find a way to circumvent or break the digital lock – before they can create their mashup. Some methods are really low-tech (like pointing a video camera at a TV screen), while others are the result of what might be considered hacking.

Let the people create

Here’s a radical idea: The NHL should post short video clips of the greatest moments in hockey history in open formats and without any copy or access controls (UPDATE: They’ve already done this with the music used). Let them import the video directly into iMovie or Final Cut or Windows Movie Maker and have fun with them. Don’t force your fans to jump through hoops to participate in your marketing campaign.

Rather than cut into their profits, this could instead drive interest in the NHL. Seeing a 30-second clip of Bobby Orr scoring a Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal and flying through the air could lead to people wanting to watch the whole game, or at least wanting to buy tickets to the next Bruins match. Seeing a three-minute montage of great Orr moments would have a similar effect.

The same could be done for recent highlights. Thanks to Yahoo Sports, bloggers and others can post highlights of the previous night’s game and discuss them. But while those videos are embeddable – and that’s a pretty big step already -they’re not downloadable.

Where the NHL will make money is in ticket sales, merchandising, and exclusive broadcast deals for live games. It’s not in 30-second highlights of history that everyone can see on YouTube already anyway. It’s not like you’re getting compensation when those highlights appear on the nightly news.

Put it out there. Let your fans play with your golden moments. Like with the History Will Be Made campaign, you might be surprised how creative they can get with them.

2 thoughts on “NHL can make history by opening up

  1. Gary

    On Twitter, NHL released the track used in the “History Will Be Made” Commercials so that anyone can use it for their video.

    Anyway it’s pretty easy these days to steal video from youtube… keepvid.com Then you can do whatever you want with them.

    Reply
  2. j2

    It’s an interesting point that C32 is anti-innovation and thus anti-business as well. Leaving the keys of the people in private interests have never hurt the public, after all.

    Reply

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