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Clinton High School superstar Cam Akers was one of the reasons a WSN videocast drew 9,000 viewers last fall.

WSN lets schools dive into the video stream

By JACK WEATHERLY

A football game last fall between perennial Mississippi powerhouse South Panola and Clinton High drew 9,000 viewers on WSN.

No, WSN isn’t a television station. It’s a streaming network.

Such demand was latent until recent years when digital technology created an audience.

The Collierville, Tenn.-based video streaming company was born in the laboratory of Innovate Mississippi in 2010 and sees a future with a national scope through its lens.

Wifi Streaming Network was the brainchild of Charlie Helms.

It was a long, circuitous route that began right after he graduated from Jackson’s Provine High School.

It began with “pulling cables” for WAPT Channel 16 in Jackson, where he worked his way up to producer.

He formed businesses ranging from human resources to security systems.

In 2010, he and his partners developed the prototype for WSN, then worked out the kinks with three willing high schools.

The retooled firm signed up 12 high schools in 2011, he said.

As of now, there are 38 schools using the WSN technology, with the goal of reaching 50 by the end of 2017.

WSN is not alone by any means.

Two national companies – National High School Sports Network and The Cube – dominate the landscape, Helms said.

But they offer the software only, he said.

By contrast, WSN offers a turn-key package of hardware, software and technical support.

The WSN setup can be used for a variety of events – ranging from student plays, to graduations, even newscasts, Helms said.

The two national streaming companies charge considerably less for the software but offer no hardware and retain rights to the videos, for which they charge $10 per view, Helms said.

The national companies sell their products to national advertisers, he said.

WSN pitches its service to the bigger high schools, which typically have a bigger budget, and community colleges.

“We charge a premium,” Helms said, “and we say that we’re the most-expensive company on the market. We understand that to give you what you want, it costs money.”

“Our goal is get to where somebody like ESPN or Yahoo Sports wants to buy us.”

WSN currently has six of Mississippi’s eight two-year schools on its client list: Northeast, Itawamba, Mississippi Delta, Hinds, Holmes and Pearl River.

ESPN dominates the sports world. When it was conceptualized, there were many doubters about an all-sports network, just as there were when CNN was conceived as a 24-hour all-news network.

ESPN’s reach includes the all-important ratings of high school players, whose rankings, along with others, showcase prep talent and service college programs.

Cam Akers of Clinton High, the state’s only five-star player last year – who broke Mississippi hearts after the season was over when he announced he was going to play for Florida State – was in the shootout at Batesville.

Coverage of high school sports produces income beyond ticket sales and fund-raising efforts.

Local businesses buy ads, and there are even “TV breaks” for them.

Brandon High offers a coach’s show, styled after ESPN GameDay, with the coach and interviewer sitting at a TV-set desk with the playing field in the background.

WSN markets to bigger schools, 4A and up, because smaller schools usually don’t have the resources to buy into the technology.

“We’re the only company in the market that is turnkey – hardware, software and [construction and maintenance of the] website,”Helms said.

WSN offers four packages, starting with a laptop and camera, all the way up to what Helms calls “a true television production suite,” including four cameras and a tower, which enables slow-motion replays, just like national television networks.

One of its customers is Bentonville (Ark.) High, a 4,500-student, 7A school.

Quinton Marchi, a senior at Bentonville High and director of the 12-student operation, plans to attend Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., to pursue training in “something like this.”

Coaches at Fairhope (Ala.) High initially resisted using the service, fearing it would hurt ticket sales, said Desmond Joiner, a volunteer with the school’s booster club.

Now after three years of Pirate Nation Live, the coaches at the 7A school in the booming Eastern Shore town of 24,000 are upset when more sporting events (at 11 venues) can’t be streamed, Joiner said.

The business community has responded positively to advertising that shows a healthy return on  investment as a sponsor, rather than the old way of the school approaching them for a handout as a civic duty, Joiner said.

Additionally, it serves to connect the present and the past of the school, including graduates now living in England, who catch the streaming events at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. UK time, he said.

“They tell us they’re watching the game. It’s pretty incredible.”

 

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