SendtoNews is the biggest sports video service you've never heard of

Matthew Watson was a sports fan long before becoming a tech executive, supporting West Coast teams like the Vancouver Canucks, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Mariners.

"And the Grizzlies when they were in Vancouver. And now the Raptors," he says.

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Now those teams — and many more — are part of the business model for Watson's SendtoNews, a Victoria-based startup that has grown over the past decade into one of North America's largest distributors of short-form sports videos.

"Basically all the major leagues for the U.S. and Canada, we're their exclusive distribution partner for short-form video," Watson says.

Despite its success providing highlights of nearly every imaginable type of game played professionally, SendtoNews (STN) isn't well known to the average sports fan — and that's how the privately owned company likes to do business.

The low-profile strategy seems to be working, judging from its list of partners, which includes the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, CFL, PGA and NHL.

Many of its 1,600 local and national publishing partners are also high profile, although mainly in the United States: the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, New York Post as well as Postmedia and Torstar in Canada.

"In the U.S., we've probably got a 60 per cent penetration of newspaper dot-coms and similar with radio dot-coms and we're well on our way with native digital sites and also broadcast dot-coms," Watson says.

"We've probably got similar numbers in Canada as well, certainly on the newspaper dot-com front with Postmedia and Sun Media and the Toronto Star and others."

STN's secret sauce is an in-house artificial intelligence algorithm that matches the content on their clients' web sites with relevant videos. Clients paste STN's code into a news article, and the algorithm chooses videos to accompany it — driving views and increasing the time visitors spend on the site.

Revenue comes from advertising that's shown before its sports videos begin to run.

"Just in the U.S., we do about 450 million video views a month and we have over 25 million unique viewers in the U.S. alone with all of our publisher sites."

SendtoNews has overtaken sports juggernaut ESPN in one of Comscore's online audience rankings and Watson has ambitions to beat ESPN in another category.

According to Comscore's latest available rankings, SendtoNews ranked No. 1 in April in unique viewers from desktops but didn't beat ESPN in terms of unique multi-platform viewers (those who use desktop and mobile devices).

Watson says that Comscore's multi-platform category includes both apps for mobile devices, such as smartphones, and streaming videos to televisions, a market segment where ESPN is strong and STN doesn't compete.

Although STN has benefited this year from the Raptors' post-season run to victory over the Golden State Warriors, in a typical year the National Football League often provides some of the most-watched content distributed by SendtoNews.

Blake Stuchin, the NFL's vice-president of digital media business, says the league has always distributed its content on the most wide-reaching platforms of the day.

"Historically, that was just TV and radio. Over the years, it has expanded to a lot more places and a lot more choices."

That includes its own NFL.com website, the NFL app and third-party social media platforms such as Twitter and Snap.

Stuchin says SendtoNews has the ability to provide its content to more than 200 different local newspaper websites in the United States and Canada.

"We like that SendtoNews very carefully vets those publications," he says.

"The editorial (written content) is obviously independent but these are quality publications and we know they have high journalistic integrity. So it's great to be able to supplement the written word with video highlights that fans can watch."

Stuchin added that none of the NFL's other media partners connects with fans who follow their local teams through their favourite sports writers.

"SendtoNews has been a good partner in identifying for us a clear area in the market that was underserved and is attractive for us to be able to reach. And what they do, they do very well."

STN's original concept was to help newspapers adapt to the still-new digital age by providing easy access to video — originally for a fee.

But in 2015, the year Watson joined the company as CEO, STN decided to move to a revenue-sharing model — essentially making it the organizer that lines up the content providers, publishers, and advertisers in return for a share of the dollars generated by consumer views.

Watson says STN is profitable, without providing details. He declined to say how its investors are being rewarded but added there's no plan to take the company public.

"We're in a comfortable place, financially. Our investors are patient because our performance and our growth is so good. So we don't anticipate an IPO in the near future."

Watson says SendtoNews is "extremely ambitious" and has plans to push into Spanish-language content as well as non-sports markets, but he still prefers fans to know its publishers rather than itself, so you viewers won't see SendtoNews logos or banners on the video clips any time soon.

"I think that's part of the key to our success," Watson says. "We'd prefer to be recommended than recognized, if you know what I mean."

———

The Canadian Press is owned by a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail, Torstar and a subsidiary of Montreal's La Presse.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TSX.B, TSX:PNC.A, TSX:PNC.B)

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