HiCast Sports Network Delivers Core Video Streaming Service with Low-Code

Mendix is a game-changer for HiCast Sports Network, who improved their customer experience by rapidly delivering a new streaming application before peak season.

Youth and amateur sports play a vital role in bringing families and communities together, but distance and busy schedules can make it challenging for every player’s fan to attend each game.

HiCast Sports Network launched its initial product in 2018 to offer a solution that would make it easier to be present for the pivotal moments in a young athlete’s journey by providing live and on-demand video coverage at youth and amateur sports complexes.

“My co-founder, Robert [Stribling] and I both had kids who grew up playing sports,” said HiCast Sports Network Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie Calabrese. “We know that feeling in the heart of a parent when you can’t be at your kid’s game and you’re missing one of the best games they’ve ever had. That was a huge motivator for us to create the product.”

From youth to college-level and even amateur adult competitions, HiCast provides more than 200 livestreams for 28 venues across the United States. The first incarnation of the HiCast streaming product was comprised of three separate applications, making it difficult for their small team to maintain and adapt to new user requirements.

HiCast knew its video streaming product was outgrowing its technical specs, so when the pandemic hit and the demand for their services grew, the team decided it was time to create a centralized, feature-rich responsive web application. Calabrese and the team had a hard deadline to rebuild and launch their new product before April 2022 to be ready for baseball and softball season, their busiest time of year, and looked to the Mendix low-code platform to create a new, consumer-grade version of their product within a tight timeline.

From the App Store to Autonomy

It was ambitious to build a video application in 2018. Calabrese and Stribling saw the burgeoning technology as exciting, but eventually began to hit limitations as they grew. “It was a very early time to launch a web streaming product for mobile devices, and we took that product as far as we possibly could,” said Calabrese.

Wrangling three different apps – an iOS, Android, and web-based version – proved difficult for the small team, especially when HiCast paid the price for gaps in third-party functionality. “iTunes transaction fees were costly, and we wanted to manage all user accounts and subscriptions within our product. We needed a lot more control and more user-friendly solutions, while increasing our net revenue,” she added.

With the pandemic affecting business globally, Calabrese and Stribling took advantage of the lull in amateur sports to create a plan to rebuild their product, which led them to the Mendix low-code platform. With a lean internal team, HiCast also enlisted the expertise of Dutch IT service and consulting company HULQ, which specializes in rapidly developing great applications with Mendix.  “Once we started working with our project lead, Serhan Tatar and the HULQ team, we had great confidence in their ability,” said Calabrese. “The fact that they’d used Mendix for other clients was critical for us.”

“Mendix provides us a fast and easy way to build mobile and web applications,” Tatar said. “It has tools for the entire app lifecycle. We utilize a rich collection of available components from the Mendix Marketplace which really accelerates app development.”

Calabrese added, “The more money and time we can save in running the business day-to-day, the more we can dedicate to adding new features that our venues and users really care about. In the past, if we had a new feature request, it was difficult and time-consuming to execute. We chose Mendix to rebuild our core application because it’s modular and gives us the flexibility to make enhancements more efficiently.”

A Customer-First Sports Streaming Service

The HiCast team began transforming their core product in August 2021, prioritizing improvements for their users while also reassessing how to better action on internal processes managed in the application.

As a small team, HiCast knew that saving time during solution development, iteration, and maintenance would give them more time to focus on what sets them apart – their customer service. “Over the past two years, several of our venue partners who previously worked with our competitors chose to partner with us. They say our user experience and customer service won them over,” said Calabrese.

Some of the most exciting enhancements made to the new HiCast Sports Network application include:

  • Reducing delays in live broadcasting and enhancing video player features including zoom, full screen, and slow motion controls
  • Adding multiple camera views and seamless switching between the views for a single playing surface to enable coverage of more sports
  • Implementing more flexible customer subscription options
  • A virtual scorekeeping module for venue partners
  • The ability to live tag important moments and clip, save, and download game highlights
  • DVR playback, allowing users to start watching a game live and rewind if they’ve missed anything
  • Extensive, real-time analytics reporting for HiCast and venue partners to track performance

Automation Adds Value

Adding in a scorekeeper feature had been a top request for the HiCast team since their inception in 2018. Now, venues have the option of scoring games, making it easier for viewers to stay engaged and adding value for the venue. The feature has even opened up crowdsourcing options for users at the game to contribute to statistics, identifying them via location services and prompting with push notifications.

“We’ve built automation within the scorekeeping tool. For a volleyball match, the scorekeeping tool knows when to advance to the next set, based on the score. For baseball and softball, the tool knows when to advance to the top or bottom of the inning based on the outs,” said Calabrese. “So that logic and intelligence that we’ve built into the scorekeeping tool makes it really easy for our venues or volunteers to keep score.”

Highlights Empower Coaches and Athletes

Users can save specific moments from streamed games with the HiCast highlight feature and send them to their family and friends, or keep them in their HiCast dashboard. “Once users save a highlight, they can play it full screen, zoom in and pan around the field,” said Calabrese. “They can save and download highlights to their mobile device or computer and upload it to their social media platforms.”

Highlights serve a range of purposes for HiCast’s many users. Athletes use the highlight feature to share clips with coaches for recruiting purposes. Venues and tourney organizers can save great moments from their events and share them in social media. And coaches and umpires can hone in on specific moments to identify areas for player or team improvement.

Never Missing a Moment

Live tagging allows users to quickly and easily create timestamps of important moments while following the game live. At the top of the hour or after the game, users can return to these moments and save them as highlights that can be sent to coaches, family, and fans. For users that can’t get away in time to make it to the start of a game, the DVR feature gives users up to one hour of rewind and restart time.

“Say a parent or grandparent comes online to a game late and they’ve missed the first inning. With the DVR feature, they can easily just drag the slider bar to rewind up to 60 minutes, and then just click on the live button to jump to live,” said Calabrese. “Most users watch footage live or same day, but on-demand access gives flexibility for fans to watch at their convenience and for players to watch their own performance for up to 90 days from date of play.”

Automating Admin to Scale Customer Support

In the original iteration of HiCast’s streaming solution, most administrative tasks would eat up team members’ time and take away from more meaningful, customer-facing work. For instance, adding a new venue, field, or court to the system took several day’s worth of time. Managing camera schedules or user accounts and generating reports were complicated and time-consuming. The team needed a robust Admin tool to give them more control, more time, and a cost-effective way to manage and grow the business.

Tatar and HULQ’s development team have integrated several third-party systems and Mendix Marketplace customizations to alleviate the more manual work that fell to the HiCast team, including:

  • AWS: Reliable video storage
  • Wowza Media Service: Streaming optimizations
  • Twilio: SMS and marketing
  • Stripe: eCommerce transactions
  • Social Login: Authentication
  • Zoho: Report integration & generation
  • Pusher: Scoreboard updates

“So, much of the administrative work that we had in the old product was done manually and required technical resources,” said Calabrese. “But now, the Admin tool gives us total control over the product and the user experience, as well as visibility into the data, so we can analyze our business and continue to make enhancements.”

Creating Connections and Preserving Memories

Development of the new HiCast Sports Network application was completed in March 2022, just eight months later and in time for baseball and softball season. The application was ready to onboard all of HiCast’s existing application users, and thanks to the team’s thoughtful planning and hard work, Tatar, Calabrese, and Stribling completed the migration with the support of the HULQ development team in just one night.

“We had a planned down-time of 12 hours to complete the migration, which is pretty impressive,” said Calabrese. “We tried to pre-think as much as we could in that transition. Obviously, things always come up that you don’t expect, but overall, it was really smooth.”

The success of the transition encouraged the team to continue investing in their product, making iterations with Mendix based on feedback from their customers and improvements to process-based internal challenges.

They are also encouraged by the feedback they receive. Grandparents are seeing their grandchildren play for the first time. Parents traveling for work are sure never to miss a game. Players are sharing their own game highlights with teammates and fans in social media. “Our HiCast Sports Network is allowing families to connect with one another and have this shared experience around the moments that matter,” said Calabrese. “That’s what drives us. It’s at the heart of what we do.”