NeuLion Inc., a pioneer in the business of streaming sports events and other video over the internet, is seeking new markets in a growing, competitive industry.
The Plainview company, founded by a quartet of former Computer Associates International executives in 2004, takes video from sporting events involving basketball, football, soccer and mixed martial arts, and formats it for delivery to smartphones, tablets, web browsers, TVs, streaming devices such as Roku and Chromecast, and game consoles like Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Revenue at the company, which employs 550 full-timers, including about 120 in Plainview, climbed from $55.5 million in 2014 to $94 million in 2015 to $50.4 million in the first half of 2016.
Professional services firm Deloitte named NeuLion on its list of 500 fast-growing technology companies in North America on Wednesday, and the company plans to move into a new 50,000-square-foot headquarters in Melville in the second half of 2017.
Profits, however, have been elusive. For the quarter ended Sept. 30, NeuLion’s net loss narrowed to $2.7 million from $3.1 million in the year-earlier period. The company posted a profit in 2014, but has recorded losses since an acquisition in January 2015, executives said. NeuLion expects to return to profitability in 2017.
NeuLion competes with much larger companies, such as Adobe Systems Inc., BAMTech, backed by Walt Disney Co., and the Elemental Technologies unit of Amazon.com Inc.
“We’ve built a sustainable business,” said NeuLion CEO Roy Reichbach, 54 who joined NeuLion Inc. as general counsel in 2008. “There’s a huge tail wind” of demand for streaming entertainment.
TV viewing among 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States fell by 10 percent in May 2015 from the previous year, to 8.4 million people per minute, according to a study by Manhattan data measurement provider Nielsen Co. More people in that age group were actually using smartphones, tablets and other devices, the study found — 8.5 million people per minute, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier.
“No one’s glued to the living room anymore,” said Ralph Garcea, a Toronto-based analyst who follows NeuLion at Cantor Fitzgerald Canada. “Everybody’s streaming.”
Video streaming is delivered via apps that can be downloaded or incorporated by some manufacturers of game consoles, streaming devices like Roku or smart TVs.
The challenge for NeuLion, which provides streaming services that are rebranded by the NBA, the NFL, the UFC and other customers, is to provide a smooth viewing experience akin to cable television when delivering the signal over the internet, where data traffic jams can develop. NeuLion monitors those feeds in a cavernous control center in Plainview, with huge screens on the walls that make the space look like NASA Mission Control.
Video streaming of live events requires that camera feeds — for example from an NBA basketball game — be delivered by NeuLion in a format for everything from a 5-inch smartphone to a 75-inch TV.
One of its most widely seen products is the NFL Game Pass streaming app, which offers complete replays and condensed versions of every game as well as archives and “coaches film” camera angles that allow fans to analyze every play. Viewers can access the app from the iOS and Android stores, game consoles, Roku and Apple TV. The midseason price: $74.99.
“Very few people have an idea of what they do,” Glenn Hower, an analyst at Dallas-based Park Associates, said of NeuLion, “but if you show them the NFL Game Pass streaming app . . . everyone knows.”
NeuLion created the app that transmitted a highly anticipated, $59.99 pay-per-view UFC title fight on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden between Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez, the first UFC fight in New York. The stream had a resolution known as 4K, or Ultra HD, with four times the number of pixels as high-definition (HD) screens.
Garcea said the typical revenue split on sports events is 80 percent for the content owner and 20 percent for NeuLion.
Other customers include Major League Soccer and China Central Television, which hired NeuLion to stream the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“It’s a competitive market, because everybody wants to take their content online,” said Chris Wagner, NeuLion executive vice president and one of the four former CA executives who founded the company. The others are Ron Nunn, executive vice president, operations; Michael Her, executive vice president, research and development; and executive chair Nancy Li.
Li is the wife of CA co-founder and former New York Islanders owner Charles Wang. Wang formerly served as NeuLion’s chairman, and he remains a director. Together Wang and Li own about 28 percent of the company’s shares, individually and through investment vehicles, the company said.
In January 2004, the founders started their business in what had once been a five-room private schoolhouse on Old Country Road in Plainview, across the street from the current headquarters.
NeuLion’s first contract, in June 2004, was with Nassau County to process traffic tickets online, Wagner said.
By 2005 the company had acquired technology to compress video for delivery over the internet.
Around the same time, KyLin TV Inc., a NeuLion customer controlled by Wang, acquired rights to programming from China that could be distributed over the internet to that country’s expatriates wherever they lived.
“Those were the two test cases for the technology: whether the technology worked and how to perfect it,” said Reichbach.
In 2006, NeuLion launched Islanders TV, a free internet supplement for avid hockey fans, offering videos of morning practices and interviews with members of the team.
In 2007, Islanders TV caught the eye of NHL officials, who approached NeuLion about delivering a service for the entire league. That interest turned into NHL Gamecenter in the 2008-2009 season, providing pregame, live game and postgame streaming for all 30 hockey clubs to customers outside the teams’ home markets.
“Everybody wanted a product like NHL Gamecenter,” Wagner said. That led to the creation of NFL Gamepass and NeuLion’s version of NBA Leaguepass, a streaming service for international fans.
NeuLion went public in June 2008 when it merged with JumpTV, a streaming company traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. NeuLion took JumpTV’s place on the Toronto exchange and is still traded there.
In January 2015, NeuLion acquired San Diego-based DivX LLC for about $60 million and gained technology that allowed it to stream internet video in 4K Ultra HD.
NeuLion won a contract to build a streaming service for Los Angeles Clippers basketball fans after a September showdown between NeuLion and a competitor arranged by team owner Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft Corp.
“He put two Sony TVs side by side” with NeuLion streaming to one and a competitor to the other, Wagner said. The NeuLion video won.
NeuLion also streams Long Island high school sports through its News12 Varsity app. News 12 is owned by Altice USA, which has a 25 percent stake in Newsday Media Group.
The streaming business accounts for about 70 percent of revenue. NeuLion licenses its technology to companies such as Samsung, Sony and LG, which embed the software in their TVs. That accounts for about 20 percent of revenue. The final 10 percent comes from licensing video-compression technology to companies including Apple and Microsoft.
The board of directors has approved a reverse stock split that would increase the share price (which closed at $1.03 Canadian on Friday in advance of a possible listing on the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock was up about 37 percent year to date.
Reichbach said the company is continuing to seek agreements that would expand the content it delivers and its geographic reach, particularly in Latin America and Asia. It recently reached deals to stream soccer’s English Football League, rugby games and content about Major League Baseball players.
One recent entrant into sports streaming: Walt Disney, whose ESPN unit has been losing cable subscribers.
In August, Disney invested $1 billion for one-third of BAMTech, a streaming media rival of NeuLion that was spun off by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. Disney’s investment gave BAMTech an imputed corporate value of $3 billion, compared with NeuLion’s $219 million recent stock market value (in U.S. dollars).
BAMTech was able to buy streaming media rights for the NHL in 2015 for $600 million over six years. NeuLion previously had run the NHL streaming service before that deal, which it couldn’t match, analysts said.
Reichbach said the entry of corporate titans shows the potential in NeuLion’s market.
“The interest of those bigger companies focuses attention on the value of what we do,” he said.
Analysts suggest that NeuLion may be an attractive acquisition target for bigger companies that want to boost their streaming capabilities.
“They can’t stay on their own,” said Dan Rayburn, an analyst at researcher Frost & Sullivan. He pointed to Amazon’s 2015 acquisition of Portland, Oregon-based Elemental Technologies for $296 million.
Garcea said Facebook, Google and Microsoft are all potential suitors. Another possibility would be a bid by rival BAMTech.
“I think eventually they [NeuLion] get acquired for their platform,” Garcea said.
Reichbach said NeuLion would not dismiss a generous offer out of hand.
“We’re constantly looking at alternatives,” he said. “We keep our eyes and ears open. If someone were to say we were at the same valuation as BAMTech, we’d clearly have to look at that.”