iHigh receives $12 million investment

ssloan@herald-leader.comMay 30, 2012 

Lexington-based youth sports and activities broadcaster iHigh will announce Wednesday a nearly $12 million investment by Cox Media Group, which owns newspapers, television and radio stations nationally.

"The thing they've actually invested in is our technology," said iHigh chairman and CEO Jim Host, who equated the company's technology to a virtual television production truck for youth groups. "If you really think about it, we will be able to have a newspaper that's a television station that's a radio station."

Launched in 1999, iHigh encourages schools and organizations to upload or stream videos online of sporting events, meetings, performing arts and so forth. The company has launched its Production Truck software that simplifies the entire process for users and allows them to toggle among four cameras they set up and insert graphics. Its business model rewards organizations by letting them sell advertising on the site and through videos.

"There's a lot of Little League groups that are using it now," Host said. "Everybody's got a camera."

He recalled a recent game in which his grandson pitched. The league was streaming the game on iHigh, which is cellphone friendly, and one of the managers got creative in chewing out the umpire for a perceived bad call.

"He came out holding his cellphone and showed the stream, which has a 30-second delay, to the umpire to show him how much he missed the call," Host said.

Cox Media Group's $11.7 million investment amounts to a minority stake of about 20 percent, valuing iHigh at about $60 million.

"We think the iHigh business model and their Production Truck technology is leading edge," said Leon Levitt, Cox Media Group's vice president of strategy. "We very much like the business model that marries very local video content with the opportunity to aggregate it and sell it nationally."

Cox Media Group's investment will be used to continue to enhance iHigh's technology and to expand into new markets, Host said.

While iHigh already has users in all 50 states, "we have only become dominant in 10 states," Host said. "To grow, we usually put a field rep in a market to begin talking to youth groups and high schools and others."

Cox Media Group will be able to appoint two members to iHigh's nine-person board of directors.

Cox Media Group owns 15 television stations, 86 radio stations including four in Louisville, eight daily newspapers including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Dayton Daily News, and the Valpak direct marketing company. Host said the company's properties could benefit from incorporating iHigh's technologies.

"Our investment in iHigh was an investment in the company," Levitt said. "Using it within our own properties, that's a bonus."

Partnerships have been among iHigh's growth methods. In January, it launched a partnership with the mammoth Internet sports site Rivals.com. Last year, it partnered with Alltech, the Nicholasville-based animal health and nutrition company, to begin hosting the Alltech Ag Network. The company also has a partnership with the Herald-Leader's Web site, Kentucky.com, for video content; retired Herald-Leader publisher Tim Kelly is a senior adviser to the CEO and acts as a liaison for the company with newspapers and newspaper companies.

Talks of a partnership with Cox Media Group were rooted in a suggestion made by a person who had been associated with Cox who visited iHigh's shareholders meeting last year.

With the partnership now cemented, Host said he's looking to an even brighter future.

"We're just going to take the technology and continue to improve it and extend it nationwide," he said.

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.

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