How Jersey’s Kiswe is helping sports teams provide direct-to-consumer broadcast innovations

When a trio of executives from the telecom space, including a former president of Bell Labs in Murray Hill, Jeong Kim, decided they were going to leave their comfy corporate posts to chart new territory a decade ago … they moved a block down the road.

Although physically just a couple of minutes’ drive from their former workplace, the company they went on to start, Kiswe, has gone on to have the far-reaching impact they envisioned. And they believe what’s been seen so far — which includes inking deals with major sports franchises — is only a sample of the impact they’re ultimately going to have.

Wim Sweldens. (Photos courtesy Kiswe)

Wim Sweldens, along with Kim and former AOL executive Jimmy Lynn, make up the trio that leads this still-lesser-known business in New Jersey. Sweldens was a leader at Alcatel-Lucent, which was absorbed by Nokia in the 2016 deal that led to its ownership of Bell Labs.

“We wanted to be our own bosses instead of being part of a larger entity through a merger,” said Sweldens, now co-founder and chief marketing officer at Kiswe. “We also wanted to fill mobile networks we had built with content, instead of just building them. We saw this trend coming toward streaming and watching content on digital devices that we wanted to be part of.”

The bet Kiswe’s founders made was that there was untapped potential with live sports and other entertainment in streaming on mobile devices, which Sweldens said allowed for much more interactive and personalized experiences than traditional mediums (namely TV) ever did.

“With mobile devices, that interactivity is fundamental — you’re touching the screen, personalizing it in intuitive ways,” he said. “Broadcast TV is just the opposite. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can pause a broadcast, but it’s not the same type of interactive experience.”

Jeong Kim.

As for setting up next door to Bell Labs, it was more than convenient, Sweldens said. The founding team were all already familiar with the area, it’s true. …

“But, it’s mostly because of the heritage New Jersey has as an innovation state and a technology state, and the expertise and culture in the area, that made sense for us to get our start here,” he said. “We were also able to work closely in collaboration with the (New Jersey Economic Development Authority) to get the company set up.”

The broadcast concept they wanted to grow from within the Garden State is being embraced by some heavy hitters nationally today. That includes NBA teams such as the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers, as well as the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

Specifically, with a team such as the Jazz, Kiswe is powering the team’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, a platform referred to as Jazz+. In the fall, ahead of the NBA season, the Jazz announced it would charge $125.50 for access to a full season of regular season games (both live and through replays later) through their own branded service.

It’s an attempt to try something new in a media landscape in which the power of cable television is being slowly eroded, Sweldens said. Leagues and sports teams want to distribute content themselves, he adds, rather than going through a third party.

Jimmy Lynn.

“While they might not have the time, budget or tech for it, we believe a lot of teams no longer need to rely on a third party and still take a direct-to-consumer strategy (when it comes to live sports broadcasts),” he said. “With our help, they’re able to do that. And they’re able to own, manage and drive insights around data with our help.”

Through the company’s work to create alternative broadcasts of Clippers games, a service called ClippersVision, those viewing streams can see a player’s average shot-making percentage from where he is on the court through an Amazon-powered artificial intelligence tool.

Sweldens said it’s also an experiment in live-game storytelling. One of the features he touts is commentary that appeals to different demographics, such as sneakers collectors who can listen to influencers in that space talk during games. The service has also enabled former players and celebrities to make appearances as guest commentators, and Korean language broadcasts.

Alongside what it’s doing with sports, the company is involved in the streaming of the world’s largest music events. In fact, it facilitated the stream of a Guinness World Record-making concert by a K-pop group, BTS, last year. That event racked up nearly 32 billion Spotify streams.

They’re all promising signs that what Kiswe is doing has massive potential, Sweldens said. The company, which was named one of Deloitte’s 2022 Technology Fast 500 winners in 2022, is hoping to approach revenue-doubling benchmarks annually in coming years.

“We’ve got a great momentum,” Sweldens said. “Like anything in the sports world, trends start to snowball and accelerate. We’re now in the middle of a digital transition in the industry.”