The challenge for every sports property, broadcaster and league is to reach and engage today’s young fans and live video on social platforms like Facebook and Periscope is a proven way to do this.
In this session from Hashtag Sports 2017, panelists offer a variety of perspectives on how they approach live video to enhance the fan experience and directly reach today’s consumers in a constantly evolving and competitive media landscape. Where does the balance lie between engagement and monetization? How does data weigh into the picture and what does the future hold for live video?
Check out the full video and transcript below!
Hemal Jhaveri: Hey everybody, welcome to The Power of Live. I’m Hemal Jhaveri, Editor at USA Today Sports — mostly I work with ForTheWin. Sitting next to me is Jason George from Telescope, Tim Greenberg from the World Surf League, Joe Caporoso from Whistle Sports, and Heidi Browning from the NHL. Thank you guys for being here.
The first question I want to kick it off with, largely a big open umbrella question: What are the major benefits of using live that each of you have found in your different niches?
Heidi, why don’t we start with you?
Heidi Browning: Thank you. Thank you for choosing to spend your time with us today everyone! We use live really in three ways. The first way is to drive tune in to our linear broadcasts of the game. As you know our broadcast partners are important to us. They are important revenue partners to us. So we want to make sure live doesn’t take away from our broadcast, but actually is additive to it. So whether were doing it on NHL’s behalf, or SportsNet, or NBC, all of us have been using live to drive tune in over short periods of time before the games actually air on TV.
The second way we use live is to expand our audience. So how do we take live streams of our game to Twitter, and understand the audience that might not ever tune in to TV? How do they engage with us on Twitter? And then we’re expanding internationally by streaming it on Tencent, and understanding how we can bring the game to our Chinese audiences.
And then the third way that we’re using live is really more of a “How do you elevate the players with our fans?” Our players, we’ve got such a challenge with, because they’ve always got the gear on, they’re on and off the ice so fast. People don’t recognize their faces. And we really know that if people knew more of the players, they’d watch more hockey. So we’re using those moments of live through Spectacles, through Periscope, to help bring that one-to-one relationship of what’s it like in life off-the-ice for these players.
Joe Caporoso: I would say for us at Whistle Sports, we have two different primary reasons we’ve been focusing on live:
Exposure to a few different niche sports and different sports leagues that we’ve been working with — whether that’s a premium high school basketball tournament, or a new growing summer basketball tournament like TBT, or some different charity events around the city. We recently just worked with the Steve Nash Foundation for the Showdown in Chinatown.
And to give exposure to some of the different digital creators that we work with. Sort of give a behind-the-scenes look at what their day-to-day life is like, and put them into some engaging situations where they can really directly engage with our audiences, and sort of give a direct pipeline where they can respond to questions. So we’ve had a balance of more straightforward broadcast of actual sporting events, and then first-person direct engagement to give exposure either to our culture, or some of our different creators and what they’re doing day-to-day.
Tim Greenberg: So the World Surf League is very similar to Heidi. We use live in several ways. The majority of our consumption happens on our operated platforms: our app and our website. But we’ve been using Facebook this year to stream all of our contests. We produce over 800 hours of live programming per year, and we stream all of that on Facebook.
We’re learning a ton about our audience; we’re learning new markets that maybe weren’t exposed to a niche sport like surfing, and we’re learning better ways that we can engage with them using products like Telescope, where we’re having a one-on-one fan conversation in real time throughout our broadcast, and learning more about our audience as we do that. And then the third way would be just new distribution channels and growing our sport to a bigger audience.
Jhaveri: So Jason, you’re a little bit different from the vendor technology side. From your perspective what are the major benefits for you guys, or what you’re trying to push forward?
Jason George: We specialize — I think these guys said it pretty well in terms of all the benefits and what allows you to hit a global audience. I think one think definitely worth remembering is that a lot of these viewers are coming from a mobile device. So it’s reaching the audience in different ways, and it requires different techniques. We specialize around social and some of the Facebook side of it. And the thing I’d say to really remember is that it’s an opportunity to have a conversation with your audience, not just to kind of talk at them. Because the social side of it is “How do I also use that to actually drive your ship, and drive discovery?”
So roughly half of your audience actually comes from saying something in your feed so, they’re getting something tagged, they’re seeing it because they are interested in it, or they’re seeing it because a friend is sharing it or commenting on it, so how do we use those tools as well in that space to really drive… Live’s always been a big part of TV viewing, that’s not new. I think it’s these platforms that are offering opportunities to access different content, more niche content sometimes. Like we said, it’s a behind-the-scenes opportunity to get close to some of the characters and talent involved in the sports.
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Jhaveri: So to move this a little bit forward, in terms of your live strategy for distribution, like you said there’s a lot of different places your live broadcasts can go. It can go to Facebook, Periscope, or you can do it in your own app. Do you have any thoughts on where you’ve decided what works best?
Tim, you said you just started with Facebook. What was the decision-making factor for you guys to move to Facebook versus trying to keep it all in-house?
Greenberg: Growing our sport. You know surfing means a lot of things to a lot of people. A lot of people don’t actually know that competitive surfing exists. So we sort of think of it as the Costco sampler aisle. If we can get surfing into the news feed, and we can expose people to this amazing sport, these amazing locations, and we can drive conversion to our owned and operated app, it may not happen overnight, it might be a long process, but just that exposure is something that we really value for Facebook.
Jhaveri: Heidi, what about the NHL? You’re in a very unique position, because you have to manage your broadcast partners as well. How do you navigate that tension?
Browning: So as I mentioned earlier, we do this in partnership so that we can be additive to the broadcast experience, not take the audience away from it. Because that’s one of the big fears that many people have is that it will take audience away from their television ratings. And that’s not it at all. It’s really to expand beyond the hardcore avids that would watch us anyway, and try to touch on some of these expanded, casual fans or just act as a reminder to tune in.
The way that we do it is not to show what’s happening on the ice. We’ve been experimenting with different types of content so some of it might be in the locker room or going down the tunnel, some of it might be some pre-game discussion about what they think is going to happen, some commentary with the talent online, sometimes it’s our post game pressers. So we’re just experimenting with the different ways to incorporate it into the overall picture.
Jhaveri: And what is it about sports that is such a great fit for live broadcasting? Right because we see a lot of news programs, entertainment is not yet caught up. But sports really feels like it’s leading the way in terms of live broadcasting. Joe, do you have any thoughts on that?
Caporoso: I think what we’ve seen, and what I think is that people always have strong opinions, and they’re passionate about sports. What we’ve been most encouraged by when we’ve experimented with live is just how much engagement we’ve gotten. For example, when we live stream something on Facebook, seeing how active the comment section has been and being able to utilize real time polls and other tools from Telescope. And people aren’t shy to very quickly express their opinions, and all of the sudden devolve into different debates in our comment section which is great — it’s what we want to see. We want to drive that conversation.
When fans are in the comment section about an Under Armor Elite basketball game that we’re live streaming, they’re immediately talking about their favorite high school prospects, their favorite colleges, and how these prospects compared to NBA players, and that can lead into hundreds of thousands of comments for us which is exactly what we want because we’re getting really good exposure and information from our audience in real time. I think in sports that’s something they can quickly pick up and are immediately not shy to show their passion and start debating about these different topics.
Jhaveri: And this kind of goes back to what you were saying about the engagement factor, right?
George: Yeah, I think there are some things you don’t mind watching on delay, right? There’s other things — because if you can’t tell, I’m English — some English sports I don’t want to watch on ten-second delay. I want to watch them in the moment, you know, if you like connecting to people through that. And the second thing is, our background at Telescope is really interactive around TV shows, and that’s kind of a laborious process. How do I get somebody from a TV show into a digital environment, get them to do something, and then get them back to the TV screen? And that’s actually a painful process, whereas I think with lots of these platforms the interactivity and engagement is totally organic.
A lot of the fans are already there commenting, and already there expressing their opinions. You said sports, the passion point is the most high profile example of that. So actually harnessing it is a real kind of key thing to this. As I said, it’s talking with people not just at them. And by doing that as well, the way a lot of the social platforms work, is that will help you raise the profile of the content and the algorithm, and help it get discovered. So there’s an actual real commercial and audience reason to do that as well. That’s why I encourage people to do it, so you don’t just view it as a one-way broadcast as traditional broadcasting has been. But how do I really harness that kind of found passion in the right sort of way?
Jhaveri: So as a media person everything in our industry all of the sudden is about monetization. What are your thoughts, or concerns when it comes to monetizing live streams? Is it something that’s a primary concern? For the NHL it might not be, for the World Surf League it might be different, and for Whistle Sports it might be different.
Greenberg: Yeah, for the World Surf League right now we’re in a phase where we’re trying to grow the sport. We’ve been testing and experimenting a lot with how we’re distributing our content. So our primary objective right now is not necessarily to go out and monetize. That might change when we start to figure out exactly what consumption habits are, but it might be different for other sports. We’re really trying to get our product out. With the Olympics in 2020 there’s a lot of momentum around surfing so first let’s build the packages and then see how we can go out and monetize.
Jhaveri: Okay so that’s interesting — it’s not really a primary concern for you guys.
Caporoso: I think initially, when we began testing it, and got more comfortable with the actual process of doing it, it probably wasn’t at the top of mind for us. But now that we’ve done it for a year and a half, two years, it definitely is a concern. I mean everything we’re putting time and resources into, how can we find a way to monetize it? Because that’s going to allow us to expand the resources we put into it.
You know we’ve experimented with some brand integration, we’ve thrown it into different brand campaigns that we do. Whether that’s doing a creative giveaway around it, or again just using some of the features that something like Telescope has where we can easily get a brand’s graphics integrated.
It’s not something that I think we’ve done with a high volume of consistency yet, but it’s something that we’re trying to more regularly package and offer more different options and different ways to get a brand in there. Whether it’s their logo, or linking out to something in the comments section, or again, just finding a creative way to get their product in without beating the consumer over the head with it.
Browning: And then for us it’s again that indirect influence on revenue, which is making sure we’re actually building audience for our broadcast partners. And although we can’t tie it directly, we’ve had live streams before every game from both NBC and from SportsNet up in Canada. And our ratings are up 53% year-over-year. So all these things matter when you’re trying to capture people’s attention and getting them to tune in to what you want.
Jhaveri: And is there any tension between that old media and new media?
Browning: We’re all in this together and trying to drive as much engagement and audience growth as possible so it’s more of a partnership, for sure.
Jhaveri: Are there any pitfalls that you guys have noticed with live? Has there ever been an instance — well I’m sure there have been plenty of instances — but like one real learning experience with using live?
You guys all have different challenges, whether it’s trying to broadcast live from the game, from the beach, from an arena where WiFi isn’t great. What are some of the biggest pitfalls that you’ve encountered?
George: Well definitely don’t use a shared WiFi network at a stadium or something like that. I think that there’s been loads of learning.
The one thing I’ll say is that it’s still the early days so I think that even on things like monetization, that’s clearly a crucial area. The [social] networks like Facebook, Twitter and various places are making a lot of advances, but there isn’t necessarily a marketplace for it in the same way. There’s not the understanding from sponsors of what it’s doing in the moment. So it’s still early, and it’s an important part. I think in terms of pitfalls and learnings, we’ve also seen a lot on how those platforms have evolved.
TV, which gets knocked a lot of the time, still does a lot of things well. One of the things it does well is scheduling. You make an appointment to view and you come there. So for instance Facebook, initially on Facebook Live you literally just went live. Of course people share and they come ten minutes into the stream. So introducing things like the schedule to drive people to that content, and to get them to make an appointment to view.
I think there’s tons of learning and advancements happening around those platforms and learning around best practices. How do we bring graphics into there? How do we engage the audience? How do we incorporate that audience participation directly? Giving shoutouts to people from the host, obviously featuring that stuff on air. A lot of those conventions are still developing. Other media like TV has had 80 years of kind of doing that, so it’s still early.
Greenberg: Surfing is a little unique. We don’t know when we’re going to be on. So everyday we wake up, look at the waves and say “Okay, we’re going to run.” So for that reason we’ve never been able to bring on a consistent broadcast partner.
A long time ago we actually cut the cord early on for that very reason. We’ve been streaming direct-to-consumer for over 15 years in various forms through some of our endemic partners. The past four years, that’s been our primary model — getting a broadcast off of the beach using a satellite truck or whatever means necessary. We have an incredible broadcast team that makes this happen every single day.
I’m not sure exactly how they do it, but sometimes they pull together a miracle and find the satellite and make it happen. So we’ve learned a lot, and definitely having strong WiFi for those “behind-the-scenes” moments is something that I can’t stress enough. We have a lot of earned knowledge over time — and a really cool team.
Caporoso: I think for us again it’s just check, and double check the WiFi connection in advance. Make sure you test everything in advance. We did TBT the first time — I think we did 64 games over the course of two weekends — so that was really four, 12–13 hour days with the production team on the ground at the actual arena. And then people back at our office, making sure that you have multiple people trained who could step in and be just as comfortable as the other person running everything on the backend.
If you have a group of fans within the live stream and all of the sudden the audio cuts out or the video cuts out and then you have to repost a whole separate post, it’s hard to get that whole audience back. You can’t afford to have more than one or two of those mishaps in a short period of time because people are going to lose interest and move onto something else.
If they’re engaged within a game, they’re engaged within commentary, and all of the sudden the audio fades out or the video cuts out and you have to remove the post, it’s just not something you could afford to have happen multiple times. So testing as much as we can in advance, obviously certain things could happen that you can’t plan for, but the more fail safes you have in place and backup plans, the better.
Browning: I’m just going to build a little bit on what you were talking about Jason, which is the platforms out there, it’s still early days for them too. And so really understanding how to build and accumulate audience to drive to live, I think that’s a really big area of focus that we’re all learning from. We need to think through that user experience, that was such a great point.
Twitter, same thing. Thinking through the user experience of how do you get people into the game at the right time? Even though it’s the most real-time platform, there’s still challenges in driving audiences there. I think there area lot of things that we can do together with our partners to be smarter about how we build audience.
Jhaveri: One of the interesting things is that I — always in conjunction with live broadcasts — I hear Facebook Live mentioned quite a bit. Is there anybody on stage here that’s primarily focused on Twitter? Twitter has recently introduced Periscope production studios so that you can have that same broadcast on Twitter. Are there any thoughts on which platform is better? Or why you would use one and not the other or not simulcast?
Browning: We’re using Twitter. We broadcasted 12 games on Twitter as an experiment this year, again, to see if we can expand our audience to people who would never tune in anyway. And this was the first year Twitter did NFL as well so it was a learning experience for all of us. We drove several hundreds of thousands of people to watch on Twitter, which I thought was remarkable because some of the local markets don’t even get that much tune in on TV so for us this was really exciting and encouraging.
Now flash forward, you go over to China and you’re streaming on Tencent. You can get millions of people, and it’s a rounding error in the population there, but it’s still a way to introduce the game. What’s fascinating about both of those is that the primary platform they view Twitter or Tencent on is on their mobile devices. So thinking about how we deliver our product — the game — on a mobile device is another thing to think about.
Jhaveri: I think the stat on [China] is that 70% of video that’s consumed on Twitter is consumed on mobile. So it’s a huge chunk of their demographic that is actively engaging in video and live broadcast.
George: Yeah, I think 75% on Facebook is all mobile.
Jhaveri: So it’s all mobile, all the way.
George: Yes, and that definitely has different long shots and establishing shots that don’t wear particularly well on mobile. Thinking about how you produce, audiences don’t mind some of that authenticity. They don’t mind a camera phone or a handheld camera that’s not a perfectly constructed shot. I think they find that they actually like some of the authenticity in some ways, especially in certain scenarios. So I think it’s a different way of producing the content as well.
Greenberg: Yeah, in real-time. My favorite example is we were shooting a big wave contest down in Puerto Escondido and our broadcast team would cut to a lock off shot of a palm tree and our audience left. So I ran down to the truck and said “Please, keep it on the ocean!” And we learned that in real time. So it’s actually learning from our audience, and changing our broadcast habits. Now we’re experimenting with alternate streams, we’re thinking about ways that we can get bigger graphics to work on mobile because that’s where the audience is.
Jhaveri: And also captioning, right? People are consuming video, live video, without the audio on. So captioning is huge.
I want to go back to this point of authenticity; we were speaking about this backstage. I did a Facebook Live broadcast handheld on my phone behind-the-scenes of the NHL Centennial, where the NHL let press up on stage to interview all the players. But it was like 30 minutes of me walking around a stage like “Oh look, there’s Wayne Gretzky and then right next to him is Patrick Kane, and then there’s Jonathan Toews.”
I don’t know if we have a hockey-heavy audience in here, but they’re very famous. That was one of our most engaged pieces of content, this unfiltered, very shaky, live broadcast. There’s such a hunger for the unmediated experience.
What are your thoughts on terms of how you bring authenticity back? Sometimes it’s that “We were doing this, but now we’re going to run back and do it the other way…” because part of the difference between live and actual TV production is it’s a lot looser.
Caporoso: I think fans want to see a candid experience with their athletes, or whoever they’re following on social media. They don’t want the standard boilerplate answer that they’re hearing so consistently of the normal coach speak where you’re not really getting any information.
Even if the quality of the broadcast or stream is a little lower, a little rough, they don’t mind because they’re seeing what these athletes and creators are actually like. What they’re like in their normal environment. When they’re with their family, when they’re out shooting content, or when they’re out, like some of our creators, when they are out practicing and finding ways to do trick shots or soccer freestyle moves.
This is what the actual process is like day-to-day. You’re not getting a polished cut piece of content to them. The fans feel closer to them, they feel like they’re getting more exposure. Never mind that they’re getting more one-to-one answers directly from them that aren’t being passed through a media member or third party.
George: And with that comes a bit of uppity sometimes as well which is part of the kind of attraction for fans, right? You might be in an environment in the locker room and hear some things that you wouldn’t in a normal broadcast. And that’s obviously part of how you manage that situation in a live environment and how do you prep people for that and try to minimize risks?
But I also think it goes back to that two-way conversation. People feeling like they can impact and can have their voice heard is really part of that as well. As I said I love the fact that it’s organic to these platforms. It really feels like you’re not trying to create something that’s kind of phony. It’s right there. That’s also a part of it, the fans that feel closer to it, they feel like it’s part of the experience.
Greenberg: In surfing, authenticity is our currency. We have to be authentic in a community that’s very, in some ways insular, in some ways not. We need to make sure that we’re always having that second thought before we do anything. But the really cool thing about surfing is that there’s no free surfing like baseball.
You’re not necessarily going to be able to go out to your local mound and capture content. Surfing happens all around the world at all times so we have teams across the globe that can go out to a break and capture content at a moments notice. And we can stream all of that content, capture it, and bring it to our audience.
Jhaveri: It sounds like logistically there’s lots of different challenges for how it can be done.
George: Just coming back to this platform actually because you know as well about the different… I think look, there’s also YouTube out there who’s really building out live and doing a lot of entertainment. I think ultimately for an IPO or content creator in some ways you just want to get your content out there and distribute it as widely as possible.
So potentially they’re all useful and interesting platforms. Certainly I think Facebook has an advantage just because of scale. They have that huge base and that huge amount of scale. They have a lot of information that enables them to drive audiences to you.
I think what Twitter’s done really well is they’ve always been pretty focused on monetization so actually they’re pretty good on monetization aspects, and trying to really package that up together. There’s different things they’re currently stronger in, but ultimately all that you want are the eyeballs right? So distributing to all of those endpoints or if one of them wants to pay exclusively — which is how a lot of sports rights negotiations traditionally work — that’s great. But you know there’s a premium price on that.
Jhaveri: Tim, you guys talked about how you just wanted to expand the base — same thing with the NHL. What are you guys seeing in terms of the demographics that have been tuning into your live broadcasts?
Caporoso: I would say our audience does skew a little younger. It’s probably predominantly about 14 to 25-year-olds. I would say it skews even younger in a lot of these live streams. The people that we’re seeing really taking the time and jumping into one of the streams and engaging and offering a lot of comments, liking and sharing it, are probably more in that 15 to 18-year-old range.
They’re not hesitant about taking the time to sit within one of these live streams for 15, 20, 25 minutes, and, again, be very open about expressing their opinions. I think this is just in the habits of how they’re consuming media.
They’re not hesitant to flip through their feed on something like Facebook, Twitter, or even YouTube and stop on a random feed they might not be expecting, but they’re willing to give it a chance. They don’t necessarily need to have something prescheduled out and plan ahead that they’re going to watch it.
They’re willing to — if they like the Whistle Sports Facebook page — see that we’re live-streaming something which is not standard to most of our posts and stick around for maybe 15–20 minutes and maybe give it a chance and engage. So we definitely have seen the younger side of our already younger audience not just watching it, but actually directly engaging with that content.
Jhaveri: 15–20 minutes sounds like a lot. Right?
Caporoso: For us, I mean most of the video content we put out on Facebook is usually about 30, maybe 90 seconds. So then when they see these handful of posts that could run for 60 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes, if they jump in there and immediately get pulled into some type of sports debate, or we’re going to flash their comment up on the screen, they’re that excited with that type of shout out to where they’ll either stick around for that period of time, or they’ll leave and they’ll come back. Overall, they’ll spend more time engaging then they will with a normal VOD video.
Browning: You’ve built in a reward mechanism. That’s smart!
Caporoso: Yeah, people love shoutouts.
Greenberg: We skew younger on Facebook than we do overall — around 32. It depends on the platform — it’s 22 on Instagram. So on Facebook Live we’re young which is exactly what we want. We want to start capturing that younger audience and bringing them in as fans a little earlier.
Browning: Same for us. I think it’s really a reflection of who’s adopting live first. Are they the younger audiences? For us what’s more important is hitting on those expanded audiences. We’ve done a lot of experimenting on social media trying to drive some of this engagement so we can understand how each audience behaves with different types of content.
And you know, sometimes when you’re showing content that’s around the more emotional, off-ice kind of moments, that’s when you can attract a much broader audience. That’s in fact social media as a rule. That’s our most highly engaged, high-reach content. It’s not about the best goal of the game, it’s really about those human moments, and same with live, those human moments are what draw the bigger audiences.
Jhaveri: And it’s very hard to script those, right? Like it’s very…. You sometimes get lucky if you can catch them, and sometimes you just have to have the cameras just going.
Browning: Yeah, it’s the greatest unscripted drama every night on the ice.
Jhaveri: Yeah, that’s true. What do you think is next for live? It seems we used to be on apps and then live streaming on websites. Instagram Live is something that we haven’t talked a lot about because you know so far we can’t get… Are you guys able to hook up to Instagram yet?
George: They don’t have an API.
Jhaveri: They don’t have an API, yeah. What do you guys think is nice, Instagram Live seems like the old school, right? Like it still seems like a little bit more of how we were doing Facebook before we could make it a little bit more polished and produced.
George: They just announced that they’re going to — the other thing is Instagram Live traditionally has always disappeared. You either get it in the moment or it’s not there. But they just announced that they’re going to let you access it for 24 hours afterwards. So they’re starting to build that out. I think in a different way they still seem in that DIY kind of mode.
I mean Facebook really developed their API because they had a lot of professional content creators saying “Hey look, we love streaming on Facebook, but we want to be able to do professional content. We want to be able to add graphics, we want to be able to do multi-camera shoots, play-in tapes and everything else” — and ultimately monetize. So they responded in a way where I think Instagram’s keeping it more at that “creator.” It’s a great creator tool. I think it’s fantastic for that. Whether they then take the same sort of path, I don’t know.
Caporoso: I think more data and analytics around it is the most important thing. Especially for something like Instagram, it’s hard to put time and resources into something that we can’t gain much data and analytics on. Without that we can’t find a way to monetize it, or justify our resources on it long term. I think all of the platforms could stand to give out more data, more analytics around the viewer retention and the viewer behaviors and what type of viewers are engaging with it.
I think you’ll see more of a push for that, and again I just think there will be more ways to monetize. Eventually, how can you monetize something like Instagram Live? With Facebook now if you’re over a certain number of concurrent viewers you could hit on an ad break like you can on certain VOD content. But will there be more options to monetize in places like that? More data and analytics and then more monetization options across more platforms?
Browning: I feel like live is going to create a whole new type of fan. A new fan that we haven’t contemplated before. So we’ve spent all of our careers trying to drive people into the building, buying the tickets, watching on tv. With the combination of live and social, and the ability to see all the stats that are happening in near-real-time, experiencing it through live, this is how we’re going to reach audiences who might not take the time to watch a whole game. But they’re still important, right? They’re still fans and they can still be brought through the funnel from a fan to a customer to an advocate. So I think that’s what’s exciting about this opportunity.
“I feel like live is going to create a whole new type of fan.”
Greenberg: I think personalization. You know, being able to have a customized dream in some way, shape or form is really exciting. And interactivity.
Broadcast graphics in their current form are kind of a horse-drawn buggy. You have this thing that’s built and burned into the stream. There’s no reason you couldn’t go in and augment that and make it more interactive, and have that experience across every platform to get more information inside the stream without having to leave. So there’s a lot of opportunity and I think I see that going that direction. And monetization.
Jhaveri: Yeah, that’s always big. Where does this tension come in between live keeping its authenticity versus it turning into TV?
Like we said earlier, people are attracted to live because you get that unfiltered stream. With all of these advances coming in — in terms of being able to personalize streams, being able to monetize it — the one thing I’ve noticed is that the ad break sometimes can be kind of a killer. Like in the middle of the ad break sometimes people decide they don’t want to do this. Do you think there will be any kind of tension between turning live into television?
Caporoso: I think it’s important to be creative and find ways not just to take a bunch of people sitting around the desk that you could watch on a TV channel and just try to flip that over to be something that you’re watching on Facebook or YouTube. You have to push and try to find different formats and creative ways that make more sense to your audience, not just duplicating something that we’ve been seeing on TV for 5, 10, 15 years and just replicating that exactly on a social platform. So that puts it on the league, or the sports media company to find more creative ways to take advantage of this distribution.
George: I think it’s both, right? There’s some of those highly produced sports broadcasts that will start happening on most platforms. I’m sure some of those already have bidding for the rights, and obviously Twitter’s been very active in that market. There’s going to be more of that as they start to build audiences. So that will be more of replication albeit, with some of the things that brings around. Interactivity, dynamism, a potential for personalization. But I think what you have is this additive piece around: If you want to get closer to the action and your talent, then that’s what you can do.
I’m a Leeds United fan. Not many people know who that team is, but they’re a second-tier team in the UK. You know it’s difficult for me to get access to their content here, so stuff like access through social channels, interviews of the players, the behind-the-scenes training grounds and various things like that are kind of a crucial thing for me (and the other 55 Leeds United fans in the world).
Jhaveri: Well this is what we talked about earlier. The NHL, World Surf League, etc. are underserved by traditional media outlets. So live has been a huge boom for stuff like that.
What are — aside from Heidi you said earlier that you guys use live to showcase behind-the-scenes moments — any other creative ways that you’ve used live? Either when you stumble upon them by accident, or have been like “Oh, we weren’t planning on this, but it turned out to be great.”
Browning: Well this kind of relates to the TV question. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Final, Nashville was in there. There’s this strange hockey culture that started I guess in Detroit where people throw octopus or octopi on the ice. So Nashville had to have its own trend, and all of a sudden they started throwing catfish on the ice, like giant catfish on the ice. So we captured this moment through the live moment of being there, and believe me they’re smuggling catfish into the building.
So this turned into a whole content creation, live content [element] of how do you smuggle a catfish in through security? You tape it to your leg, you tape it around your belly, all these crazy things. Well that content — we started with NBC, our partners and created more content around it — that content found its way from live to television; they actually started showing it during the broadcast and intermission. So for me that’s like the virtuous cycle which is really great. Don’t be afraid of the live, bring it into your actual broadcast.
Greenberg: I think my favorite one was, we did this project last year where we created the world’s first crowdsourced surfboard. So we have events across the globe, but we have these breaks in-between. So how do you actually keep our fans engaged when there’s no contest happening?
We reached out to a surfboard shaper and went live, and you know crowdsourced all of these amazing ideas for the surfboard. We took it to Brazil. The thing is called the Mako — it was fan named. We gave it away to a local surf youth group. The thing was the most coveted surfboard maybe in all of history. It was unbelievable. I have a replica in our office, and every time we bring anyone in, we talk about how this thing went from digital to a physical product. There’s just a lot of really creative ways that you can start to crowdsource and use your audience to make content.
Caporoso: We had one of our dunkers in office and we actually brought him through a random basketball court down in the city. Basically our fans were crowdsourcing what dunks he should try to do in real-time. Then there was a random pickup game going on on the other half of the court. He just immediately inserted himself into that game and started dunking on random seventh graders who were playing basketball.
Just seeing some of our fans reactions encouraging him to go into the game, and then try this dunk or try that dunk and could he do this 360? It was a very casual thing that we were experimenting with. Then it turned into this 45-55 minute live stream where we got really great engagement and really got to feature one of our top creators.
George: Yeah when I pick out — it’s not a sports example actually — an example three weeks ago where we did the One Love Manchester Benefit concert for the Manchester bombing, the Ariana Grande concert. It came incredibly quickly. I think we were given about two days notice to manage the stream on Facebook Live. It had a local broadcast partner in the UK, but obviously there’s global interest in both the music content and the campaign in general.
So we broadcasted it on Facebook. I think it got 20 million live views, and about 18 million views overall. It raised quite a bit of money through the Facebook donate capability as well so that’s a great example. It enables a global audience. Going and trying to do local broadcast deals in the old days would have been impossible. Clearly that content was very relevant, and reached a huge amount of people globally. So it can happen, and it can happen quickly.
Jhaveri: So the one theme that I kind of heard through all of this is that the content that you guys have used for live — even though you’re not able to monetize it directly — is content that lives on in lots of different ways afterwards. Whether it’s catfish, or designing your own surfboard, it’s something — as somebody who is a part of the media — I will watch over a live broadcast. We’ll pull moments for that to either be put on a website, or write a story about it. It shows up in lots of different ways.
So even if that content’s only around on Instagram Live for 24 hours, there’s still going to be lots of different ways that people can use it, and a lot of different benefits aside from that. Have you noticed any — we talked a little bit about this, like Heidi with your broadcast partners — pushback from your organizations about using live?
Greenberg: Not for us. We’re pretty unique in that we own all of our rights. The experiment was pretty welcomed with open arms as a way to just see what’s out there, and how we can reach new audience.
Caporoso: I think we were — you know credit to everyone else at the Whistle — more open-minded about trying this. It was something new. We hadn’t really thought about going into broadcasting live sports, and how that would fit into our overall business model. Really didn’t get a lot of internal pushback on it. The only main concern was just to make sure that from a technical and production standpoint it will live up to the necessary quality standards.
We’ve been able to find the right partners to make sure that happens. We didn’t really have at the time, the in-house capabilities to set up the necessary API’s, and do the live streams. We’ve been able to build that out. So there was a lot of open mindedness about it. I think the ecosystem is moving towards a lot more of these different live streaming opportunities so they kind of welcomed it with open arms.
Browning: And for us it wasn’t really a business reason that there was pushback, but it did take a little bit of work to get access — access to the players at the right time because the last thing you want to do is mess up their mojo before they go into a game. We have to be very careful about that. We’ll never show them on ice right before the game. It’ll be like really early pre-morning skate. So that’s the thing for us, it probably still is going to take a little bit more time to get people really comfortable with live as part of life in the sports world.
Jhaveri: Yeah, it’s interesting as a media member there are a lot of print people who aren’t usually used to being on camera. That’s something that you have to navigate. Instead of just being behind a keyboard all of the sudden you’re going to be broadcasting from behind the scenes. So it’s very interesting.
George: I think one thing you mentioned is that you’ve also spent a lot of time, effort, and money producing that content. Actually there’s multiple uses for it afterwards. Whether that’s re-streaming inside content or cutting it again and using it in different media. I think it would be more around that. Spending money on that effort, maximizing the value from it is important too.
Jhaveri: So we’ve got just about a minute. Are there any final closing thoughts for you guys in terms of what big project you might have coming up next using live?
Browning: More. That’s what our commissioner says. More, more, more. The more you do, the more you learn. The more mistakes you find, the more successes you have. I don’t think we could at this point say something’s truly successful because we haven’t done enough of it to learn. But it’s been really exciting, and we’re testing across more than just Facebook and Twitter. I didn’t mention Snapchat Spectacles and the work that we’re doing there. I think there’s just a lot of exciting opportunities ahead for us.
Caporoso: More is definitely the right way to frame it. More sports, more different content formats, more creative ways that we could work with our league partners on giving access to different athletes. I think we just want to keep taking as many shots as we can, experimenting in as many different ways as we can.
Greenberg: More, yeah that, and we’re also experimenting ways that we can program our content. The challenge for our sport is that we never know. So we’re working with Facebook on a few opportunities. There’s a Surfing Sunday block of contents o every Sunday for the next couple of weeks you can actually go on and watch surfing for a scheduled time which is very different from the way we operate.
George: I think we just see how the TEEP starts to move from just a mobile experience — or more of a mobile experience — into the TV apps as well. So you know Facebook recently launched their Apple TV app and other things; YouTube’s been there a while obviously. You’ll see some of that migration of premium content into those platforms as well.
I think it’s still early. Experimenting and finding out what the audience wants and listening to the feedback from them is key.
Jhaveri: Great! Thank you guys very much.
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