Overtime wants to go from viral Instagram sports highlights to franchises
Overtime has gone from posting seconds-long clips of high school sports stars to producing minutes-long episodic shows that star many of the same athletes.
In March 2018, Overtime hired Marc Kohn, a former programming executive at Barstool Sports and Bleacher Report, to be its chief content officer. Under Kohn, the company has been building up a slate of original shows in an effort to take the audience it had accrued through the highlight clips it posts to Instagram and Twitter and build a business.
“I knew that the world of quick, disposable content for immaterial views was never going to be a business model and a way to grow real community and real audience. It always comes back to creating valuable franchises and IP,” said Kohn. Overtime’s original programming slate has grown from more than 20 shows as of February 2019 to now more than 40 shows, 25 of which are currently in production, according to Kohn.
Overtime is following a familiar playbook. Sports publishers like Bleacher Report and Barstool Sports have invested in producing original shows as a way to separate themselves from every other publisher pushing highlight clips into people’s feeds.
“The original programming really gives these publishers the ability to create their own voice and the proper tone of how they want to reach consumers. And something that’s endemic to them, as opposed to getting lost in that white space in the swirl of sharing the same content that you’re seeing across a number of great publishers,” said Chip Johnson, vp of Publicis Sport & Entertainment.
Overtime had already differentiated itself by focusing its attention on high school basketball instead of the NBA or college. The publisher gained popularity by posting clips of prep stars like Zion Williamson, who is now in the NBA. The aim of its original programming is to reinforce that identity.
Overtime raised $23 million in funding in February to add to its video team as well as its original programming slate. Overtime’s content team has grown from 15 employees a year ago to 50 today, 30 of whom work solely on its original shows. In total, the company has 95 employees, up from 34 in October 2018. The company declined to say how much revenue it has generated this year or whether it is profitable, but it did say that revenue has increased fivefold in 2019.
The original shows account for a majority of the company’s revenue, though it also operates a commerce business. Overtime’s sponsorship-and-advertising revenue and its commerce revenue each amount to seven-figure businesses, according to a spokesperson.
Instagram remains Overtime’s most popular platform by total viewership, but its videos appear to perform better on YouTube, which has been the primary distribution for its original shows along with Snapchat. In September 2019, Overtime’s videos received 180.2 million views on Instagram, a 61% increase year-over-year, versus 24.8 million views on YouTube, a 43% increase year-over-year, according to data from Tubular Labs. However, Overtime posts significantly more videos to Instagram than YouTube. In September, it uploaded 1,472 videos to Instagram and 71 videos to YouTube. Taking into account the total number of videos uploaded and views generated, Overtime averages more than twice as many views per video on YouTube than Instagram: 349,296 views per video on YouTube versus 122,418 views per video on Instagram.
Overtime has built its show franchises by basing many of the series on the athletes highlighted in its social videos that resonated the most with its followers. The publisher saw high engagement in Instagram posts that featured sibling high school basketball stars Jaden and Julian Newman, and in April 2019 it premiered a 10-episode documentary series about the Newman family that averaged 6 million views per episode across Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, according to the company. On Oct. 19, the company debuted a second season sponsored by Boost Mobile.
Overtime has worked to strike a balance between producing shows that are of a higher quality than the user-generated clips it is known for without straying too far from the feel of those videos that earned its audiences’ attention in the first place. Overtime spends slightly more than $500 but less than $1,000 per minute to produce its original shows, said Kohn. According to an Overtime spokesperson, the company’s average per-minute video production cost is around $600 when including the cost of the short highlight videos. For comparison, the daily programming that Quibi is commissioning for its short-form mobile streaming service costs around $10,000 per minute, Digiday has previously reported.
Overtime has seen that if its programming is too TV-like, viewers are more likely to tune out. In the debut season of “Hello Newmans,” the first two episodes featured a longer opening sequence that “was designed for digital but kind of the length of a TV open,” but the viewership retention for those episodes was “not nearly as strong,” said Kohn. Overtime tightened the open for the following episodes to more quickly get viewers to the actual focus of the episode and saw retention improve, he said. After making the change, Overtime saw a 30% reduction in viewership drop-off within the first 30 seconds of episodes, according to an Overtime spokesperson.
“We always want the DNA of our content to feel young. We want a raw feeling. A raw feeling does not always mean that the video quality is bad. Raw is a feeling, not a necessarily a look,” said Kohn.
To help ensure its original shows retain the characteristics of the social videos that built its audience, 25 of the 30 employees that are dedicated to its original shows are what the company describes as “digital natives” whose backgrounds are in producing videos for Instagram and Snapchat. It augments those employees with staff members who have previously worked on producing reality TV shows and can work with the younger employees to blend the digital storytelling techniques with a more professional production quality.
That blending can be particularly important for ensuring that Overtime’s shows share enough qualities with its social videos to interest its audience, such as the quick-cut editing style commonly found on YouTube videos and Instagram Stories. A 10- or 12-minute episode of “Hello Newmans” can feature as many as eight scenes, which Kohn estimated to be twice or triple the pace of a traditional TV show.
Overtime is starting to make its way into Hollywood productions. Overtime is currently developing “a few shows that we plan to take out to the Netflix, HBO and Showtimes of the world,” said Kohn. The company expects that it will co-produce “a few projects” over the next 12 months with outside production companies, he said.
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