‘Culture change’: NBC Sports starts taking original digital video seriously

NBC Sports has mostly treated online as a way to distribute and promote TV content, steering clear of original digital video content.

That’s changing. NBC Sports Digital is launching “NBC Sports Digital Shorts,” a new initiative to create more original short-form video content than it has ever done previously for NBCSports.com, its other digital properties and even third-party platforms such as Yahoo, Comcast’s Watchable, Facebook and YouTube.

“We produce thousands of short-form video clips per month, most of which are clips that come from TV and are promotional in nature,” said Troy Ewanchyna, vp and gm of NBCSports.com. “As we looked at our 2015 strategy and now heading into 2016, we thought let’s take a fresh approach to what we’re doing. Instead of looking at [digital] as promotion, let’s look at it as a business.”

The new Digital Shorts program will feature original digital series, one-off features, interviews and other sports content produced by NBC Sports’ network of linear and digital video production teams. Its first project is “Sherman’s Warriors,” a six-episode documentary series that follows former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman as he tries to turn things around at a high-school football program in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Beyond “Sherman’s Warriors,” NBC Sports Digital hopes to “trial” a half-dozen series, according to Ewanchyna.

The goal is to produce short-form content that feels native to digital platforms, even if it means going out of the group’s normal fare. For instance, “Sherman’s Warriors” consists of six- to eight-minute episodes.

“When you look at the way people are consuming content [online], there is as much of a focus on tips, tricks and other fun stuff as there is on the official, authoritative highlights around the event,” said Ewanchyna.

As an example, Ewanchyna pointed to a couple of videos the NBC Sports marketing team made in 2013 and 2014 to promote its English Premiere League rights. The videos star former “SNL” star Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach taking control of the Tottenham Hotspurs and having trouble understanding the differences between football and soccer. It’s funny, and it has nothing to do with a specific game or piece of sports news, which NBC Sports will look to do more of.

“That’s not the typical way our NBC Sports brand would be perceived,” said Ewanchyna.

It’s a smart approach, according to Bernard Gershon, president of Gershon Media. “Going after the comedy-loving young-adult male audience makes a ton of sense,” he said. “The goal here, I would assume, is to make more money and build a brand that’s not just your dad’s TV network.”

In terms of distribution, everything is on the table. Videos will certainly be made available across NBC Sports digital properties, which had an audience of 32.7 million unique visitors in August, according to comScore. Depending on the content and partner, videos will also be distributed to partners such as Yahoo and Watchable, a short-form video service from NBC parent Comcast.

Some content might also be natively published to social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. This wouldn’t be a new thing for NBC Sports, which in previous years has partnered with Facebook and Twitter to promote and distribute content tied to the Olympics. “It’s just doing it for the right reasons, not doing it just because something exists,” said Ewanchyna.

While focusing exclusively on making digital content, NBC Sports Digital Shorts will receive some assistance from the big brother, according to Brian Gilmore, senior director of video for NBCSports.com. “We’re working through all of that now, but it’s definitely on our minds how we can use the broadcast to push audiences [to digital],” he said.

With “Sherman’s Warriors,” for instance, there might be a tie-in when the Packers play on “Sunday Night Football” in a few weeks. Other properties such as Dan Patrick’s daily radio and TV show are also potential avenues to promote content produced by the initiative.

“In many ways, it’s a culture change,” said Ewanchyna. “Frankly, we know some of these things won’t be an immediate success out of the gate, but we are changing the way we are going to do business, and that’s going to be critical for us moving forward as a company.”

Images provided by NBC Sports


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