UGC Takes the Field on ESPN’s MNF

By Carl Lindemann

Blame it on George Plimpton. Ever since he took the field as a “Paper Lion,” fans have been hungry for ways to get into the act, with User Generated Content (UGC) being the latest expression of this impulse. Now, ESPN is bringing UGC to Monday Night Football. Building on the success of SportsCenter’s “Home Video” and College Football Live’s “Sound Off” segments, the arrival of UGC on Monday Night Football promises to realize the potential for the network’s distribution strategy.

“This is the latest evolution of our multiplatform strategy,” said Leah LaPlaca, VP of Programming and Acquisitions, ESPN. “We’ve really excited about how UGC taps into the fanatic that lies at the heart of what it means to be a true fan.”

The mechanics for sending UGC for Monday Night Football are simple. Fans are invited to upload 30-second clips to show support for their teams at the “Monday Night Surround” section of Out of these, as many as 10 will be posted online for visitors to pick their favorites. Two will be used each week to promo the next week’s contest. The fan videos will pump up their team for the upcoming game and say why it will be a must-see event.

The first videos will be aired during the final MNF preseason game Aug. 27 to preview the Sept. 10 season-opening MNF Doubleheader featuring the– Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers.

This follows significant success with ESPN’s other UGC efforts. According to LaPlaca, user-generated text, audio and video material give the audience ways to interact with the programming binding them to the ESPN brand. How many fans actually participate? Tony Kornheiser’s Tony, Tony, Tony! segment now draws some 10,000 e-mail comments. The field for video submissions will likely be far smaller but offers much greater possibilities than written submissions.

Soliciting video material also brings additional challenges as is apparent from the 15-page submissions guidelines. Whatever comes in over the transom needs to be carefully screened not just for how appropriate (or inappropriate) it is, but to see if it includes any proprietary elements. Submissions are limited to 100 meg/30-second .AVI, .MOV and Mpeg files.

“We do not expect to see professional productions. This is really a mom-and-pop deal though fans are evolving rapidly becoming increasingly sophisticated,” said LaPlaca.

Actually, part of the charm and attraction is the home-brewed nature of the material. The downside to this is that fan submissions are likely to fall short of typical broadcast quality standards. Showing the clips in a box rather than full-screen helps cover this. Also, announcer reaction to the UGC is part of the show. Such limits are less problematic when it comes to leveraging the value of the material elsewhere.

“The clips are not just for on-air. It fits right into our ‘full circle’ concept where they will be shown not just on but will also integrate well across all the platforms,” LaPlaca said.

Whatever the success of this particular segment on Monday Night Football, UGC has arrived and is here to stay. The challenge for ESPN is to find the right place for it, and to figure out how to leverage income as well as interest with it.

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