DSports Recap: Low-Cost, High-Quality Web Production Does Exist
By Carolyn Braff
Producing content for the Web has become standard practice for college and professional teams alike, but producing quality content on a small budget is always a matter for discussion. At this week’s DSports Conference
in New York
an expert panel from the collegiate and professional ranks discussed some of their biggest challenges — and success stories — involved in producing low-cost, high-quality sports content for the Web.
Resources Are a Team Sport
“When you work at the team level, it’s about winning football games; marketing and TV are extra,” explained Don Sperling, VP and executive producer for New York Giants Entertainment. “We pool a lot of resources — staff, equipment, facilities — which allows us to use content across platforms.”
Sharing resources is equally important at the college level, especially for conferences that mandate a certain amount of streaming content from their member schools.
“We leverage a lot of university assets on campus,” explained Nate Flannery, director of new media and technology for the Horizon League. “We train them, and that allows us to have a consistent feel and graphics package amongst our 10 schools, even though they’re going 10 different ways to get their content out there.”
Maximizing Human Resources
In allotting the budget for those resources, perhaps the most often ignored expense is the human one.
“If you overlook the human-resource piece of this, you’re going to fail,” explained Tom Buffolano, former VP/GM, digital programming and subscription, for CBS College Sports Network. “The same few people trying to cover 500 events in a year, they’re just not going to be able to do it. If you don’t take care of the human-resources part, your fans are going to notice that the quality’s not great, or you’re canceling events because somebody got sick. That’s the worst thing that can happen: reliability falls.”
Getting Athletes Involved
To take some of that burden off a limited video coordination or production staff, colleges and pro teams have turned to the athletes they cover for some production support. In doing so, teams not only make it easier on staffers but begin offering exclusive content that no other outlet — even national TV networks — can provide.
“It’s silly to try to compete with the Foxs and the NFLs,” Sterling said. “Our key word is access. The one thing we can do that they cannot do is use the amount of access that we have to our players.”
By giving a camera to defensive back Sam Madison and allowing him to create his own segments with the “Sam Cam,” Sterling was able to sell sponsorship surrounding a regular Sam Cam feature. “It’s about utilizing internal ingenuity and also trying to cut costs,” he said.
The Horizon League cannot logistically have a presence on the campus of each of its member schools and thus cannot gain the same athlete access Sterling enjoys with the Giants, so the conference relies on its schools for help. Giving a camera to each school, the conference leaves it up to each team to decide whose cam the Sam Cam should become.
“We’ve given each school a camera and said let your students shoot video and send it back to us,” Flannery said. “Fans and family members have really jumped on board.”
Following the Money
Creating compelling content is often a fruitless endeavor if it cannot be financed. So, when a sponsor cannot be found for a Sam Cam-type feature, colleges must look elsewhere for revenue sources.
“What we created at CBS College was a streaming platform that was an entire business platform,” Buffolano explained. “It enabled schools to create other revenue streams that surrounded the video.”
CBS College Sports’ platform streams upwards of 12,000 live events each year, using a scalable ad platform that incorporates sponsorship opportunities and tie-ins with other e-commerce, such as ticket and merchandise sales and online auctions.
“We were able to build business models around live video that would more than justify the costs that went into the production of all of those pieces of content,” Buffolano said.
When Enough Is Too Much
With colleges streaming more sports than ever, at some point, enough content becomes too much. Determining when that point has been reached is critical for any successful streaming operation.
“You have to be selective, look at it objectively, and ask, is it interesting?” Sterling said. “We’re really selective. We closely guard content and make sure that it’s compelling and interesting.”
Buffolano concurred. “For some sports,” he said, “I would much rather see a highlights package as an efficient way to use your resources than a two-hour fencing match where you get lost halfway through. When resources are a factor, I do think that there are some sports that are best covered as highlight packages as opposed to live streaming. Otherwise, you’re going to get lost and start producing things and wonder why nobody watched.”