Bleacher Report Creates Water Cooler Conversations With Facebook Live

Sports are best enjoyed live, and, thanks to Facebook, so is online sports commentary. For those lucky enough to have been watching during the NFL Draft, Bleacher Report showed how Facebook Live can create compelling real-time experiences.

JJ WATT FB LIVE DESKTOP INTERFACEBroadcasting from a New York City studio with on-air hosts Adam Lefkoe and Chris Simms, as well as a production team of 15, Bleacher Report gave live play-by-play and reactions during the Draft’s first round on April 28. There was plenty to react to, such as Laremy Tunsil being sabotaged minutes before the Draft began by a marijuana-related picture on his Twitter account. With the launch of Facebook Live this year, Bleacher Report had everything it needed to create compelling video: hosts to shape the discussion, the draft to provide excitement, and the platform to bring in a TV-sized audience.

“We’ve already got millions of followers on Facebook, so when we have something awesome like Simms and Lefkoe talking NFL draft in real-time when something amazing like Laremy Tunsil is happening — I shouldn’t say amazing, but amazing in the sense that it’s out of this world and something you’d never expect—being prepared and having that audience already there is really clutch,” says Jermaine Spradley, executive editor at Bleacher Report.

The show may have been live, but the job of pulling it together was done in advance, Spradley says. Bleacher Report chose the right event for live coverage, then assembled an on-air crew that knows the subject matter and can respond instantly. A successful live event is about reactions, so the on-air talent and production team had to be ready for anything.

JJ WATT FB LIVE MOBILE INTERFACEIt’s still early days for Facebook Live, so while Bleacher Report pulled off a success, it still has a lot to learn. For one thing, it streamed over the leading social network, but the event wasn’t social. There was no mechanism in place to field viewer responses and channel them to the hosts. That will almost certainly change for future live events.

“I could envision a world where eventually we get to the point where the comments are integrated into the actual broadcast, in real-time,” Spradley says. “I think, initially, while we’re sort of experimenting with it, we’re way more focused on the talent. In the future it’ll definitely be much more interactive and engaged thing. I think the thing with the comments section is you get so many that filtering through them in real-time could be difficult.”

There will be plenty of opportunities to tweak the format, as Bleacher Report has a lot of Facebook Live video planned. Expect to see it duplicate its success with the NBA Draft starting today, June 23. It will also provide plenty of live reactions during the upcoming NFL season. With the NFL being tough on intellectual property rights, Facebook Live gives sports networks a way to provide live video during a game without risking infringement. Spradley is curious how the league will respond when fans in the stadiums start streaming their own Facebook Live videos.

Facebook Live is only one part of Bleacher Report’s online video strategy, however, with each social platform valuable in a different way. “Facebook, you’d say is more about your best high-end video content. That’s where you’re really going to win on Facebook is with your best high-end — I’d say 45 seconds to a minute — video content,” Spradley says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in real-time because of the way Facebook’s algorithm sets up each individual user’s news feed.”

The challenge with Instagram is that there’s no algorithm, so people can scroll and see everything you’ve posted. “You’re competing against all the other posts that people might have in their Instagram feed,” Spradley says. He recommends only posting highlights, so people see the amazing plays and good stuff doesn’t get buried. With Twitter, the amount of content is so overwhelming that you need to post lots of timely material. As of last week, Twitter now allows longer videos — up to 140 seconds — but longer video take more time to create. The challenge for Bleacher Report will be posting videos while they’re still timely.

Getting the pieces working in alignment means bringing together fans in a unique real-time and on-demand experience. Facebook Live gives those fans something to talk about.

“If you take the traditional idea of water cooler TV—a thing that everyone is going to talk about the next day at the water cooler—that really doesn’t exist anymore,” Spradley says. “The water cooler now is live and in real-time.”

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