Inside Time Inc.’s Just Announced Sports Illustrated OTT Service
No live sports but analyses, documentaries, fantasy sports — and swimsuits
The biggest name in sports journalism will soon launch an OTT video service. During its newfront presentation in New York City last week, Time Inc. dropped the news that Sports Illustrated will debut an OTT service in the fall. That’s all the company said. In a conversation with SVG, Time VP/Head of Programming Ian Orefice offers more details.
“This is the time for all of our brands to take the next step to where people are consuming content,” he says. “That is more and more becoming the OTT space. You have to ask, if you get in that space, do you have the brand power to differentiate yourself and do you have the brands that can extend themselves to long-form storytelling? When you look at Sports Illustrated, it checks all of those boxes and then some.”
With more sports leagues taking the direct-to-consumer route (and with ESPN laying off roughly 100 people because of declining viewership), this is a smart time for Sports Illustrated to go OTT. The fledgling venture is so new, it doesn’t have a name yet. Internally, it’s called Sports Illustrated Network, Orefice says, but he doesn’t think that will be the final name. Considering that it anagrams to SIN, the company seems likely come up with something else.
The network won’t offer live sports. Instead, it will provide the discussion before and after the game. It will feature both live and on-demand programming, analyses from SI experts, documentaries, fantasy sports, and — naturally — swimsuits. Time Inc. promises more than 50 hours of on-demand video from day one.
“I might be a bit biased, but Sports Illustrated really is the original and premium brand in sports journalism,” Orefice says. “What has always made Sports Illustrated great is going to be the same things that differentiates it in this space: award-winning journalism, exclusive access that no one else can bring. You match all of that up with swimsuit and fantasy sports, it’s a really compelling package.”
On-air hosts — including Peter King, Grant Wahl, Tom Verducci, and Seth Davis —will be familiar to SI readers. Programming will cover sports journalism, storytelling, insight, and analysis.
Although Time hasn’t announced exactly what platforms the network will stream on, Orefice says it will be available “wherever people are consuming content,” and that means desktop computers, mobile devices, and set-top boxes.
It will be the second OTT play from Time Inc., which announced the People Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) during its 2016 newfront. With many of the SI details not yet public, PEN illustrates the model Time Inc. has created. PEN is free and ad-supported, offering four hours of live programming per day and plenty of video-on-demand (VOD). it’s available on desktops, mobile devices, and set-top boxes.
The formula seems to be working: the PEN app has been downloaded 1.6 million times. Time works with advertisers to create sponsored content but labels it clearly. The bulk of the video is editorial, according to Orefice.
“The People and celebrity-entertainment audience is a little bit different than the sports audience, but the goal is the same,” he says. “How do you create the most compelling content and distribute it to that specific audience? We’re excited with all the progress we’ve made with PEN. There’s a lot of learnings that we now can take into Sports Illustrated.”
Sports Illustrated is eager to use new mediums to engage its viewers. Last week, it debuted a story featuring stunning 360-degree videos from Mt. Everest. Called “Capturing Everest,” the four-part series is available through the Life VR app or online through a browser.
“We partnered with a great production company to literally climb from base to the top of Mt. Everest and be able to show you that in virtual reality,” Orefice explains. “Same DNA, same storytelling on whatever that next platform is. In this case, it happens to be VR.
Although fans will find plenty on traditional sports on the upcoming SI OTT network, it’s the commitment to the unknown that excites Orefice.
“Sports Illustrated brings you to places that you want to go but don’t have the access yourself,” he says. “I’m never going to the top of Mt. Everest, but, when you watch that and you see them climb over this bridge with the 3,000-ft, drop, you feel like you’re there. Whether it’s walking out of the tunnel at Notre Dame or being inside the ring with Mike Tyson as he’s explaining the next chapter of his life, we bring you to those places. We have to do the same thing with this new network.”