SVG Sit-Down: Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio Loves Video But Wants To Be Selective With Live

The digital-media power has unveiled a new logo and revitalized app over the past month

At Turner’s newfront in New York City this month, Bleacher Report (B/R) stepped into the spotlight, demonstrating a strong commitment to both video and sports as culture as opposed to on-the-field X’s and O’s.

Dave Finocchio, CEO of Bleacher Report, speaks during Turner’s newfront in New York City this month.

There’s no denying that Bleacher Report has struck a chord with the millennial generation in the way it covers and presents sports. The media company currently reaches more than 250 million fans each month, with 75% of the audience under the age of 34. B/R also recently rolled our a new logo and a revitalized version of its popular mobile application as part of a new “Up Your Game” brand campaign.

SVG sat down with Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio to discuss the company’s continued growth in video, where live production fits into the plans, and how Bleacher can play a role in revolutionizing what viewers expect in a live sports broadcast.

How would you describe the continued growth of video as the medium of choice for Bleacher Report and the industry in general? Do you continue to see yourself doubling down on video until the fans tell you otherwise?
Oh, yeah. For sure, video is the medium that we are going to invest the majority of our content dollars in. Not to say that we aren’t investing in our text strategy, too. Our editorial strategy is growing, and we are bringing in very talented people. Video-wise, you have to be focused on a couple of different points in the spectrum. We are really, really good at social short-form video, and we’re getting really good at the storytelling elements in terms of leveraging social to tell stories that maybe aren’t traditional sports stories but are sports-culture stories. We told an incredibly powerful story [recently] around a kid in the Middle East whose name was Messi. He was kidnapped by ISIS because he didn’t have an Islamic name. Thankfully, he was released. There’s so many incredible stories — globally, not just in the United States — that people who aren’t necessarily traditional sports fans find to be moving and powerful. We are really focused on that. We want to make those stories accessible to people of all generations.

I would say that, from a programming-strategy standpoint, we’re following a little bit of an HBO playbook. We’re going to do a couple of shows a quarter. They will be our most premium shows, and we’ll have a lot of content that is the equivalent of our movies that will hang off of that and feed the beast 24/7. There will be a couple of shows that we really hang our hat on to build those.

If fans don’t want to watch Game of Zones right when it comes out, that’s great, but, for a lot of people, it becomes appointment viewing. So, when you really start to build stickiness as a brand, you want to start to see some of that behavior.

Other brands during their newfronts, including Sports Illustrated, are unveiling their new OTT plays. In what way are you considering that avenue of content distribution for Bleacher Report?
I’d say we’re trying to remain pretty neutral right now. I don’t think the die has totally been cast around how that’s going to play out. I’m not going to go chase every content-licensing deal that’s thrown our way. We’re going to develop our content. We’re going to develop our voice. We’re going to build series that people love; the ones they don’t love, we’ll shut them down. Then, as the distribution model plays out a little bit more, we will be very strategic around where we go to build long-term audience.

The great thing about being a part of Turner is, we can be a little bit more patient than some of the independents can be. We’ve been very careful to not tether ourselves to the cable ecosystem, for example. Four years ago, that gave a lot of people angst around here; now we are feeling great about it. Nobody thinks that’s a bad idea now.

When you are looking at your video strategy, where does live production fit in? What we’ve talked about so far is very VOD-driven. Is live still a big part of what Bleacher can do, in your opinion?
I think that live is important at certain points in the year. At this year’s NFL Draft, we shattered our internal traffic records. We had five primary guys on-air for basically three full days, and they did an amazing job. Their content, to me, is so much better than the traditional content that people get elsewhere. It’s leaps-and-bounds better.

So there are moments in time when we will play in that space, but we’re not going to be comprehensive from a live standpoint. That’s not really our goal. I think it’s about picking moments and events that we feel like we can own as a brand that are important to this generation of audience. There’s probably some things that we will pass on. It all comes back to what the audience wants.

You guys took a few swings at live game production with those high school football games in the fall. What was your assessment of that, and is that something you can see yourselves doing more of in the future?
It was a really cool test. Again, being a part of Turner allows us to do some things that are harder for others. Basketball and football are the two sports that we are most focused on how we can innovate around a broadcast experience. Broadcasts have sort of looked the same, more or less, for a really long time. That’s not to say that those productions aren’t amazing. NBC does an incredible job with Sunday Night Football. I do think that there are ways to make a broadcast experience come to life a little bit more for a younger audience.

I think you’ll see us do something in basketball at some point, and we’ll probably focus more on sneaker culture and the red carpet and integrate social content into the broadcast in ways that people haven’t thought of before.

I just think it’s healthy to try things. Young people are not going to sit through three-hour games. Sure, things like the playoffs and the Super Bowl will always be huge, but those are events. They just don’t need it game in and game out; they’ve got other things going on in their lives. You’ve got to integrate.

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