Inside ESPN’s New Twice-Daily SportsCenter on Snapchat
Network's flagship program makes jump to shows exclusive to the social media platform
ESPN’s latest show fills sports fans in on all the action from the night before, then tells them what to expect in that evening’s games. And it does this all on their mobile phones, even if they don’t have a cable subscription.
The premium sports network has long been a partner with Snapchat, having created one of the first titles in Snapchat’s Discover area. Well, Snapchat is evolving and ESPN is right there with it. Snapchat launched a new content area called Shows, full of premium content that feels more like standard cable fare but is enhanced with the platform’s trademark vertical view and interactivity. ESPN is a launch partner in this area, as well, and has transformed its previous Discover content into SportsCenter on Snapchat, a five-minute-long show that appears twice daily at 5 AM and 5 PM ET, and is exclusive to the platform
Besides coming out twice as often, this new offering differs by featuring hosts (Katie Nolan, Elle Duncan, Cassidy Hubbarth, Jason Fitz, and Cy Amundson) who guide viewers through the stories and provide commentary. Snapchat users can view the program by swiping right from the app’s main screen, then looking in the Shows area. While Snapchat Shows aren’t as deeply interactive as its Discover offerings (which might include polls and screenshot-worthy graphics), fans can tap through segments to skip parts they’re not interested in. ESPN has a two-year deal with Snapchat to create the show, and its existing Snapchat advertisers are a part of it.
Creating even a five-minute program takes resources, and SportsCenter on Snapchat has a team of roughly 20 who begin planning their 5 AM show while the previous night’s games are still playing out. They look for highlights and storylines, then hold a production meeting late in the night after all the games are over to plan it out. The actual filming takes place just a few hours before 5 AM, leaving the production team time to edit the footage, then add graphics and interactivity. The show has a rotating group of hosts who bring personality, humor, and a personal connection to viewers. Shows are usually shot in the network’s Bristol, Connecticut, office. ESPN has only been creating this show for a week, however, so it’s still working out best practices and staying flexible.
With SportsCenter on Snapchat, ESPN is leading with personality and telling stories. The goal is making content that’s fun to watch, works in the format, and stays true to the SportsCenter brand. Each episode’s content is tailored to the stories that appeal to that’s episode’s host. While hosts have ideas they want to touch on in each segment, they work without a script and most content is improvised. The hosts were hired for their abilities as smart, witty sports fans, and ESPN wants those personalities to come across.
The editors insert video clips of highlights where they have usage rights, and use still images where they don’t. Once an episode is completed, its segments are uploaded through Snapchat’s publishing mechanism.
“The early results have been really encouraging and exciting,” says Ryan Spoon, senior vice president of social content for Snapchat. “It’s the very, very, very beginning of the first inning, but we’re having fun and think this will be a great outcome.”
SportsCenter on Snapchat doesn’t just show how the Snapchat platform is evolving, but how ESPN’s social media strategy is evolving, as well. It doesn’t make sense for the network to be stagnant on any social platform, Spoon believes. His team constantly tests and changes what it offers, making sure the content it puts out is specific to each social platform and specific to that platform’s users. What works on Snapchat might not work on another major platform, and he finds that ability to craft content an exciting opportunity. On Twitter and Facebook, ESPN leads with highlight clips, other videos, and personality. On Instagram, it offers a fun visual experience and more often mixes in live video. Getting the best interactions with consumers means treating each of these platforms differently.
“This is a way for us to learn to reach new users, to reach different users,” Spoon says. “And to extend ourselves, and our platform, and our brand into places that we’re very fond of like Snapchat.”