The Minnesota Vikings Launched a Connected-TV App. Here’s What They Learned
The team worked with tech vendor dotstudioPRO on app development
Not to be lost in the shuffle of a tremendous season last year, the Minnesota Vikings launched its own connected-TV app, Vikings Now. Although OTT apps are commonplace for sports networks and leagues to distribute content (both live and on-demand), not too many individual professional-sports franchises have leaped onto this distribution method to further grow exposure to its in-house–produced video content.
The Vikings Entertainment Network launched the app on Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV to offer fans another avenue for viewing video content, particularly some of the longer-form shows that they produce for local television partners and their own website. With one season in the books, the team sounds very happy with the type of viewership and fan engagement delivered by Vikings Now.
The Vikings likely won’t be the last team to try this. In fact, don’t be surprised if a few more teams follow in their footsteps in 2018. (It is a copycat league, after all!)
So, as one of the trailblazers, what did the Vikings learn for their connected-TV experience?
Engagement is Longer … A LOT Longer
Going into the project, Scott Kegley, executive director, digital media and innovation, for the Vikings, figured that viewership minutes would be higher and users would watch videos longer than they do, say, on the Vikings website or on mobile devices. The connected-TV app puts content on the big screen, where users are accustomed to a more lean-back experience. He wasn’t wrong.
“We were curious to see how people would consume content on the device,” he explains. “We cut up a lot of our more longer-form content and our television shows into [shorter] segments for Vikings.com and for our mobile app. But we really wanted to see whether people would consume these longer-form shows in totality, and that’s actually almost exactly what we found.
“We had about a 50% increase in terms of time onsite compared to our mobile app,” he continues, adding, “Our mobile app’s time onsite is very good as well. But people consuming longer-form content was kind of [what we thought] would happen, and that’s what we ended up seeing. We upped the data after the 2017 season to build out our 2018 plan, which we’re in the process of doing right now.”
If You Are Going To Go OTT, Make Sure You Have the Content To Back It Up
This may sound enticing to a sports team, but Kegley warns that it’s not simply throwing social and digital video into a package for TV. The Vikings Entertainment Network is a content machine that churns out numerous long-form programs, including three original shows designed specifically for TV: Vikings Connected, Beyond the Gridiron, and Vikings Gameplan.
Kegley advises other professional sports teams looking to go down this route in the connected-TV space to make sure they have the content infrastructure in place to keep it properly programmed.
“If you have great content, people are going to want to consume it,” he says. “Do you have the content that’s going to be specifically compelling for OTT, as compared to website or mobile-app content? We already had four longer television shows, so, for us, it was pretty natural to jump right in. But now we want to look for content that might be specific to OTT or some different streaming options now that we have that available. It’s really important to figure out how this fits in your content window and how you cater content to that.”
It’s a Great Postgame Destination for NFL Fans
The NFL provides a game-day viewing experience that’s quite different from other professional sports leagues in the U.S.: all games are aired by a national broadcaster, and all postgame and highlight shows are delivered from a national perspective. The Vikings found that, as interest in the team grew and the wins mounted throughout the year, fans were hungry for more and more content, specifically right after the game concluded.
“I thought [Vikings Now] was fantastic as a postgame viewing experience,” says Kegley. “I normally travel to most of the away games, but I didn’t for one week, working at home. I watched the game on TV, and then, to see a lot of the postgame content that our guys were posting on the road, I immediately switched over to Vikings Now. I think that OTT is just a fantastic companion for where people traditionally view football games, which is still primarily on the television. For people to consume our postgame content on their flat-screen TVs at home and be able to jump right over to [the app], I think, is fantastic. Vikings coverage stops on Fox, and, if you still want content, that’s the place to go.”
To build out its connected-TV app, the Vikings enlisted the help of dotstudioPRO, a technology vendor that specializes in getting media clients up and running quickly in an AVOD and/or VOD/SVOD environment to drive viewership and monetize content.
Like the Vikings, dotstudioPRO found that game days were a popular time for the app to be accessed.
“I think fans are wanting to be invested in content outside of just the actual games that they watch on broadcast,” says dotstudioPRO CEO Joe Pascual. “The numbers really reflected that. The largest spikes that we got on the connected devices was right after a game. [Users] would watch the game, and then they would want to watch the highlights and stick around to watch all the original programming. It’s really a holistic thing. You have to analyze how as a franchise and how as a brand you’re communicating to their audience.”
The Platforms Are Eager To Work With Sports Partners
As one of the first sports teams to the connected-TV party, Kegley was pleasantly surprised to find that many platforms were more than happy to work with him. From Apple to Amazon to Roku, the platforms were extra accommodating, because the type of content that the Vikings produce — timely high-end sports content — is extremely interesting to them as an addition to their portfolio.
“I remember we were having a conversation with some of the marketing folks at Roku and they were telling us all the different things that we could do to publicize the channel,” says Kegley. “At the end, I was thinking, ‘Okay, how much is this going to cost me?’ Really. at the end of the day, they want to get good content in front of their users and get them to continue using the app. It’s not like there were ridiculous fees or any fees associated with a lot of the things that we needed to do on their platform.”
In that regard, Kegley also stresses how valuable it was to work with a company like dotstudioPRO, which, frankly, had more experience in the business and operations side of the OTT space than he did.
“There’s tons I personally learned from the folks at dotstudioPRO just about the business and the infrastructure and the things you need to set up,” he says. “Some of the content feeds were pretty easy to set up, but we learned a lot on the displays and different formats and ultimately what gets passed on to the consumer by a Fire or Roku or Apple TV.”
dotstudioPRO will be showcasing the Vikings Now app at its booth at NAB Show (SU14307).
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Minnesota Vikings were the first NFL team to launch a Connected TV app. The Dallas Cowboys actually launched an Apple TV app in July.