BTN Is Embedding Digital Video Producers at More of Its Campuses to Bolster Content Creation

Digital MVPEs are tasked with creating more content with a digital-first, school-specific focus

In an attempt to more effectively meet the ever-expanding demands of producing content and driving engagement in a digital-media world, Big Ten Network (BTN) has instituted a new program across about half of its schools, employing and embedding what it is calling Digital MVPEs (Multiplatform Video Producer/Editor).

These positions are freelance “preditors” tasked with creating loads of content with a school-specific focus. The initiative — which began last year as a pilot program at three Big Ten schools (Michigan State, Minnesota, and Penn State) — was born as a result of a call-to-action to the staff of BTN from network president Mark Silverman. He challenged his staff to begin looking at BTN as not simply a linear television network, but, instead, as a content company.

So what did that mean, naturally? More content across more platforms. And through one year, it seems to be working. Last academic year, the three Digital MVPEs created approximately 1,000 pieces of content that tallied up 18.8 million impressions and 5.9 million video views.

For BTN, the most obvious point of attack in stepping up its content game was to create more school-specific “Olympic” sports content, especially expanding beyond simply highlights they possessed as a rightsholder. It was an area they candidly admitted lacking in over the network’s first decade of existence.

“Our goal was to create and deliver more content to tailored audiences,” says Jordan Maleh, Director of Digital Marketing and Communications at BTN, who oversees the MVPE program. “We’re in a unique position as a TV network and understand that people are not necessarily as passionate about BTN as they are about their favorite [school]. So the more school-specific we get, the more engagement and consumption that we see.”

The Digital MVPE is a freelance employee of BTN (the goal is to grow the positions into full-time roles if the business model proves itself out over the next year or two) that is embedded in the university athletic department’s media production team. For example, last year’s MVPE at the University of Minnesota lived in the Twin Cities and was regularly a part of content meetings with the team at Gopher Digital Productions.

By being embedded with the athletic department, the Digital MVPE is able to be additive and help the school handle tonnage of stories and create content that those departments normally wouldn’t have the bandwidth to tackle. According to Jordan, BTN will rarely, if ever, say no to a story pitched by an on-campus SID (Sports Information Director) and are able to pitch ideas of their own.

In Year 1, the Digital MVPEs were largely creating short-form content ranging from six-second videos that looped up to two-minute featurettes that aimed to tell deeper stories. The idea was for the embedded content creator to be additive, not chiefly focusing on football or men’s basketball and really dedicating themselves to producing more video around other programs within the athletic department. Last year, 56% of the content created featured Olympic sports.

“Our goal is to be fast and digital first,” says Maleh. “Last year we were really throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks while taking on sheer tonnage to drive consumption. As we enter Year 2 of the program, we want to be a little more consistent, not only across the seven schools but from a cadence perspective.

“What we want to create is essentially a linear programming calendar but for digital,” he continued. “Is there something that we can be producing on a consistent basis across all seven schools where the MVPEs are in better shape knowing what they are going to be expected to produce and know what event to shoot and what we want from that event? We want to get into a better rhythm.”

This summer, BTN is expanding the program by adding four more positions (at Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State) to up the count to seven schools. The chief goal in Year 2 is, in addition to that more formalized content plan that Jordan spoke of, is to drive more engagement and, in turn, generate revenue. If Year 2 moves forward in the way the network is forecasting, the network will add seven more positions next year prior to Year 3, giving all 14 Big Ten schools a Digital MVPE.

According to Maleh, the Digital MVPE needs to be a self-starter as one of the early challenges that emerged in Year 1 was helping the people in those roles manage a remote-working lifestyle. Also the position is very much a one-person band and requires the openness and ability to shoot, edit, handle a mic, be able to ask questions, and interact with athletes and coaches on camera. It’s a tremendous learning opportunity but it’s a role that requires a lot of self-discipline.

NOTE: BTN is currently looking to fill those four new positions at Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. The positions are open and the network is accepting resumes.

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