SVG Sit-Down: Team Whistle’s Noah Weissman on the Rise of Short-Form Video, Social Strategies
TikTok, Meta, YouTube all lean into short-form; successful content is about more than trimming long-form
When it comes to social-media content creation and monetization, Team Whistle does it all. Its publisher business is focused on competing with the likes of Bleacher Report or Overtime. Then there is branded content, helping clients spread branding across different types of content. And Magnet is a full-service agency launched last year to focus on social content. SVG Executive Director, Editorial Ken Kerschbaumer sat down with Noah Weissman, EVP, content, Team Whistle, to discuss the latest trends in social- and digital-content creation.
What are some of the trends you are seeing across your business and clients?
I think Meta, crypto, Web 3.0, and NFTs, all of that stuff is fascinating for us even with the economy shifting a bit. We are gonna keep our eye on that in terms of innovation and keep working there.
For us as a media company in the sports and entertainment world, it’s all about shorts. It used to be, we [would] make 200 episodes of an eight-minute show. Now we make 200 episodes and 800 pieces of content that are 30 seconds long. And we’re shifting and even trying to hire creators full-time. We’re also working on a creator fund ourselves to kind of build out freelancers to make content for us.
One thing to watch is that YouTube shorts are going to start to get monetized in February, and that will be a complete game-changer. When YouTube flips the switch, it will be like a Floyd Mayweather punch to the face: “Hey, TikTok creators, that’s cute to get a million views, but wouldn’t you rather also get $1,000?” It’s going to be really interesting for us, and one of the reasons we have been intentional on dialing up the shorts creation.
Making shorter content is harder than making long-form. What are some effective ways to approach creating short content that hits all the notes?
It’s not a completely different thing: you need a compelling hook and need to get people to tune in and keep the energy in the right place throughout the whole video. It’s not necessarily like reinventing the wheel.
There are, however, bespoke nuances. Watching TikTok on your phone, where the algorithm feeds you content, is very different from [watching] YouTube. But the same kind of general themes and science works on both platforms.
One big change is that, five years ago, you would need a team to create graphics and now TikTok has a whole suite of tools for anyone to be a creator. But you need the same ingredients that are in place for long-form documentary, like the story beats and the hooks. You just need to be very intentional on how exactly you’re positioning it and use things like jump cuts.
If you are shooting something for mid- or long-form, you need to intentionally set aside 30 minutes to make some sort of short-form content for TikTok. It’s not just cutting down assets.
So it’s not “Hey, let’s shoot for 30 minutes and then clip stuff out.” You need to spend time creating the concept as opposed to just seeing what happens.
Yeah. A big model for us is planning the work and then working the plan because then you’re ready. In that 30-minute segment, we’ll even beat out scripts and five different things that the subject can choose from. It’s like a content buffet where you have a menu of five things that you might want to work on. Being flexible to work with the talent and then taking multiple at-bats at shooting the video is imperative for us.
TikTok serves the viewer the content that its algorithm suggests the viewer wants, instead of the viewer’s making a choice. How does that impact the way content is created to reach the audience you want?
Each of the big platforms on social media is best in class, and it’s all about packing the algorithm and understanding how to reverse-engineer it. One thing about TikTok is, they don’t punish for frequent publishing so you can publish 10 times, 100 times, even a million times. They’re just gonna take the content and serve it to who they think wants it.
It’s a little Black Mirror in that it will start to serve you content that you want, and it’s fascinating how it works because it’s a little bit different from the notification style around YouTube. TikTok is really dialed in on what you like. I don’t know how they’re scraping the data, but they serve you the right content.
As a publisher, we are dialed in to that and taking as many at-bats as we can, posting 10-15 times a day because it’s not hurting like it would on Instagram. In three months, TikTok may change the algorithm, and we’ll change accordingly as that’s kind of the game there.
Social-media platforms seem to have different sweet spots in terms of age. How can you easily serve out content that works for different demographic groups?
That’s one of the biggest challenges that we think about: you and I might have a different consumption habit from a 13-year-old fan that wants to see something different.
We have very specific format types that work for each platform, and, to be honest with you, there’s a Venn diagram with a sweet spot for that 30-second piece of content that works well for YouTube, Meta, and TikTok.
So let’s say a player has a great night. We’ll go into the postproduction process with a random fact, something like the player likes to knit. That will be a research hook that will work on all three platforms. We’ll create a little bit of nuance between those three different platforms and then make three different pieces of content for each.
On TikTok, for example, we work a lot with creators who have a green screen, and a big trend on TikTok is for the host to use their phone and shoot in front of a green screen. They can very easily do a hosted version that is shot on a phone. That asset might look different from the YouTube one, [which is] a little bit more traditional and we’ll have an opening graphic with a hook. Ultimately, the core of a player’s fandom can come out on the different platforms.
More and more long-form documentary series about sports are being launched. What do you see as the push and pull of long-form and short-form content and how both of those formats will change storytelling?
That’s the sweet spot that Whistle tries to play in as a brand. Our strategic point of view is to make content positive, relatable, and accessible. Half the battle for us is to prime our viewers to be pulled into long-form pieces of content, where the money and revenue stream is, and also to engage that 10 million-viewer story on TikTok and get those viewers to watch a full episode on YouTube.
Gone are the days of a straight tune-in promo. Now it’s how do you make that short-form content extremely compelling and so good that it’s triggering that push to pull people into the long-form piece of content?
That’s why it’s even more important for us to be intentional when we go to shoot some of these mid- to long-form series, right? Using the lens of positive, relatable, accessible, we have a bunch of different formats that we like to do when we work with talent and athletes.
We want to show the other side of a player that makes them those three things: positive, relatable, accessible. We have a show called Days Off, and we’ll show them doing something like playing pickleball or something they are into that is fun. And then there is Meet the Pets, where you get to know them through their puppy.
It’s an eight-minute piece of content, but you get to know a different side of them in a specific format-driven way. But we will also shoot something for TikTok and have a link in the description to push them into YouTube, where the longer-form video is.
That works for us as a brand, and that works for us to get people into that longer viewing session. It’s also our special sauce, because we try to be best-in-class on all the platforms. That means that a deal with a brand helps them with YouTube, TikTok, Meta, whatever. Our approach is to take the brand to wherever their audience is and have bespoke content for each social-media channel.
How does your business model work?
There are three revenue streams for us as a company. One is programmatic publishing, where we are a publisher competing with Bleacher Report, ESPN, etc. We make money without directly selling as you’ll see ads on some of our YouTube content. That is a revenue stream as we have hundreds of millions of views a week.
Because our publishing arm is so good and we have such a good audience, we have a direct-sales team that will lift the CPM and sell guaranteed video views on our Whistle–owned-and operated channels.
The last stream is making content for the leagues and our clients. Someone like Bumble comes to us and asks us to make a slate of YouTube and TikTok content and will pay us to make content for them.
What do you do when the athlete isn’t relatable, accessible, or positive?
It’s interesting because a lot of the content we do is sports and adjacent to that is the entertainment side. We’re making close to a couple hundred pieces of content a month. I’ve been on set a bunch of times where, funny enough, it’s actually easier sometimes to work with influencers or creators or actors because they’re able to turn it on; athletes, not so much. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be high- energy, and there are ways of pulling something out. That’s the art that the director or the social producer brings, helping get something that’s a little bit more relatable even if [the athletes are] not gonna be “high energy.”
Also, the mix of content is important, and it’s a bit of a quality and quantity play. If you’re gonna post 10 shorts, two can be the hottest quote, but another two need some more editing and a hook in the first three seconds. Just that little bit more effort will reap rewards.
[We] just keep putting it out and pushing because we have shorts that will pop three months after we publish it. You never know when things are going to pop. That brings the audience back in for the long-form content, and then they subscribe.
One of the biggest challenges is the cool, random stuff that goes viral. But you need to create a slate for the 80% of things that you can get ahead of, plan for, and set yourself up for success.