At its first appearance at the decade-old Digital Content NewFronts in New York, ESPN announced a new daily edition of SportsCenter for its mobile app, as well as a series of shows developed through parent Disney’s sweeping new agreement with Twitter.
But at the same time, it noted that it didn’t need to trumpet any radical new direction. The event merely served to drive home the ubiquity of ESPN and its vast reach across social media. In a direct, 45-minute presentation, ESPN ditched the playbook of its broadcast upfront (which is less than two weeks away), which often features a parade of athletes and top-name talent onstage. Instead, the featured stars were executives from Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook, and the VIP was the network’s newly redesigned app.
One of the app’s major new draws will be a new app-only edition of SportsCenter hosted by Scott Van Pelt and other SportsCenter anchors and will be a curated edition, with top plays, highlights and a preview of the day in sports.
Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s SVP Social Content, said in one week in April, ESPN racked up 2 billion impressions across social media. “That is scale,” he said. “And this is your invitation to join us. Our distribution strategy is straightforward. We’re fan-first, we’re always live, and we’re audience everywhere. … That’s why today I’m proud to stand before you with no new distribution announcements because we’re already everywhere.”
ESPN, under the direction of newly installed president Jimmy Pitaro, has been overhauling its digital presence in recent weeks, rolling out a redesigned app as well as the $5-a-month OTT service ESPN+. The NewFronts announcements emphasized the effort to deliver the network’s content to fans across platforms, a top-line priority for Disney CEO Bob Iger. Disney is also building a direct-to-consumer app for launch in late 2019.
Rob King, Senior VP of Original Content Newsgathering & Digital Media, offered a detailed tour of the new app. Personalization is the main theme, he said. While the brand has scale, as Spoon had emphasized, the company is entering a new era of customizing the app — and ad — experience. The NFL Draft was a major draw in April (a month of 109 unique viewers, per comScore), with 1.75 million viewers watching the first round via the app. But ESPN is less focused, in some ways, on the total tally than on more granular, individual stats like the fact that registered app users include “4.1 million Dallas Cowboys fans and 436,000 Jacksonville Jaguar fans. The point here is to create an environment where everything feels like yours — including your messages in our content.”
Live shows and content from ESPN in development include:
SportsCenter Live – When news breaks, ESPN will bring fans unparalleled coverage in Twitter Moments and Video with @SCLive, a Twitter take on its flagship program and an extension of its popular @SportsCenter handle that reaches more than 35 million sports fans. Blending insight, analysis, and reporting from a wide array of talent and reporters, @SCLive will deliver robust breaking news coverage through the innovation of the Moments experience.
Hoop Streams – Launching just in time for the NBA Playoffs, the show will feature two of the most trusted and respected voices in basketball, David Jacoby and Ryen Russillo, previewing each playoff, conference final and NBA Finals game prior to tip-off. True to the Twitter platform, they will incorporate real-time conversation with fans as they discuss the upcoming match-up.
Fantasy Focus Live – ESPN’s award-winning and most popular fantasy sports podcast will now also be live streamed daily on Twitter. Each morning, fantasy experts Matthew Berry, Field Yates, Stephania Bell and Daniel Dopp will provide player previews, injury reports, game overviews and strategies, as well as featured guests and interviews, throughout the football season. The show will take fan questions and opinions, and engage the Twitter audience using key football moments and social content.
The College Football Show – ESPN’s new weekly show will recap the best highlights of the day and preview the biggest game of the week on every college football Saturday throughout the season. Fans will be able to interact with the show through Twitter.
Rankings Reactions – Coming off its success last year, Rankings Reactions returns with Mike Golic, Jr. and Jason Fitz this upcoming college football season. Each week, Mike and Jason will react to and discuss the latest College Football Playoff rankings from the moment they are first unveiled on October 30 through Selection Day on December 8. Once again, they will bring in audience questions and insights directly from Twitter to the forefront of the conversation.
Disney’s wide-ranging deal with Twitter includes ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform, Disney Digital Network, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Radio Disney and Marvel. Live content to launch from these entities under the new agreement will be announced at a later date.