Bleacher Report, the digital sports brand acquired by Turner Sports in 2012, launched its own streaming service in March 2018.
On Friday, though, the WarnerMedia unit is marking a different kind of milestone as Showtime airs Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story. Bleacher Report produced the documentary, which is its first longform project to be licensed to a third party. The deal marks a new effort by B/R to capitalize on its rabid and youthful following across the media landscape. That process involves a decision tree similar to that facing its parent, AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, which is building a major streaming service while also mulling the fate of licensed fare like Friends.
Sam Toles, a seasoned digital executive who joined Bleacher Report as COO in March, told Deadline in an interview that the choice to transact with CBS-owned Showtime came down to where the audience could be biggest. The film’s subject, who now calls himself Metta World Peace, is a former NBA star turned mental health advocate known for his role in the infamous NBA brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills during a Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game.
Director Johnny Sweet aimed to offer audiences a more comprehensive portrait of the subject, through interviews with major basketball figures such as Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Jermaine O’Neal and Bill Walton. Premiering at the start of the NBA Finals only adds to the visibility, and the company says social buzz was high heading into the airdate.
“We are building a function or a capability to specialize in longer-form content,” said Toles, who has had exec stints at MGM, Vimeo and New Line. “We think there is a huge opportunity.”
Young-skewing B/R, through online franchises such as House of Highlights, says it reaches an aggregate audience of 200 million fans a month across all digital and social platforms.
Potential business partners, Toles said, recognize “our connection to our audience, and the fact that we are in an ongoing conversation with them.”
As to B/R potentially feeding its content into the WarnerMedia streaming service, which is launching by year-end in beta and then more fully in early 2020, Toles said the parent company “is our first stop for most of the work that we’re going to do. That is logical and makes sense.”
Even so, future deals along the lines of the one for Quiet Storm are also likely, he added.
“I like to look to the example of Breaking Bad. Licensing to Netflix made that franchise,” Toles said. “And it also drove significant audience back to AMC. … The audience engaged with the show on one platform and interacted with it on the next platform.”
The game plan, then, is to “expand the aperture so that people can be exposed to B/R content on as many platforms as they can.”
Toles worked at Vimeo when the video platform incubated High Maintenance, which had an acclaimed run with episodes of varying lengths before then being snapped up by HBO and turned into a half-hour show. Those kinds of cases are becoming more common, with Netflix’s Nailed It a popular example.
Toles downplayed comparisons with ESPN, whose 30 for 30 effort resulted in an Oscar-winning achievement, O.J.: Made in America and altered perceptions of the Disney-owned sports brand. “We’re trying to change the game using our DNA and using the things we do really well,” he said. “We have an authentic connection to our audience. And we know that it’s a dialogue with them, not a monologue.”
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