With the surge of new sports networks over the last decade has come the difficult challenge of filling a channel with up to 24 hours of programming in lieu of live event rights on any given day. Typically networks have utilized three core strategies in finding low rent programming options.
1- Simulcasting popular radio shows.
2- Developing studio shows with some variation of people sitting around a desk or table talking about sports, typically utilizing former athletes.
3- Paid programming. *cough* NBCSN *cough*
But of late the network playbook has started to open up a bit with the television suits looking more and more to personalities and programming options incubated on digital platforms. On that note, we’re a few days away from Garbage Time With Katie Nolan’s debut – an attempt by FS1 to parlay Nolan’s spunky irreverence and large social following on Twitter and her loyal viewership online through her popular No Filter series.
On a similar note, but a bit under the radar is Vox media opening a video studio in Los Angeles along with the announcement the company has signed with powerhouse agency William Morris to develop TV and film projects. Whether some of that focus is on sports projects via SB Nation or if there are any bites from the TV industry, it’s another datapoint that television networks and executives are beginning to go on the prowl beyond the usual places.
While the concept isn’t new, it seems the success and the traction with viewers is. Some recent successes include:
– The Starters on NBA TV, who did a stint on television north of the border after a few years doing an amazing web series during the season. From their humble beginnings the motley crew of basketball fans now finds themselves profiled by GQ and the New York Times within the last month.
– Men In Blazers on NBCSN, who were featured on Grantland and ESPN for the 2014 World Cup but originally by way of the usual suspects of Itunes, Tunein, and Youtube. Garbage Time will actually be produced by Embassy Row Productions and Michael Davies, who you might know as one half of the Men in Blazers at the same humbly sized NYC studio.
– Grantland Basketball Hour and more recently the Grantland Oscar Preview. While Grantland is somewhat of an internet giant as is the brand power of Bill Simmons, these concepts are really extensions of the BS Report, but with the purpose of being featured on television.
– Outside of sports, I’m sure there any many examples but I can’t help myself from giving a tip of the hat to Comedy Central’s new hit, Broad City, which started as a web series.
I asked EVP of Digital at Fox Sports, Pete Vlastelica, who was key in hiring Nolan as well as developing Garbage Time about this new trend and got some insight into the rationale of this new trend.
“Digital platforms are great for trying new things with little risk. If something pops on a digital platform, you can cross it over to television already having de-risked the project somewhat. I don’t know about an industry trend, but at FOX we are definitely focused on developing digital properties that have multiplatform potential — that applies to talent and formats. So one benefit is lower risk.”
Although skeptical that digital concepts moving to television was not at a full trend status (although a focus of his role was actively developing and pitching other show concepts), Vlastelica outlined some other benefits beyond just the lower level of risk for networks.
“Another benefit is built-in audience. Finally, when you move a property from digital to TV, there’s a good chance you’re going to appeal to a younger than typical audience which is always a priority. I don’t know if it’s a trend, but it should be. It’s just smart.”
Smart yes, but as I reflected on Vlastelica’s sentiment that we’re not at full on trend level just yet, it did dawn on me that despite this first wave of crossovers, it is a bit hard to think of many candidates for a second wave to potentially make that jump. That said, it is encouraging to see multiple networks placing bets on digital talent and perhaps that kickstarts more digital talent acquisition and concept development. Until then, I imagine we’ll continue seeing a steady diet of people sitting around a table talking about the same dozen topics, riveting radio simulcasts, and late night paid programming.