Photo: InsideSTL

About a month ago, The Athletic began testing the waters on video by partnering with The Players’ Tribune on a five-part series on Gordon Hayward. The Players’ Tribune produced the series, but it was first shown on The Athletic to see how subscribers would treat a video series on the article-driven subscription website.

The Athletic was happy with the results, because they are continue to push further into developing original video for the company. According to John Ourand of Sports Business Daily, The Athletic hired former Real Sports and 60 Minutes correspondent Armen Keteyian to exclusively serve as an anchor and executive producer for The Athletic’s video content. In a package deal, The Athletic also hired executive producers Alan Goldberg and Victor Frank.

Expect features to begin posting next spring and have a similar look to what 60 Minutes provides.

As The Athletic continues to raise silly amounts of cash and adds subscribers, the site apparently feels that venturing further into video (while not pivoting to video) is a worthy endeavor. Founder Alex Mather has repeated many times that while the site is doing some video, it won’t be at the expense of the high quality written work they are known for.

“We’re not necessarily changing our business model here — 95 percent of our editorial budget is still going to the written word,” Mather said. “For us to augment some of our written-word content with some premium stories on the video side is not too big of a leap for us.”

Mather noted that since Hayward’s series premiered on The Athletic, traffic has increased “two or three times.” Assuming Mather isn’t talking out his ass, there’s no way that The Athletic could ignore that kind of spike.

“When we engage our audience in different ways other than the written word — whether it be podcasts or video — we see a meaningful difference in engagement and retention. … We’re at the scale now where the difference in retention can make tens of millions of dollars difference in revenue. It’s really optimizing to get people to continue to renew.”

“It’s a different set of users,” he said. “The awareness has really improved since the Gordon Hayward series that we put out. That has continued even now six weeks later. We see awareness increasing. That has an absolute effect on the growth of our business.”

As long as The Athletic doesn’t completely abandon written articles and pivot to video, as many sites did in recent years to disastrous results, all should be well. Video can complement an article and vice versa, and it’s true that by providing both in a suitable ratio, you’re giving subscribers more bang for their buck. The problems come when a site (for example, Fox Sports) completely abandons the written word and goes exclusively to video, which drives people away and causes many great people to lose their jobs. The Athletic was created as a high quality alternative to those sites, so as long as they stay with their roots, I don’t think there’s a risk of them pivoting exclusively to video anytime soon.

[Sports Business Daily/Photo: InsideSTL]

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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