How Bleacher Report Focuses on ‘Authenticity and Speed’ to Super-Serve Young Sports Fans

5 Questions: “Audiences expect to participate in the conversation,” says chief content officer Sam Toles says

Sam Toles is no stranger to the digital world and after hopping from Vimeo to MGM as SVP of digital, the industry veteran has landed at Bleacher Report in March as the company’s first chief content officer.

Toles has been tasked with helping the sports-centric company develop a disciplined system to create compelling content and support its growing talent pool of creators. The first step in building out this system, Toles said, is finding is preserving the company’s connection with fans through its social channels and its owned-and-operated properties, such as its IOS or Android apps.

The Turner-owned company has over 10 million followers across its social platforms and has generated more than 300 million views across YouTube. The company also runs several franchises, including “House of Highlights,” and has grown its presence on traditional TV presence with the recent Showtime documentary “Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story,” the first long-form project Bleacher Report has licensed to a third party.

In an interview with TheWrap, Toles discusses his new role and the difference in programming for a younger audience vs an older one.

1. While announcing your hire, CEO Howard Mittman said that you would help the company “develop a disciplined system through which it can create new, compelling content.” What will this system look like?       

It’s about finding a balance and preserving the connection we have with fans through social and our O&O’s; learning from audience behavior gleaned from their engagement with our stories while simultaneously building a creative development and ideation process more akin to premium content studios. I’m focused on expanding the content team’s capabilities, which will allow us to embrace and develop exciting ideas, creators and talent more rapidly with the goal of expanded, quality storytelling.

2. You played an essential role in launching Vimeo’s first slate of original programming, including shows like “High Maintenance” (a series that is now on its fourth season). How does Bleacher Report’s original content strategy differ?

It’s an extremely cluttered and competitive marketplace with seemingly every major player vying for attention of a finite number of eyeballs. While Vimeo’s ambitions as a general entertainment service were challenged, Bleacher Report is better positioned to super-serve its tribal audience because of our focus on sports. Our audience is very defined, hyperconnected and we benefit from having exceptional advertising partners that value our unique voice and empower us to showcase our premium content without needing to put anything behind a paywall.

3. What sets Bleacher Report apart from other media companies vying for the attention of younger generations?

First of all, everything that we do is rooted in sports and sports culture — that’s our DNA. So our job is to create content through the lens of the fan and channeling our younger sports selves to apply it to our storytelling. But the magic of Bleacher Report is that these decisions are all informed by data — we know what our fans like, we don’t have to guess. Our audience is all about authenticity and speed. They’re about creating a dialogue and peeling back the curtain on sports culture. We no longer live in a world where fans want to be told about what’s great in sports — they want to be part of that conversation.

4. Given your experience in both film and digital (which typically appeals to a younger audience), how do the content needs across generations differ?

Older generations that grew up with television are used to receiving content in one direction. They are used to turning on the TV and being broadcasted to. We now live in a universe where audiences expect to participate in the conversation around sports and sports culture. That is what informs how we build and ideate content.

5. What’s the appeal of the Bleacher Report for you personally?

Bleacher Report was exactly the type of opportunity I was looking for; its combination of strengths are a rare find in the broader content landscape. B/R has both a true and deep brand affinity with the Gen Z and Mmillennial audience — something that more traditional media companies desperately yearn for in our highly disrupted era.

It’s astounding to think, but we are reaching 200 million sports fans every month and have the highest engagement of any other sports media brand. We go way beyond “covering sports,” we are about celebrating sports culture and living in the moments that define true fandom and have a proven aptitude at social media that allows us to speak to our audiences in a language they understand and embrace.

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