”Let our competitors be the aspirational hipsters — we’re like the really cool next door neighbor that’s actually dope,“ Whistle’s Noah Weissman tells TheWrap
You might not have noticed, but there’s a good chance Team Whistle is behind one of your favorite shows on social media.
The digital media company, formerly known as Whistle Sports, has turned into a video powerhouse on a number of platforms, from Snapchat to TikTok to YouTube. Just last month, Team Whistle racked up 23 million viewers across its collection of Snapchat shows, and since January 2020 has nabbed 1.2 billion views on TikTok.
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Company execs told TheWrap Whistle’s digital success boils down to one key ingredient: paying attention to what its target audience wants. “We’re super data-driven,” Noah Weissman, Whistle’s VP of Content, told TheWrap.
Over the last year, Weissman said, Team Whistle has “completely leaned into” using analytics to pinpoint what viewers ages 13 to 34 want to watch. When Whistle saw Google search results for pets spike during the pandemic, the company created new content to fit that demand. That led to the birth of “Meet the Pets,” a popular show that highlights the pups of Gen Z and millennial celebs, including “Cobra Kai” star Mary Mouser, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV and Loren Gray, a TikTok star with more than 50 million followers.
Other Team Whistle shows pulling in millions of views online include “Cheat Day,” where athletes and entertainers share how they enjoy their rare days off, and “Card Clout,” where stars like Snoop Dogg show off their sports card collections. (Sports cards are another hobby that’s boomed during the pandemic.)
Weissman said finding the right stars to communicate to Team Whistle’s audience has been a big reason shows like “Meet the Pets” connect with fans. As he said, “We know people probably aren’t going to want to see my mom show off her pet. But any of the top stars in the 13-34 age range, that drives views.”
And those views are great for business, of course. In addition to advertising revenue, Team Whistle monetizes its viewership by securing brand integration deals that can pay upwards of $1 million for some individual videos. (The privately held company declined to discuss overall revenues.)
Joe Caporoso, Whistle’s EVP of Content and Brand Platforms, said it’s all part of Whistle’s goal of being ubiquitous across social media. “We’re a distributed media company. We don’t have a primary platform, whether it’s a dot-com or an app, that we drive back to,” Caporoso said. “We distribute our media across just as wide of a range of social platforms as possible, with a baseline of getting revenue back from those platforms: Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and even to an extent last year, TikTok and Instagram TV. On top of that, the big chunk [of revenue] comes from our sales team selling branded content integrations into our original IP. And then on top of that, we do license out our content to third-parties like Bloomberg.”
It hasn’t always been this way for Team Whistle. When Caporoso started at the company seven years ago, Whistle emphasized sports content to drive clicks to its website. Whistle later transitioned to being a multi-channel network, before evolving again into what it is today — a company laser-focused on creating short videos that attract viewers across a handful of social platforms. Caporoso said a big step in this direction came in late 2019, when Whistle acquired Vertical Networks, the mobile-focused content studio founded by Elisabeth Murdoch.
Now, Team Whistle has seen its staff jump from about 30 people to more than 100 in a little more than a year. In addition to its New York City headquarters, Whistle has offices in Los Angeles, London and Charlotte, North Carolina. Since launching in 2014, the company has raised more than $100 million from a number of big-name investors, including NBC Sports, Tegna and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo.
Bringing Vertical Networks onboard coincided with a content shift. While sports remain a core element, Whistle has also leaned into entertainment, pop culture and general interest content — a shift that has helped Whistle cast a wider net online.
A good example is “Brother,” a daily show that pitches itself as “the guy’s guide to getting by.” The show, which offers advice on sex and relationships, among other topics, has 22 million Snapchat subscribers and routinely pulls in more than 1 million views per day. “Brother” also fits in with the company ethos: young, cool and upbeat. That’s become even more important during the pandemic, when things are already tough enough for young viewers.
“Whistle is positioned to be the best in the game because anything age 13-34 that’s positive, relatable and Gen Z-focused, we crush it, and we own it,” Weissman said. “Let our competitors be the aspirational hipsters — we’re like the really cool next-door neighbor that’s actually dope.”
That vibe, coupled with Whistle’s track record of making Gen Z-friendly social videos, has gained the attention of other media companies, too; Team Whistle recently partnered with Triller to produce the app’s big fight night, where Jake Paul fought ex-NBA star Nate Robinson and former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson took on boxing legend Roy Jones Jr.
Moving forward, Caporoso and Weissman said the plan for 2021 is simple: to continue churning out as much content as possible. The pandemic has made that a bit of a challenge, but Team Whistle has quickly adjusted to constraints by using small on-site teams. One recent “Cheat Day” shoot in L.A. with Sistine and Sophia Stallone — the daughters of Hollywood icon Sylvester Stallone — was pulled off with a grand total of two production people, the executives said. For Team Whistle, that flexibility has helped the company grow.
“It’s been a pretty crazy ride,” Caporoso said. “I joined initially to write for a website at an eight-person website, and now we’re a legitimate media company. I’ve been very encouraged by our trajectory.”