By Sahil Patel
Last April, Fox Sports launched “@TheBuzzer,” a daily video series focused on delivering the latest in sports news and commentary to millennials, across every platform they’re consuming such content on. Nearly a year later, “@TheBuzzer” has become a major success story for Fox Sports — and Facebook deserves a lot of credit for that.
Fox Sports first launched “@TheBuzzer” on YouTube via a partnership with YouTube Space LA. As part of a residency at the facility, the company started producing short-form videos — each running roughly one minute — with a focus on shareability.
“We didn’t know what the show was going to be at the time, if it was going to be sketch-driven or news-driven,” says Pete Vlastelica, EVP of digital at Fox Sports. “What we discovered, through iteration, was that the content that did especially well under the ‘@TheBuzzer’ umbrella were the real-time news pieces that people were sharing off of the YouTube platform.”
The two major social networks, Facebook and Twitter, are of course huge drivers of traffic and sharing. And with Facebook, which in the past year has made an effort to become a major video distribution engine for publishers, studios, networks, and online video creators, Fox Sports found the perfect outlet for “@TheBuzzer.”
Just look at some of these stats: In January, “@TheBuzzer” had its best month yet with 37 million views across platforms, according to Fox Sports. Since November 2014, Facebook has accounted for 93% of the show’s views.*
“When we made the decision to focus the show on real-time, short-form news pieces, it sort of naturally happened that Facebook became the most significant distribution channel for that type of content,” says Vlastelica. A lot of that certainly has to do with the way Facebook video works — auto-plays that are embedded within users’ news feeds, and the fact that the content is easily viewable on mobile devices. Fox Sports says “@TheBuzzer” is its “most-consumed” content on mobile devices.
Fox Sports recently hired Kristen Balboni (right) from rival ESPN to serve as a new co-host for “@TheBuzzer.”
The show’s success on Facebook also led to two other important results for Fox Sports.
One is simply that more people are visiting FoxSports.com. Overall, social media referrals now make up approximately 44% of total traffic to FoxSports.com, up from 3% in January 2014. Facebook is responsible for most of that traffic, driving 15 million visits to the site in December alone. (Fox Sports says it now has 17.6 million “likes” across its “core” accounts, up 522% year over year.)
As Fox Sports publishes more videos natively to Facebook, including and especially episodes of “@TheBuzzer,” it’s generating higher viewership and engagement on the social network, which rewards those who upload directly versus embedding third-party video players. This is naturally creating more opportunities for people to click through to FoxSports.com.
The other, and potentially game-changing, result is a fresh revenue stream for Fox Sports. The company is the second publisher — after the NFL, at least to Vlastelica’s knowledge — to sell ads against its native Facebook videos. The network recently secured deal with Nationwide to sponsor a series of “@TheBuzzer” Facebook videos tied to NASCAR, kicking off with this one from the Daytona 500.
As you’ll notice from the clip, Nationwide’s message runs at the end, via a post-roll format that Facebook is currently experimenting with, according to Vlastelica. “These are experimental ad formats, but we’re seeing that they’re delivering value to our sponsors,” he says. “Our scale on Facebook is so tremendous that attaching a brand’s message is going to be valuable.”
It’s difficult to overstate how important this could be for Facebook and its video partners. To date, Facebook has been pitching native uploads as a way for creators to drive “awareness” to their content on one of the world’s biggest and busiest platforms. Monetization, by way of running ads and splitting revenue, has been downplayed by the company’s executive team — as recently as last month.
The Nationwide ads for “@TheBuzzer” point to how ad-supported video could work on Facebook and be a source for meaningful revenue on the social platform.
For Fox Sports, though, all of this is still very much in the early stages. According to Vlastelica, the main focus right now is on building the “@TheBuzzer” brand across different social media outlets. The early success on Facebook is great, but it’s not enough.
“We designed it from day one to not be too reliant on just any one platform,” he says. So far, different versions of the show exist for Facebook (short, snackable, mobile-friendly clips), YouTube (slightly longer clips with topics that are more evergreen), FoxSports.com, and even TV, via segments on Fox Sports 1.
Soon, “@TheBuzzer” will be on Snapchat. The ephemeral messaging app recently launched a new video feature to bring more premium, professionally-made content to its platform via deals with publishers and media companies such as Vice, CNN, and Comedy Central. “We are planning a Snapchat extension that looks different from what [the show] looks like on Facebook,” says Vlastelica.
“The common thread as you’re designing these multi-platform programs has to be thematic and driven by the substance of the program. ‘@TheBuzzer’ is a reimagining of a sports news franchise that targets millennials. Exactly how that looks depends on what works on that platform.”
The expansion won’t be limited to platforms either, Vlastelica adds. Fox Sports already has spinoffs of the show dedicated to soccer fans, NASCAR fans, and Spanish-speaking audiences. More of those are on the way. “Our goal is to scale and cover all of the major sports on a day-to-day basis,” says Vlastelica. “That’s where we’re headed.”
*There’s a separate discussion to be had about the differences between a view on Facebook and a view on other video platforms (including YouTube), but even then, Facebook’s contribution to “@TheBuzzer” is significant.