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NBC Sports' new weekly show on Snapchat called Premier League: Extra Time is yet another example of how the social platform is drawing media organizations and leagues.

By Jacob Feldman
July 30, 2018

NBC Sports is set to announce a new weekly show focused on the English Premier League. Hosted by Francis Maxwell, a former soccer player who made his name as a host on the progressive online news network The Young Turks, the series will be exclusively available on Snapchat with a runtime of roughly three minutes per episode. Short, but important. “The idea that we are experimenting on this platform makes it already a success,” NBC Sports exec Brian Gilmore said. “We are in the game.”

The network's new show—called Premier League: Extra Time, previewing on Aug. 9 with the first full episode airing on Aug. 13 and continuing throughout the season—joins a growing trend of sports properties investing in Snapchat, finding a young audience ready for real sports content.

During the World Cup, Fox Sports became the platform’s first sports partner to update its publisher story (the content that dominates Snapchat’s Discover page, to the right of the camera) throughout the day. A handful of editors and motion graphic artists were dedicated to regularly inserting highlights, creating preview and recap coverage, and making sure that all of it felt at home on the fun-first app, whether that meant putting a flopping Neymar on a disco floor or making sure a France goal looked good in vertical orientation. Ultimately, 31 million U.S. viewers checked out the stories.

Social media teams like the one at Fox Sports often have to balance three missions. One, to provide TV viewers with additional content. Two, to expose non-viewers to the brand. And three, to build profitable relationships with users on each website or app. Goals one and two are somewhat nebulous, but Fox Sports VP for digital content Michael Bucklin was glad to see engagement metrics grow over the course of the tournament. And as for directive No. 3? “We certainly saw our money back on this particular investment,” he said. The data also yielded a surprising takeaway.

“Going into this, it wasn’t clear whether a Snapchat audience was going to love highlights,” Bucklin said. “They might have been more into the storytelling aspects with these athletes. But one thing was very evident to us: People love the highlights.”

NFL decision-makers have come to the same realization. The league has engaged fans on Snapchat since the 2015 draft. During recent seasons, its Sunday strategy on the app has revolved around game-specific ‘our stories,’ usually made up of user-submitted footage that highlights the in-stadium experience. But last season the digital content team experimented with inserting official game footage into those series of short video clips.

This year, they’re planning to go even farther, with a publisher story every Sunday from the NFL account that will be updated hourly with highlights and breaking news. “We’ve always been a business focused on putting content where our fans are spending their time,” said Blake Stuchin, the NFL’s VP of digital media business development, who puts the latest decision on a timeline stretching back to the league’s embrace of radio decades ago.

The NFL still wants you to go to games. If not that, then at least find the game on TV. But execs are coming around to the idea that many won’t go that far—including young people, and especially international audiences—so they’re bringing (some bits of) the games to the fans.

Over at ESPN, the company’s twice-daily Snapchat video updates have grown in length over time, nearly doubling to close to five minutes apiece as data tells producers that more substantive segments perform well. Now, the stories discussed often mirror the topics handled in the few-minutes video recap available in ESPN’s app. “The (Snapchat) show is intentionally called Sportscenter,” said Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s senior vice president for social content. The show will feature viral, sport-adjacent moments, but there will also be MLB highlights. And the authenticity has netted over 15 million monthly viewers for the show, with half of those watching three times a week.

Snap VP of content Nick Bell hopes all of this is just the beginning. “Our ambition is to become the destination for our audience to watch sports highlights on mobile,” he said, envisioning a world in which no matter what sport or team you are a fan of, the best place for a quick update is within the same app where you’re communicating with friends. To get there, he works with media partners, teaching them to produce messages that match how viewers snap with each other—in a hypervisual and casual style. At the same time, Bell’s team is working to redesign the Discover page to better serve that sports content to the right fans at the right time. Better content, better algorithms—that’s what he hopes will be the key to becoming the mobile home for sports.

In the meantime, Snapchat’s userbase is what continues to draw media organizations and leagues. Even if Instagram has managed to grow larger, Snapchat still possesses a trove of the young viewers sports ventures need to capture. Spoon, Stuchin and Bucklin all highlighted the demographic as one of the biggest reasons for their Snapchat investment (70% of each of their audiences on the platform have been under the age of 25). It’s also the same driving force for NBC’s newest show.

The network decided to try a soccer show on Snapchat because that sport’s viewing audience is among the youngest. The three missions will all be there. The show will be marketed during NBC Sports’ coverage, offering more for hardcore fans, but producers are hoping to introduce European soccer to new ones as well. And of course, they’re also looking for sponsors. Don’t think of it as just promo for the game broadcasts, Gilmore said, “this is a show unto itself.”

There will be plenty of experimentation over the course of the 39-week season, but the fundamental formula is expected to stay the same. Premier League: Extra Time will be lighter, less buttoned-up and funnier than its studio show cousins. But there will be plenty of recap footage and analysis, too. “Fans take this stuff really seriously,” Gilmore said. “We definitely want to take that to Snapchat. At the end of the day, it’s the action on the field that people want to see.”

So count NBC among the suitors for the next generation of fans. To win, they’ll just have to reinvent the highlight package.

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