NFL Media and a future of bottomless content

For the purposes of this blog, I rarely ever post mainstream sports media content (which I deal with daily in a professional capacity), but there was a great Q&A today that I thought crossed over into our world here and has some valuable insight.

Peter King, the great NFL writer for Sports Illustrated and The MMQB, devoted a segment of his Monday Morning Quarterback column to an interview with Brian Rolapp, the chief operating officer of NFL Media and incoming president of NFL Network.

In the interview, Rolapp talks about the future of NFL Media, how it will continue to push into the digital space and some exciting developments at the crossroads on content and technology. Read the interview in full for a wide-ranging discussion of NFL media topics – here, I want to briefly highlight the NFL Now project that is scheduled to launch in August.

NFL Now, as Rolapp describes it, is a “personalized video network that exists on any device you have.” Fans will be able to customize the video content they receive by their favorite team(s) and it’ll stream to any device from all different sources – old NFL Films content, news and highlights, fantasy analysis, etc.

In a content world that’s increasingly meeting at the intersection of video and mobile, this will be a robust, on-demand package for NFL Fans. “We always say, ‘It’s not old media and new media. It’s just media.’ You need to understand how the fans are consuming content and how they’re spending their time,” Rolapp told King.

We’re no longer in a period of media where television exists over here and digital media is an adventure still being figured out over there and social media idles in the corner ready to support the platforms if we could just close the gap between mediums. We now exist in a business simply of screens, and content is flowing more easily between them.

What fascinates me is this trend starting to take shape of not only aligning all platforms digitally, but revitalizing content that has been largely lost to time, our evolving consumption habits and the increasing velocity of our churn-and-burn content cycle.

When the digital-native WWE Network launched, part of the appeal to users was the historical trove of wrestling content fans got in addition to WWE’s live events (which came at a fraction of the pay-per-view cost). That same element will exist with NFL Now so fans fan get lost in the dark halls of NFL Films. “You can search whatever you want, and finally we can mine that treasure trove that Steve and Ed Sabol built for 40 years,” Rolapp told King.

If you noticed the relaunch of Vox.com recently under the leadership of Ezra Klein, the site’s signature feature is its “cards” – a living set of slides that is continually updated with the most relevant information for any given topic so that no content is ever really “old.” (To see this in action, here are the cards for everything you need to know about marijuana legalization). This is different, of course, than a digital vault of the best Super Bowl moments ever, but it’s related. Content on these platforms doesn’t really end.

At the very least, this “bottomless content” concept accomplishes two things: 1) It places value back on content that has already been sold once – a double-dipping of sorts 2) It enriches the offering to consumers, making them feel like they’re getting more for their dollars.

That’s quite enough reason to build seamless streaming services with these capabilities if you’re a content provider (Would I be interested in streaming classic Dodgers games right now on my iPad while SportsNet LA blacks out 70 percent of Dodgers fans in the city? Why, yes I would!).

But beyond that, it creates a realm of content possibilities around the most valuable asset in sports media – live rights. Rolapp sees the growth in the NFL Media business coming through live games and the digital and TV platforms that fuel NFL fandom during all the hours that professional football games aren’t being played.

If the Thursday Night Football game is Steelers-Ravens, for instance, starting Monday NFL Now could roll out featured content that augments that live asset. Would I be interested in a cut-up of the 20 best Steelers-Ravens clips ever? What about a written piece on Ben Roethlisberger with old Big Ben clips spliced in? What about a highlight reel of the best of Ray Lewis against Pittsburgh? What about a documentary short that tells a good story from the rivalry that’s gone overlooked? Yes – to all of that and more.

It’s a fascinating world to be in, this one where old content vaults are unleashed and made accessible again to fans through new technology. I think we will continue to see this in different forms (text, video, audio) and ranging in scale.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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