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ESPN is no longer the first place sports fans go when they want to get digital video content. With that in mind, CBS Sports developed a phenomenally popular over-the-top (OTT) streaming service for sports fans in 2018 called CBS Sports HQ that has become an overnight success story. In 2019, the number of video streams for CBS Sports HQ more than doubled, as did the number of total minutes watched. Best of all, CBS Sports HQ has made tremendous inroads with sports viewers in the all-important 18-to-35 demographic. The median age of a CBS Sports HQ viewer is 35, and the average viewing session is now north of 35 minutes. So what can we learn from the breakout success of CBS Sports HQ in 2019?
Lesson #1: Adjust your content strategy for changing trends in the cultural zeitgeist
If there are two new trends to watch in the world of sports programming right now, it’s fantasy sports and sports gambling. Recognizing this, CBS Sports HQ has made a concentrated effort to create more digital content specifically targeted to this audience of viewers. For example, success in sports betting and fantasy sports depends a lot on getting the latest news on injury reports, field and weather conditions, and who might be moving up or down a team’s depth chart. In the past, this information might have been completely ignored by sports broadcasters, as they focused primarily on the star appeal of key players. (Who has time to worry about injuries to a team’s left offensive tackle when you’re running a fluff segment on a starting QB?) But CBS Sports HQ began to integrate information about injuries and depth charts into different shows and segments.
Lesson #2: Don’t forget about advertisers and sponsors
While other rival sports video programming services have focused on tiered pricing packages, CBS Sports HQ stands out as a free offering. And who doesn’t love free? The reason why CBS Sports HQ has been able to do this is because it has managed to line up big-time corporate sponsors. One of these is GEICO, which CBS Sports has given a special “GEICO 15” segment that airs before games. One recent GEICO 15 segment was “What the 76ers Need to Become Elite.”
Lesson #3: Leverage breaking news to bring in social media fans
As part of its shift in content strategy, CBS Sports HQ has focused much more attention on highlights, breaking news, and reactions to breaking news. In the current 24/7 news cycle, breaking news is the type of news that does well on social media platforms like Twitter. Thus, instead of focusing on the type of evergreen stories that can be shown on an endless loop on ESPN (“Who is the greatest QB of all time?”), CBS Sports HQ instead has positioned its streaming service as a way to keep up with breaking news. This is all part of the “hot take” culture on social media, in which big-time personalities dish out their opinions on just about any breaking development within seconds.
Overall, there’s a lot to learn here. If you’re playing the digital content game in 2020, feel free to rip a few pages from the playbook of CBS Sports HQ. Shift your content to reflect changes in the cultural zeitgeist, update your business model to get the right mix of advertising and subscription income, and focus on creating the type of content that will draw in social media fans from across the Internet.