Bleacher Report’s Race To Own The Social Graph (Before ESPN Does)


Turner-owned Bleacher Report is going all-in on social platforms because the chance to set roots in social broadcasting before ESPN does, whether or not reliable platform monetization is a mirage, is too tempting to ignore.

Bleacher Report’s future success will “key off our ability to leverage the social graph,” said Rich Calacci, Bleacher Report’s CRO and Turner Sports’ SVP of sales. “That’s a new frontier where we can exert our brand without those battles.”

Last month Turner unveiled a three-year plan to invest an additional $100 million in Bleacher Report, which Calacci said was “about finding the people and stories that will continue to drive our business on social.”

For decades, the biggest non-ESPN sports media operations in the world have tried (and largely failed) to beat ESPN on its own turf, pouring billions into sports broadcast rights, TV channels and sites. A company may not be able to profit off of likes, shares and retweets, but Calacci said social platforms have established long-term viability, and media companies should take the same long-term approach.

“Leveraging an audience from the social graph has been an incredibly successful strategy so far,” he said. “The retrograde motion of discovery on a social platform is probably unappreciated in driving value.” Meaning new users are exposed to the brand and a small percent are funneled back to its owned-and-operated properties (aka the site or app).

“There’s an incredible opportunity with social, but the foundation of revenue is on-platform, where we’re able to do amazing things,” he said.

Pumping out content for Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, as Bleacher Report does on a near-constant basis, is a big investment in time and money, but they send valuable digital video viewers back to its properties, where Bleacher Report offers pre-roll, post-roll, animations and branded content.

“When you drift into social, there are different rules and best practices by platform. But for a brand like Bleacher Report, we’re seeing so many millions more video views. It’s too enticing not to pursue it,” said Calacci.

For Turner and its sports subsidiaries, the immediate impact of monetization is less important than the potential energy of future social audiences. For instance, Bleacher Report is focused on Instagram, where it’s doubling audience reach year to year. However, it’s uninterested in YouTube, even though the channel is considered a more mature digital video monetization vehicle.

“This isn’t a commentary on Google per se, but the value Bleacher Report gets from leveraging the social graph is from platforms like Facebook/Instagram, Twitter/Vine and Snapchat,” he said.

Breaking into ESPN’s dominance as the site for checking stats and highlights is like throwing rocks at a train, but Calacci pointed to Kobe Bryant’s recent retirement, which happened live on television, across social media and from the stadium audience, as a story built for (and by) social media.

Social audience reach is muffled by measurement services like comScore, he said, but “when you see other digital category leaders like Refinery29 and BuzzFeed doing things like this, it’s hard not to trust your own analysis of your audience.”

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