If you watched video of the SEC Spring Meetings then you likely watched it via the SEC Digital Network. The Digital Network live streamed interviews with coaches and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive during the first day of the annual meetings at the Sandestin Hilton. The live broadcast is part of how the SEC’s online presence has evolved since its Digital Network launched in 2009. This increased use of technology has led to greater coverage of sports like softball and gymnastics and the SEC Football Media Days.
This is a radical change to the delivery of sports news and entertainment content. It is truly disintermediation; the SEC is now in direct contact with its fans. In this case, the SEC has removed the middleman and gained greater revenue and a chance to shape the story through its partnership with XOS.
“Through the efforts of XOS, the SEC has been able to provide unparalleled coverage of its 20-sponsored sports and institutions on the internet,” SEC Associate Commissioner for Media Relations Charles Bloom said. “XOS’ technological means have allowed for increased video capability on the site and increased the league’s exposure using multi-media sources such as Smart TV, mobile applications and the affiliate network.”
In this Q&A with Ben Godwin, General Manager of the SEC Digital Network, you will find out how a live event is webcast, the reasons for doing these broadcasts, some history of the Digital Network and how the SEC and the Digital Network cooperate.
Q: The SEC Digital Network has increased its number of live events, what is driving the increase in live coverage?
Ben Godwin: “As you just heard the Commissioner speak this league has a following and a passion unlike any other. Fans want it 24/7, so we try to look at the SEC calendar and look at some of those events that maybe their larger partners have not been able to get into yet such as Media Days, the soccer championships, the Olympic sport championships that are available.
“From the Digital side from a live standpoint and a postproduction standpoint, we try to make sure we are there and covering and providing that exposure. It is really part of our charge, behind the huge TV packages to make sure we fill in the gaps where the conference needs additional coverage to complete the full network of coverage. On the Digital side, we are often filling in some of those gaps and making sure we are there to cover some of those events that maybe are a little bit smaller or a little more niche or have not been covered in the past.
“There has never been any coverage here at the Spring Meeting, so it is something cutting edge for us, but we are also developing new live content for the conference.”
Q: What goes into the production of these types of live streams?
Ben Godwin: “We really have two channels going. We have a typical live team that comes with the cameras and a live-stream setup and a pre-produced graphics package. The other channel is we work with the conference to prearrange all these guests. It looked like a live show with all these coaches just showing up, but all of that was pre-organized and time slotted working through their media relations department so we were able to fill out a schedule of 2 and ½ hours.
“Within that it was very strategic. We try to balance it out. Everything we do, and you hear this from a conference perspective, is balance from covering the different sports to making sure everybody gets exposure. As the Commissioner mentioned, everything they do is trying to share equally and that goes with coverage as well.”
Q: How many people are involved in a webcast like this and what type of infrastructure is needed to handle this type of broadcast?
Godwin: “Typically, it would take a production crew of three to four folks and we will have an editorial staff of one or two that will lineup guests, prepare questions and all the graphic and prep work done ahead of time. Then we will have one or two talent. So you are looking at anywhere from five to six people.”
Q: What was the first live event broadcast on the SEC Digital Network?
Godwin: “The Digital Network’s first live event was the 2009 SEC Soccer Championship from Orange Beach, which was a little bit of a challenge since it is a bit of a remote location. We will be back there again this fall. The championship match is on ESPNU, the semifinals and quarterfinals are not covered nationally on live television, so we broadcast them and will do so again this fall.
“When we talk about a stream, everything we do is streamed across a platform. The website just happens to be a channel. We have the mobile app. We have the SEC YouTube channel. We have an affiliate network that has 330 embedded players on partners across the country. The final platform is SmartTV. All of our SmartTV apps get a live feed. So, whenever we do a live stream, we are talking thousands and thousands of eyeballs across multiple platforms. It is not just on the website.”
Q: Is there a metric for how broad the exposure of your network?
Godwin: “We really look at metrics of impressions and user engagement and views to completion or length of engagement per stream.
“Our highest viewership is for SEC Media Days. We always have an exclusive live room of coverage at media days. We average about three minutes per viewer, which in live stream world with three minutes for each coach is very high per user to stay engaged. Normally, we average between 65,000-75,000 unique viewers in those three days. It is our highest traffic days and highest livestream event.
“We will (be back this year). We will have an exclusive room and get each coach for ten minutes. We will be the only live stream from that room. ESPN is also there, but they zip in and out.
“This is another thing, the Digital Network is directly involved and associated with the conference while sometimes ESPN has to move on and cover other things, other sports. We are solely focused on the SEC. Our goal is similar to an MLB Network or an NFL Network or NBA TV—go into depth that sometimes the national partners can’t provide that much coverage.”
Q: How independent is the SEC Digital Network from the conference?
Godwin: “There is a mix. We try to maintain a third-party production group, but at the same time we lean on the conference and they are there to help us at times grow and at events such as today helping us lineup guests, helping us reach out.
“We are the voice of the conference, but at the same time when it comes to topics, editorial, we have to be fair. We are treated as a media outlet at times. We don’t necessarily get special answers or news before anyone else. Do they help us with access at times and with helping lineup guests and access to do shows? Absolutely, they do treat us as the conference network. We also follow some of the same editorial procedures and guidelines as the everyday industry.”
Q: Who oversees the editorial?
Godwin: “We work directly with Charles Bloom, the associate commissioner of media relations and Commissioner Slive is involved. Typically, day-to-day we run all editorial through Charles Bloom.”
Q: You mentioned MLB Network. This seems to be a trend with conferences involved in the coverage.
Godwin: “Absolutely. It gives them an opportunity to tell. We are not always in the breaking news business. Sometimes ESPN needs to break the news, or all media needs to get the news at the same time. But we are an aspect of the conference that sometimes we can tell a story that maybe a national network cannot tell or does not have the time. If there is a great Olympic sport story or new coach or student-athlete experience that is involved with the community or academics, sometimes we can go and spend time and cover that.
“We get great interaction from the schools and from the Olympic sport coaches because they know we are out trying to generate stories that sometimes don’t get told.”
Q: When did the SEC Digital Network launch?
Godwin: “Fall of 2009. When (the SEC) redid the TV deal the first time around with CBS and ESPN, for the first time the conference brought its copyright in-house. Up until that point, the networks controlled it. The game ends on CBS and CBS controlled it. Now, everything moving forward and everything historic, the conference owns. The SEC needed some group to manage that and they also wanted a digital play and technical play, so that is where XOS came in as a digital and technical partner, but we are going to manage that copyright as well and go in and digitize all of that copyright and organize it for the conference.”
Q: Is there a way to gauge the value of the SEC Digital Network to the conference?
Godwin: “I think there are several ways. There are some that do not have a monetary value. Our charge is protect, archive and then somewhat monetize the conference copyright.
“So, over the past three-and-a-half years, we have transferred 25-30 years of archives from TBS, ESPN and Raycom to digitally stored archives. So protect and archive the conference history that is football, basketball, baseball, softball, Olympic sports in a digital format so they can always have a library the schools can access. Secondly, distribute and tell the stories of the SEC. That is fan engagement. And to create a new platform that is a little bit of a standalone conference network. Finally, to use technology. The conference’s charge to us was, ‘We don’t want to wake up in five years and be behind. We always want to be in front and exploring new technologies. Maybe it is figuring out YouTube and what is the best strategy for YouTube. What is the best strategy with mobile and tablet apps? We got in the game so early, we have been able to experiment with paid apps versus free apps and we now feel like we have a winning formula with our mobile and tablet apps. We have been able to always keep the conference at the cutting edge with technology and that is part of our charge.”
Q: How do you bring video and written content together?
Godwin: “What we have found with Twitter, with social media is that fans want more snackable content. Fans want continuous content. There is no offseason. There is no news cycle that is 9-5. Fans want content all the time. We have both with video and written content moved to snackable content. It may only be a paragraph or two, but is breaking news or constant news that with today’s social media you can almost take news to the fans and they don’t have to come to you.”