For One Week, WebStream Productions Was Butler Productions
Of the nine full-time staff members at WebStream Productions, eight are Butler University alumni, so it has been an emotional few weeks at the Indianapolis-based streaming company.
“I sent the sports marketing director at Butler a text message right after they won [to get into the Final Four],” says President John Servizzi. “The text message was ‘my staff = your staff.’ I said to keep us in the loop on anything that you’re doing and we will cover it.”
Servizzi did not intend to send a reporter to every Butler event for the next week, nor did he promise to create a polished video package of every event WebStream did cover. Instead, he wanted his network to capture the essence of what the Butler team and community were experiencing.
“The content wasn’t all posted in a polished way; it was posted to get it up there,” Servizzi says. “The idea was to take people that aren’t here and give them the experience of being here as best we can.”
A Yearbook Team
Over the final week of the tournament, the Horizon League Network (HLN) — operated by WebStream Productions — became the “college-yearbook team,” as Servizzi puts it, focusing on the events and goings-on that people are going to remember in five years and those events that may not be covered by larger outlets.
“The reality is, we’re not going to cover basketball, because we’re not [analyst] Jay Bilas or [sportscaster] Dick Vitale,” Servizzi says. “If those guys are talking about Butler, we don’t need to do that. We need to focus on what the alumni want to see.”
To do that, Servizzi’s team of reporters covered the events outside of game time, from pep rallies with the mayor to the team’s 3 a.m. homecoming from Salt Lake City.
“At 3 in the morning, there were 3,000 people at the [Hinkle] Fieldhouse, and they had the marching band lead the bus into campus,” Servizzi says. “Was it the best possible video? No, it was 3 in the morning in a dark parking lot, but it was fun. It was such a neat thing to be able to capture.”
Keeping the Inside Scoop Inside
Although it might have been tempting to sell some of that content to larger outlets — a remarkably awkward back bump between Butler’s athletic director and the mayor of Indianapolis would certainly have sold — WebStream Productions decided to be selfish.
“We decided not to share content,” Servizzi says. “I felt like there wasn’t a reason to try to syndicate this stuff. HLN is built around promoting schools and what the Horizon League is, not around the drive to cash in. It’s a free service for fans. If our goal suddenly became let’s see what we can sell to another station, it’s going to lose what it’s good at.”
The streaming traffic for the HLN hit its peak in March, during the conference basketball tournament, because the network was the only place to see the tournament in its entirety. Once Butler booked its ticket to the Final Four, Servizzi did not expect millions of people to flood to the site for information, because hundreds of other outlets across the nation were suddenly covering the university.
“I wanted our coverage to be for the people that were watching us the whole year,” Servizzi says.
Focus on 10, Not One
While some national media has already put Butler into the top five for next season, Servizzi insists that the Horizon League has nine other schools to cover. HLN cannot become the Butler show, just as the Horizon League does not want to be known as the conference that Butler’s in.
“We need to do a better job of selling everybody else now,” Servizzi says. “The problem is, a huge percentage of the audience comes from Butler, but you have to make a decision sometimes: do we cover Loyola or Butler? Sometimes, the better story is not the content that will get 10,000 hits. But, with increased exposure from the outside world on Butler, we can take the opportunity to increase what we’re doing for the nine other campuses.”
The mission of the Horizon League, Servizzi emphasizes, is to focus on 10, not just one, and HLN can help that mission by promoting the other schools in the conference, while still providing enough Butler content to satiate Bulldog fans.
“We are drawing from across all our schools to make our coverage better and make their sites better,” Servizzi says. “That’s the real endgame, to get people to know who these schools are. We have to do a better job of that, without spending Big Ten and SEC dollars.”