SVG Digital Chat: Clark Pierce SVP, TV Everywhere and Special Projects, FOX Sports
Thanks to some of this summer’s marquee sports events, Fox Sports’ young Fox Sports Go digital platform has enjoyed a coming-out party, setting ratings records across such tent-pole events as the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the U.S. Open Championship.
TV Everywhere and authentication have matured in recent years, and broadcasters are implementing new ways to better serve and entertain their digital viewers.
In the latest edition of the SVG Digital Chat, we catch up with Clark Pierce, SVP, TV Everywhere and special projects, Fox Sports, and one of the key minds behind the Fox Sports Go platform. He discusses the successes of the past month, how his product can be improved, and what technological advances he’s excited for in the space.
NOTE: Clark Pierce will serve as the keynote speaker at the 2nd Screen Summit: Sports event on July 28 in New York City. Register to attend today. 2nd Screen Summit: Sports is a joint production of the memberships of SVG and the 2nd Screen Society.
Give us your overall assessment of the past month or so. Between FIFA Women’s World Cup and the U.S. Open golf championship, it has been a banner month at Fox Sports and for your division. What went well, and what lessons did you take away?
What went really well was that we got a lot of awareness around Fox Sports Go throughout the World Cup and the U.S. Open. Our ultimate goal is to support television and what we do on the linear side and give people more options to consume the content they want. We want to provide the Fox Sports channels live and on the best screen available to our users. We fully believe that, if people have just a mobile phone with them and they want to be able to catch a certain piece of content, they will use Go and, if they are in front of their 40-in. TV, they’ll turn that channel on and watch it on the big screen. We’re supportive, and that’s our mission.
I think the first step to getting people to understand that that value is there and is part of what they pay for as a pay-TV customer. The World Cup and the U.S. Open really helped in that sense. The big tent-pole events help create awareness, and that’s the most important thing that happened for us in the month of June and into early July: people started to discover Fox Sports Go.
On the technical side, it was a big event with 52 matches in the World Cup and four very, very long days of the U.S. Open. We were pretty lucky that only two of the days had overlap of both events, and, if Dustin Johnson had made that birdie putt, we would have had even more overlap with the USMNT [U.S. women’s soccer team] playing at the same time as an 18-hole playoff. It could have been an even more interesting month — to say the least — if that had happened.
Since the introduction of Fox Sports Go, how have you seen its capabilities grow, and how have users been able to benefit?
It’s evolved quite a bit. You’re always tinkering. It’s analogous to a pit-crew chief on a NASCAR team: they may think they have the perfect car, but put it on the track, and the track conditions dictate that they make some changes and adjustments on the fly. We’re always tinkering with the product on the backend, and it’s constantly in a state of fine-tuning. Plus, the size of your audiences vary. [With] the NFL audience, for example, we see the usage times coming in much shorter; with soccer, usage patterns are much longer. The same is true for golf. We have some anecdotal data that, with golf, some people turn it on and leave it on all day. We saw some really long sessions, and that makes a lot of sense. Because of that, we made some changes with our backend partners to make sure that we were able to support large numbers of concurrents that would stay engaged for a while. That came to fruition, and that’s something that we certainly learned a lot from and will improve in the future.
Any new plans for the immediate future for Fox Sports Go that you can share?
We are working on a bunch of things for the fall. It doesn’t stop. We have the Gold Cup going. The USMNT plays again on Saturday, which is always an interesting day for TV Everywhere. That should be an interesting audience. We have a lot of really good rights that bring us a lot of really good content. We start the Bundesliga in a little more than a month. That’s even more top-quality soccer.
The product enhancements are really driven by the content at this point. We are constantly working on performance and stability improvements. One of the things that we’re taking on right now is the concept of content promotion and being able to surface to users right away the key event happening at that moment. [It] is a way of shortening the time to get into that key piece of content that we can assume most people are coming [into the product] for.
We want that discoverability to be much quicker.
We also want to reduce friction for users, as far as entry into the product. That’s still something that we are working on. In-home authentication, which has now, I believe, been termed “home-base authentication,” is something that we are working on as well.
A lot is made of OTT or streaming on mobile devices, but what’s your take on connected TVs? What potential do you see in that space?
Right now, we support Android TV and Amazon Fire Stick. We need to be more in that space, and we’re not. We’d like to be more involved there.
We saw with NASCAR — where we had up to eight on-board camera feeds available, and we saw a lot of usage on those cameras — some interesting data that aligned with crashes. If there were crashes, we would see the usage on one on-board camera spike: that car either was in the crash or had a really great view of the crash. We’re working on ways to attach those bonus feeds to the main stream of the event so that users can get to and from those quickly. There’s some interesting things that we can do there.
We had a bonus feed, [which] we called “Match 360,” for the World Cup that we got from FIFA. It started 150 minutes before a match, and you would literally see the team buses arriving at the stadium, views inside the locker rooms with uniforms lined up, players warming up. [It] took a spin around the stadium for the atmosphere. Once the event started, it just became a feed of highlights, up to five or six angles of a given play. We saw people spending a lot of time on that feed. We want to provide a lot more experiences like that because we see it as an additive experience. People want to experience more of the insider’s view of the event. At an event like the World Cup, a feed like that makes a lot of sense. So we are looking to do more things like that with a lot of the other partners that we have.
All things considered, we’re still in the early stages of digital. As a result, a lot of content creators are pulling in all of this new user data. A lot of people in the industry are saying, “We’re getting all of this data. Now we need to figure out what to do with it.” Has Fox Sports started to make decisions based on the data that you are getting from your digital platforms?
The Match 360 experience is a perfect example of that. It did not surprise us that it was the second-most viewed feed per match. Obviously, the simulcast of the event is first. It’s an insider’s view. It’s a really cool thing, and people want that kind of access. It applies to any sport. The more that you can see your favorite team or country, the more you feel connected to that brand. People anticipate sporting events, and it’s live and starts at a certain time. Now, with Match 360, fans can start their experience of that game or match earlier and [get] more content related to that. I think that really resonated with people and explains why we saw so much usage around that experience. There will definitely be more growth in that area.
What new thing on the digital side are you, personally, excited about? Whether it’s something you are doing at Fox or something happening generally in the industry, what has you excited?
I’m excited about the potential of reducing delay between broadcast and streaming. I’m not saying that we’ve cracked the code or if anyone else has, but I’m excited for that, as our people work hard to solve that problem. That is one of the biggest complaints that we get on social media. There are so many variables that play into it. It takes time to take a baseband-video feed, encode it, and distribute it, and than you’re still at the mercy of the last mile. What is [the users’] connection? Are they in a hotel where they are hitting a proxy and everything is getting throttled? Are they at home on something that’s just a step above dial-up? All these factors go into it. I’m excited for someone to solve that issue.
What would you like to see Fox Sports Go become in the next handful of years?
Our goals are very straightforward. Improve the stability. Make the product more performant. More content more discoverable. Get people to the live event quickly. Every day, there is something we can do to get closer and closer to being better for more people. On my whiteboard right now, it’s the first thing on the list, and it has been up there for more than a year and a half. You can’t stop making the experience better. You just can’t. There’s a lot of moving parts on the backend with technology and the orchestrating of all of that. What our backend team does is nothing short of remarkable, and we need to keep getting better at that.