Live from Houston: Inside ESPN’s content strategy with John Skipper

When it comes to the success and ESPN The Magazine found early in the decade much of the credit can go to John Skipper who then was SVP and GM of both. Today Skipper, is ESPN and ABC Sports executive vice president, content, a role which gives him the occasional tough duty like telling Al Michaels he is free to go but also the fun stuff like taking the editorial chops he learned at Spin, Rolling Stone and US magazines.

SVG caught up with Skipper earlier this morning to discuss ESPN s latest moves.

What do you think is the most effective way to reach the mobile sports fan?

First, what do fans walking around with these devices want? It tends to be a lot of realtime scores, fantasy highlights, and alerts like letting them know whenever Barry Bonds hits a home run.
How do you handle producing for the different mediums?
We produce content specifically for each medium we re in, including mobile. When you show a basketball highlight you have to do it differently than you would for the big screen because of the nature of the small screen. So you re more likely to see a close-up or shorter clips.

Do you have different production crews for each?
Yes, we have different editors and producers for each one. We re producing it one time for TV and then taking that content and re-editing it for different mediums. Also we have different people who specialize in each medium but we re looking to cross train them in the future.

Do you think we get to the point where there are different camera crews to get the best shots for each production?

I don t think you ll have different camera crews so much as training the people that are there to spend some of their time focusing on camera angles and ways to produce the game so it can be repurposed to other places. It s just like we don t have to have a different computer to cut the highlights: you just need to train the editor to do it differently.

Can you tell me more about the March 4 Full Circle coverage of the UNC/Duke men s basketball game that will use all of ESPN outlets? Many networks would look at that and think you re hurting the TV ratings.

That s the completely wrong way to think about it. You just can t worry about any one medium. You have to think about the overall total experience, how you re serving fans, and are you doing a better job by having it available in all these places and different ways. We don t have any more discussions about whether it will hurt something or not. Is it good for fans or does it make it more fun and raise the aggregate total number of people who experience it? The answer is yes.

Will you have more people at that production than usual?
Yes, because we re doing different things like having ESPN2 only showing a single camera angle, the Skycam. And we ll have more and ESPN360 people there.

It seems to me that the talk of the mediums competing might be overblown as a person will choose the best medium they have access to at that time. I mean, why would a person who can watch the game on a 60-inch TV decide to watch it on a cellphone or computer?

Absolutely. It s often the case that, due to bad timing, I don t have a chance to sit in front of a 60-inch TV to watch a North Carolina game. So if I can get it some other way it s a good thing for me.

Do the different mediums require different approaches to storytelling?
Sure. The approach on the phone is we re going to let you know every time something important happens as opposed to a linear sequential progression of the game on TV.

What s been the reaction to Mobile ESPN?
So far the reaction is spectacular. Everyone agrees it s the best mobile sports product you can get. The phone is $199 and the service runs from $34.95 to $225.95 per month but the most common is in the $65-$70 range.

Does advertising become an important way to lower those costs?
Well we launched our service with six enabling, charter advertisers. And I think consumers understand very specifically that they reason they get content for free is because someone else is paying for it. But you do have to do five- or 10-second commercials instead of 30-second spots. But there is plenty of room for advertisers.

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