Showtime Sports Puts Multicamera Undercard Bouts on Facebook Live

This is a great way to hype a fight: boxing fans were able to watch broadcast-quality multicam productions of two undercard fights on Facebook Live on Dec. 10, leading up to the night’s headline matches on Showtime. The free Facebook video was a first for Showtime, which presented free to all viewers a 12-round IBF Junior Welterweight Title Eliminator match between Sergey Lipinets and Lenny Zappavigna and a 10-round middleweight match between Erickson Lubin and Juan Ubaldo Cabrera.

lr_fight-night-lipinets-vs-zappavigna-12102016-0116Rather than simply promoting the free events to its 1.5 million Facebook followers, Showtime partnered with Facebook to place the video stream into the news feeds of anyone with a similar interest, such as fans of mixed martial arts, combat sports, or boxing. As a result, the matches reached more than 5 million people.

“Typically, we air our prelims on Showtime television,” explains Brian Dailey, VP, sports digital media, Showtime Networks. “For this experiment, we took it to Facebook to expose to a broader audience. We approached it the same way we would a television broadcast. I think that was partly why Facebook was so responsive to support.”

This was no simulcast; the only way people could watch these bouts was by streaming them on Facebook. Yet the production was completely broadcast-quality: Showtime offered a three-camera shoot and color commentary. The video had a top resolution of 720p, the highest Facebook Live offers.

Showtime promoted the free streams heavily across its digital platforms and had staff on hand to answer viewer comments, explaining when the evening’s main-card fights began (featuring a featherweight world championship match between Jesus Cuellar and Abner Mares) and how viewers could get access.

Brian Dailey, vice president of sports digital media for Showtime Networks

Brian Dailey, VP, sports digital media, Showtime Networks

“We were engaging back and forth with a lot of fans, just monitoring the conversation overall, which was incredibly positive. To be honest, very, very little negative commentary at all. People were very appreciative of the gesture,“ Dailey says. “I think we really surprised people. I think fans have come to expect a lesser quality when it comes to streaming, and I think we over-delivered.“

Showtime was an early adopter of Facebook Live and has put boxing press conferences and weigh-ins on the social network for a year now. The move has been a win for Showtime and its viewers: press conferences and weigh-ins often come with substantial delays. Thanks to its use of Facebook Live, Showtime no longer has to worry about keeping a schedule. It can go live whenever an event is ready.

Along the way, Showtime learned lessons about what works on Facebook Live. Fans love behind-the-scenes videos, such as locker-room interviews. They want online access to things they normally wouldn’t see. Facebook Live is great for videos that complement the night’s big attraction.

Facebook Live plays a part in Showtime’s larger online strategy. In the short term, it helps drive people to the evening’s boxing card, especially since Showtime offers a free trial. In the long term, Facebook exposes viewers to the brand and leads to new subscribers. Following the Dec. 10 event, Showtime saw a positive spike for viewing.

Facebook Live is only one part of Showtime’s social-network strategy. It posts real-time news to Twitter, shows its best pics on Instagram (and increasingly uses it for video), and spotlights an entire event with Snapchat. Facebook gets a little of all that, as well as the live stream.

To judge the event’s success, Showtime looked at three main metrics — total reach, views, and traffic to — as well as the overall nature of viewer engagement. By all accounts, it achieved what it wanted to, Dailey says.

Showtime partnered with Malka Media Group, a production house out of Hoboken, NJ, to stream the event. Malka created the event graphics as well. Showtime produced the event with Blackmagic production gear and Livestream hardware.

Showtime made huge progress online this year, something it hopes to continue in 2017.

“From our digital standpoint,” Dailey says, “I think this was a big year for us in establishing our social ecosystem. We have 18 profiles now across the five main social platforms. We really took a big step in filling out our portfolio, making sure all of our brands, our shows, our franchises were represented across the board and really defining the voices of those handles on those platforms.

“We’re really into storytelling and offering our fans quality premium content that you can consume and enjoy,” he continues, “while also making people curious as to what more is available behind the paywall — getting them in with a good experience and hopefully converting them to a Showtime subscriber.”

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