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Fox Sports cuts digital group, moves to new video strategy

Fox Sports has decided to cut its digital group and move to a video based strategy that could have far-reaching changes in how sports-media companies set up distribution platforms.

This move by Fox was coming for a while. The company hasn’t gained much ground on ESPN, even while ESPN is dealing with its own struggles. The new strategic vision is a risk, but it’s a risk the company was willing to take to change momentum and stop treading water.

The economic decisions are pretty logical. Video advertisements make more money than static display. Ad sales teams then tend to focus on video because it is more bang for the buck, and can lead to higher revenues and commissions. Static is also pretty un-sexy when it comes to the sales process. So making video the focus allows sales teams to become more targeted in their approach.

There are a few challenges with that as well. A lot of the videos that are played on sports-media digital properties are embedded in written stories. Those stories look like they will cease to exist on Fox Sports digital properties. That means less auto-plays and less engagement. Lower numbers could make the sales process more difficult. There’s no carrot for the consumer. If they don’t want to watch a video, then they won’t click. Before, a text piece could lead to click inside an article where a video played, and now that carrot is gone.

Those challenges need to be weighed against the benefits a lot of people are seemingly ignoring. Going video streamlines Fox Sports, and FS1 content distribution. FS1 is paying a lot of money to personalities. Now people who watch videos on these personalities on a digital platform may be more likely to tune-in on television. It’s a form of promotion with the benefit of seeming like content. Now FS1 personalities won’t just be on fans televisions, they will be on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and FoxSports.com. Essentially it is a complete brand integration. There won’t be going to a digital property to watch a digital personality. Fox Sports integration will allow fans to watch Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Katie Nolan, or any Fox personality on all of their platforms. Brand messaging will be consistent. Fox Sports is essentially paying its personalities the same amount, but putting them on wider distribution. The hope is to grow the base in any way possible. Going to video isn’t just a Fox thing, almost every sports-media site has started to integrate more video, but going to strictly to video will be interesting.

The challenge lies in getting people there. Fox Sports digital had a strong year and was ramping up before the reorganization. Now, everything changed. Streamlining everything also puts all the proverbial eggs in one big basket. If the personalities that are on television don’t resonate with the audience, then Fox Sports could be in trouble. Simply put, this move is a risk, but it’s a risk Fox is willing to take.

Something like this hasn’t been tried in recent memory. Up and coming properties like The Ringer, or Barstool Sports have made a move toward podcasts and video, but they haven’t ditched the rest of the digital content offerings. It’s always been a balance. If Fox Sports can prove that video only works, it will be a huge win. Otherwise we’ll see the next steps in rebuilding a digital property that had most of its talent sent to competitors.

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