Bleacher Report Enters “Premiere Month” With Animated Shows, New Series

Bleacher Report is kicking off a month-long period of new and returning show launches, emphasizing original content and animated shows.

The sports media brand will debut the all-new show Take It There with Taylor Rooks, in which Rooks, who previously worked at SNY and CBS, hosts candid one-on-one conversations with top athletes, celebrities, and influencers. This month will also see the return of Emmy-nominated Game of Zones and The Champions. Those shows are Bleacher Report animated originals; the first featuring basketball stars in a Game of Thrones-like drama and the other focused on soccer.

Earlier this week, the media and entertainment company announced that Showtime would distribute Bleacher Report’s original documentary Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story, which won best documentary at the Santa Barbara film festival. The documentary is based on the turbulent life of one of the NBA’s most controversial figures, Ron Artest, as told through interviews with NBA stars and former teammates Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Jermaine O’Neal and Bill Walton. Quiet Storm is the second long-form doc Bleacher Report has produced, and marks the first documentary it is distributing through a partner.

Bleacher Report is hoping to leverage its reporting talent and production capabilities to appeal to younger generations of sports fans. Original content is “critical to our strategy as we continue to grow,” said Ed Romaine, Bleacher Report’s chief brand officer. “We’re celebrating our core portfolio in April with a lot of new seasons beginning and some stickiness we’re going to capitalize on.”

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Bleacher Report reaches more than 250 million sports fans each month through its platform, and regularly hits more than 1.25 billion monthly social views and 350 million monthly social engagements. Much of this growth has been powered by original content. Game of Zones’ most recent season reached 70 million views across social and Bleacher Report’s app and web platforms, up 74 percent compared with 29 million in the previous season. The All-Star episode hit 10.7 million views, making it B/R’s most-watched show ever. Social engagements were up 57 percent season-over-season, climbing to 2.3 million last season.

In its first season, The Champions drew 47 million social views and four million social engagements. Some four million people watched the show directly via Bleacher Report’s app and website. It also over-performed much of B/R’s other content across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“A large part of our audience is young, and because of that animated series have resonated really well for us,” Romaine said. “Across social platforms, you’ll see a lot of animation. It’s not only fun and useful but it also captures our tone, which is lighthearted and exclusive. It says ‘I’m your friend. I’m telling you about sport and sports culture in a voice you’re familiar with.’ We know they’re not pursuing traditional methods of communication, so it’s about understanding their consumption patterns and creating content intuitive to the platforms where we’re reaching them so we can be at the forefront of their minds when they’re thinking about where to consume sports content.”

Romaine sees this original content as adding to Bleacher Report’s intellectual property, which it can build upon over time to further differentiate the company in what is already such a crowded sports and entertainment media space. Through all of the content B/R puts out, it is collecting large amounts of data about what resonates with its audience, which then informs creative strategy.

“A recipe for success as it relates to maintaining and growing new audience members is having IP that’s inline with our brand,” Romaine said. “Sports has moved beyond just being a linear view of the game where you talk about highlights the next day at the water cooler. It has evolved into a 24/7 agnostic social dialogue about the game, the players, the social aspect. So with the IP we have developed, we’re looking to dig into that a little further and capitalize on that. Be it human stories, passion moments, art, music—the convergence of all those elements is what we’re trying to explore.”

That approach led Bleacher Report to stumble upon its first blockbuster animated series. The company was overlaying animation atop standard basketball game highlights. After receiving significant positive feedback, B/R then experimented with adding a narrative to animation, and that eventually led to Game of Zones.  

“What we saw immediately was that people gravitated toward it,” Romaine said. “We try to think in a future-forward state and try to be predictive. We allow a certain percentage of our content strategy to be experimental.”

Another core component of the Bleacher Report’s IP is centralizing conversations around its app. The company is attempting to create a social culture so that sports fans can easily share and discuss sports stories with their friends directly from the app.

“Personalization and the social aspect of the app product are what we believe to be fundamental to our success,” Romaine said. “We want to be able to have people talk about it and share it. We want to transfer conversations that are happening in group texts and allow all of that inside the app product.”

Bleacher Report app users can already follow their friends and communicate via the app by sharing content such as highlights and emoji reactions. But Romaine said the company will continue to evolve the social features and launch new ones.

“We want B/R to be the destination of all things related to what you’d talk about with your friends regarding sports and sports culture,” he said. “Imagine when LeBron moved to LA. Imagine receiving that alert before you heard it from anyone else. You then go into the app product, connect with other Lakers fans, connect with friends that are basketball fans, maybe put a fire emoji on a highlight and share it.”

“We’re building a number of interaction points.”

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