Review of 120sports – An innovation in new media sports content

Innovation in content formats has been a key element in the battle for digital eyeballs, especially as new media has taken over the content consumption landscape. Long articles have long been replaced by short reads and the importance of pictorial and video content in a publisher’s mix of offerings is globally understood and accepted.

120sports by Times Inc is an interesting large scale attempt at innovation in content format, that should be observed closely over the next 12 months to see if it is able to make a dent in the insatiable market for sports content.


What is 120sports?

The iTunes app store describes the 120sports app as follows:

“With real-time highlights, expert analysis and interactivity that brings you into the conversation, 120 Sports is a must for every fan.”

What this description fails to communicate, is the core proposition in the content — that it will take you no more than 120 seconds to watch any of the multitude of clips on the site.

A better description is found at the beginning of this New York Times article, which gives all the details behind the launch of 120sports:

“It’s a sports network catering to the shortened attention spans of the mobile and social media generation: 240 clips, each two minutes long, across eight hours of daily programming.”


Who is behind 120sports?

As mentioned in the New York Times, 120sports is the first time America’s major sports leagues have come together to make their own media product. Relevant details about the orgnaizations behind this project are mentioned in the NYT article of June 25 2014, and quoted below:

“The network is a partnership backed by Time Inc., the publisher of Sports Illustrated, along with numerous professional sports leagues and companies — but not, notably, the National Football League.
In addition to Time Inc., 120 Sports’ equity partners include Major League Baseball Advanced Media; the National Hockey League; Silver Chalice, a digital sports media group started by the Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf; and Campus Insiders, a collegiate sports site. The PGA Tour also is expected to be announced on Wednesday as an equity partner. The National Basketball Association, Nascar and several collegiate conferences are also contributing content to the venture.”


The content experience

The apps on iTunes and the Android app store cannot be downloaded in India, though the website is accessible and so is the content on it. We were able to view all of about half a dozen videos we checked out (including the live video), making us wonder about the restricted access to the app.

Each video, though not precisely 120 seconds long, was not much longer. Each was a discussion about a certain story and included actual sports footage combined with talking heads.

While the content is obviously tailored to the American audience, the following seem to make sense:

  1. Each video feels like a conversation amongst knowledgeable fans who have access to legal, official content. Sort of a best of both worlds feel.
  2. 120 seconds seems to be just the correct amount of time to discuss a single topic — especially when it is a simple news event rather than a point of debate. Any less, and the back story would go missing and any more would really start testing the patience of short attention span people.

 

How has it has been received

One month after launch, at the time of writing this post, Alexa shows 120sports.com outside the top 150,000 sites worldwide and ranked around 15000th in the US.

Worthofweb.com estimates the site traffic at around 8,000 visitors a day. By contrast ESPN.com — the incumbent sports content giant of the digital space which 120sports.com is trying to emulate has an Alexa rating of 85 globally (US number 20), and worthofweb.com estimates put traffic at over 33 million visitors per day.

Clearly, there is a long way to go. But if 120sports has to emerge a winner, the .com battle isn’t the one it needs to win. The focus is on mobile phones and tabs, and hence it is its performance as an app, that will determine the long term viability of the concept.

As of now, the Android app store shows downloads at somewhere between 5000 to 10000, all of which means it is too early to make a judgement call on the concept. The initial reviews seem to be mixed, with kudos about the concept, interspersed with complaints about the user experience. Still, if this small base of reviews were to be taken as any indication of overall feedback, there seems to be little to complain about the core idea itself.


Assessment

Vine’s success has shown that constraints in content formats that make them easier to consume on mobile devices are positive constraints and not a negative feature of the app.

120sports does not take content brevity to the extreme that Vine does, but the concept does show a lot of respect to the new patterns of content consumption and respects the time the user may be willing to dedicate to any one activity on their phone.

Also, it takes a bold step in shunning all other formats of editorial content (hint: text) totally. While it may not be the first to do so, even among sports offerings (e.g. over 90% of starsports.com content is video), a video only strategy does limit the occasions of use for the app — given that occasions for video consumption are far lesser than occasions for consuming other content like text or images.

What works in favor of the idea is that it has the best possible backing that such a concept needs and if this concept fails to take off in spite of its access to so much great, official video content, it would lead to much head scratching given that it seems to check off all the right boxes as far as addressing opportunity is concerned. But we can never really be sure where an idea can go wrong till we try it, can we?

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