Barstool Sports made its big push into podcasting and video programming almost a half-decade ago. The decision, coupled with a mobile-first distribution strategy, has resulted in unprecedented success for the sports media brand.
Yet a further opportunity to bring Barstool’s content to connected TV devices wasn’t lost on the company, according to CEO Erika Nardini. Barstool launched a proprietary app for Apple TV in April and followed that up by expanding the video service to Roku and FireTV last month.
“What’s awesome about technology and media today is I don’t need a network to get on TV. I can do it myself,” said Nardini. “We have a large following that is tuning in to watch our programming religiously. Our [over-the-top] service helps us curate content in a way that’s better for the consumer.”
In addition to some of its popular video series like Pizza Reviews and Rough N’ Rowdy, Barstool has also integrated its new Barstool Bets venture into the new OTT service. Barstool greenlit 10 podcasts and video series around sports betting topics in September, in hopes of becoming the go-to place for gamblers looking for tips before placing wagers on sporting events.
“We have a lot of ambition in sports betting to cover it in a way we have not seen,” said Nardini. “We want to be the place where consumers watch content to get advice from people with skin in the game.”
While sports betting has been a staple of U.K. culture for decades, the practice was outlawed at the federal level in the U.S. before the Supreme Court lifted the ban in May 2018. One by one, states have been introducing legislation to allow gambling on sports. That number is now up to 11 states, with an additional 31 moving towards doing the same, according to multiple reports.
“It’s a really exciting time, like when the Internet first started,” said Nardini. “The nationalization or rollout of legal sports betting will go through a lot of phases, but it will introduce a new level of engagement and conversation. The way someone that likes to bet watches football is different than someone who doesn’t know anything about it.”
Barstool worked with app developer MAZ Systems to bring its new OTT service to the market. The media company was keen on working with a vendor that already had the engineers and technology in place to launch a new video-on-demand service quickly. The entire process took four months, Nardini said.
Barstool has now joined a slew of sports media companies offering original programming on connected TV services, including Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, and ESPN. Some OTT offerings are for paying subscribers only while others like Barstool’s are free to consumers.
“It’s logical that a brand would want to be anywhere viewers want to see them as long as it is financially feasible,” said Ava Seave, principal of Quantum Media, a New York City-based consulting firm focused on marketing and strategic planning for media and entertainment companies. “The thing about video is that there isn’t a lot of technology required to go from web to TV. You just do it.”
The relative ease of creating a new OTT product is what makes success far from a guarantee regardless of industry, she added. Projected user demand may allow advertising dollars to roll in, but there is a lot of competition in the OTT space.
In most cases, how viewers discover new TV video applications is also reliant on third-party algorithms and categorizing. As an example, Barstool is listed as a comedy app on Roku – the same as Comedy Central or TikTok – while WWE Network is defined as sports.
“Streaming is not limited anymore and the number of companies going into OTT makes the competition frightful,” said Seave.
Nardini says that it’s still too early to pick out any lessons or adjustments Barstool has had to make on the OTT front. But any modifications required will be based on what Barstool is seeing in consumer behavior.
“I think what we are seeing is that people love watching Rough N’ Rowdy on YouTube. So we think about do they also love it on Apple TV? When do they watch it? What’s the crossover? Do they also then watch Pizza reviews?” she concluded.