This past Thanksgiving, Omar Raja posted a classic clip to his Instagram page House of Highlights (HoH). The video was of Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s iconic one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. As has become the case for HoH, a sea of comments poured in. But one comment stood out to Raja. That comment came from NBA All-Star Lebron James. That became the moment that solidified Raja’s knowledge that what began as a side project in college had reached completely new heights.
“Lebron said something to the tune of ‘I remember this catch. It was one of the most amazing catches ever.’ Then he tagged Odell and wished him happy Thanksgiving. Then a few hours later, Odell responds to Lebron’s comment on HoH and says ‘I appreciate you always being my big brother. Happy Thanksgiving.’ That’s usually the type of conversation that you see happening privately between two people and now I have the biggest star in NBA and the biggest star in the NFL talking on a page that I created in college.”
Coincidentally, it was also something Lebron James did that prompted Omar to eventually create HoH in the first place back in 2014.
“I grew up in Miami and I was a diehard Miami Heat fan. When Lebron left the Heat in July of 2014, I was really bummed out. So that next week, all I really did was I’d wake up and go to YouTube and try to find the best moments of Lebron’s time with the Miami Heat.
There were a lot of videos that me and my friends had discussed in our group chats that we couldn’t find anymore. That put the idea in my head that there needs to be a place for highlights that aren’t covered by traditional sports outlets.
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I kind of looked around for a few weeks on Instagram, and Vine and Twitter and there wasn’t really anybody doing it at all. So I said to myself ‘let’s see if I can go ahead and try to make this and in August of 2014 I got started.”
If you tune into a typical highlight show like SportsCenter, you’ll see the biggest dunks, catches, and hits of the day. What happens is if you watch all the shows in that vein (or follow all of them on social media), you’ll end up seeing the same posts several times. But Raja and HoH separate themselves with an eye for content that differs from traditional media outlets. Rather than repost the same plays as everyone else, Raja looks for those moments that are a little more unique within sporting events, which many times makes them more shareable.
“That’s kind of the reason the account started: because there wouldn’t be those traditional media outlets that covered Russell Westbrook and James Harden running in sync. It wouldn’t be DeAaron Fox yelling ‘Kamehameha’ after he shoots a three. It wouldn’t be Corey Brewer asking for the ball and nobody gives the ball. I don’t worry about looking for the Russell Westbrook dunk because everyone’s going to have the Russell Westbrook dunk. So when I’m watching a game, I’m looking at the fans, I’m looking at the coach, I’m trying to read lips. I’m not really focused on the best dunk or the best crossover because I know everyone’s going to cover that and I know I’m going to see that organically.”
Doug Bernstein, General Manager of House of Highlights, see’s Raja’s content finding abilities in a similar light.
“HoH has done a great job of finding those ‘instaclean’ moments. Those things that you catch when you’re watching with your friends and you go ‘did you see that?’. Those are the moments that are the most fitting and the most fun. Those are the things that are really unique.”
For many regular social media perusers, HoH has replaced the traditional highlight shows altogether.
Ironically, working in sports media was never even a goal for Raja initially.
“I didn’t really have any plans of working in sports or in this industry. It kind of just happened. It was just a passion of mine and it became something bigger than I ever imagined.”
Joe Centeno and Team Infographics, with their ability to design striking graphics and video packages to aid coverage of live events, have noticed this overall shift in the sports audience as well. Centeno commends Raja and HoH’s ability to grow and change with the industry.
“HoH is a great example of the shift from traditional media. They are able to directly reach a big audience of fans looking for their type of content. They’ve been able to specifically target their audience and grow a loyal base. It’s also exciting to see how far they can grow. And when the ‘bigger’ media outlets start trying to produce the same type of content they push out, that is a good sign that they are doing something big.”
Nearly four years after its inception, HoH has eclipsed 8.8 million followers on Instagram and averages nearly six hundred million video views per month. Not only are the numbers impressive for the stat junkies, but the influence HoH has garnered has become even more notable. People may remember memes and trends like Hoodie Melo, the Running Man Challenge, and the Drive-By Dunk Challenge, all of which were popularized by HoH posts.
Similar to the Lebron/OBJ Thanksgiving incident Raja described, you’ll regularly see sports and pop culture figures like The Rock, Steph Curry, Nicki Minaj, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Hart regularly engage with the HoH page. Many times, they’ll even address Raja directly in doing so. He describes this phenomenon in his own words.
“It’s crazy. I mean the Omar comments started in probably March or April of 2017. If I post a video right now, you know, maybe 10 or the first 30 comments might say something Omar related. And I think people started seeing that over time. So even we even had the other day Jeremy Hill of the Bengals said ‘Nice caption Omar’ on a post. And that’s kind of just been a growing movement over time where I didn’t really think much of it. You know, at first it was one or two comments and then now we have an NFL running back ‘nice caption’ to me on a post. I think why HoH works with all of this is a lot of this wasn’t planned, right? It was all just genuine. Just doing it because I like doing it. I think that’s where the community has been so embracing.”
Bernstein has been equally impressed with the community HoH has surrounding it.
“The level of video views is phenomenal, but I think what we’re even more impressed with is the real world engagement. Some of the most influential people on Instagram are not just being featured on the account, but they’re interacting with it and with Omar in a meaningful way. It’s incredible.”
Moving forward, look for Raja and Bleacher Report to look for even more ways to differentiate HoH’s presence with branded and original content. Bernstein elaborates.
“Omar and I are kind of looking at what the next steps are..When we started to go through the numbers of all the content that we’ve put out on HoH…I think that everyone assumes that the content that’s going to perform best is user-generated content or NBA highlights.
But what we actually found what was performing best was original comedy from social talent. So what we’re going to be doing is creating more original content that’s more comedic and relatable in nature using social talent.”
As more and more celebrity endorsements for HoH, Raja’s personality, and the team’s content curating abilities roll in, that talent shouldn’t be too hard to find. Who knows? Maybe by next Thanksgiving we’ll see someone like LeBron personally collaborating with Raja and the brand will ascend to even greater heights.