The coronavirus pandemic has hit each sector of the sports industry differently.
While leagues and television networks featuring live sports action continue to face headwinds, digital media companies relying on programmed content find themselves on the other end of the spectrum.
Whistle, founded in 2014, is one. The network, known formerly as Whistle Sports, offers weekly episodes of 23 different original franchises to 7 million sports fans across its YouTube and social media channels.
Most of those shows, which usually span less than 10 minutes, are about six weeks ahead in newly shot programming, Joe Caporoso, the company’s senior vice president of content and brand platforms, said.
“We’re kind of lucky that, generally, what we focus on are evergreen stories around the world of sports and are not as much tied to reactionary content,” he said. “Footage has already been shot. Now it is just a matter of editing it remotely.”
Though Whistle has been able to adapt technically, uncertainty remains in the sales side of the organization. Whistle launched a merchandising business six months ago that remains open for business, albeit with mostly generic designs available to consumers.
“We’re still seeing people transacting on that stuff without altering too much,” Caporoso said. “We’re going to monitor that closely in the coming weeks. It’s still a relatively new business for us.”
Whistle is also working with brands that may have had planned large rollouts around the NCAA Tournament or The Kentucky Derby on advertising around its original shows instead during the coronavirus pandemic.
Past opportunities have ranged from logo placements to collaborative branded content on shows like No Days Off and Bad Joke Telling.
“Our main focus is getting brands to authentically integrate with the franchises we’re making anyway,” he said. “While working with us to make a piece of content will get their brand messaging out there, the episode is still able to perform well enough on its own, so none of our franchises miss a beat.”
A potential advertising play for brands may be found in Whistle Sport’s gaming content, which has witnessed the largest spike in viewership in March. A YouTube video of 14-year-old Fortnite gamer Griffin “Sceptic” Spikoski published last May, as an example, has garnered 80,000 views over the past seven days.
Consumers overall have watched 1.5 million hours of gaming content on Whistle’s YouTube channel in March, up 33% over February.
Whistle’s programming is typically captured in its studio or out in the field. However, the company does not foresee a slowdown in publishing cadence in the coming weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The rate of newly published content will likely increase, it said.
In addition to a backlog of fan submissions, Whistle has figured out a way to shoot popular sports adjacent franchises like “Bad Joke Telling” through Zoom. The brand may also bump up planned franchises to add to its rotation – including a new show documenting how professional athletes are spending their time in quarantine.
“Our creative producers are building these style guides for how we’re going to shoot and edit remote content,” Caporoso said. “And our editors continue to work through pre-existing content and other ways to package our library while getting ready to ingest some of this newly shot material.”
On average, 45% of traffic for Whistle’s original programming comes from Snapchat Discover, while YouTube accounts for 23%. The next two best performing platforms are Facebook and Instagram.