The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) organised a tournament in Singapore. AdAsia attended, and spoke with Mike McGraw, founder of the Social Channel.
Mike McGraw on the WTA media strategy
AdAsia met Mike at one of the evening events, where he explained on behalf of the Social Channel, a digital marketing, sales and content development company out of New York, the various challenges the WTA faces in a changing media environment and how they address this. The Social Channel worked closely with the WTA on the launch of WTA Networks, a WTA division that manages the media distribution and social channels. The WTA have their own media distribution channel at wtanetworks.com, and branded social channels. The following is a write-up of Mike’s viewpoints on the WTA strategy.
Serving content in a fragmented world
Like any other media organisation today the WTA is being confronted with a changing world. Viewers move away from traditional channels. They are less likely to visit events in stadiums and watch live matches on broadcast television. Instead we see a move to online fragmented channels where content consumption is fragmented and the viewport is a small mobile screen.
This drives the need to change from long, and often live, broadcasted content to shorter formats. The content should also provide more information and background about the matches and the players. The ever growing and ever more fragmented online media landscape requires any media owner to ideally be everywhere and make the matches and the WTA heroes, i.e. the players accessible.
WTA has nearly 100 tournaments in many different time zones. It is an aggregate of niches so the challenge is to develop the right content in the right format, using the right players, locally, regionally and globally.
Viewers are accessing the content increasingly on mobile. The challenge for the WTA is to cater for this. The way to attract and keep viewers is offering content that matches the new way of ‘snacking’ and the need to attract attention with statistics and facts. Only then will we be able to attract and keep their attention while they walk or ride a train. At the WTA they realise that content snacking should live alongside the still important business of broadcasting of long matches.
The WTA works with sponsors. To get and keep good sponsors the WTA should create awareness and build a community that is interested in tennis. Sponsors are also changing their requirements. They no longer want to be just plastered all over an event. They want to be an integral part of the experience and offer to their owner customers unique and exclusive access to matches. This has an effect on the content formats too.
Video killed the radio stars
Digital channels come with their own challenges. Facebook changed their algorithms last year and all of a sudden your content is no longer visible. If you had put all your eggs in the Facebook basket you’re in trouble. The WTA went relatively well through this change and they were still able to grow views on Facebook. On Youtube we doubled our traffic at the same time which we hadn’t predicted. This channel volatility and the dependency on the big players in social and search is a challenge. Today we see a surge on Snapchat. Everyone thought they were dead in the water and would be wiped out by Instagram but it seems that in some countries and regions the original ephemeral messengers are back. In general you have to follow the usage and visitor trends in each country and region really closely and follow suit, or better even, anticipate.
VR is an interesting and upcoming new channel. It is interesting because some sports with fixed camera positions, such as the WTA’s tennis, can offer really exciting experiences for VR. In cricket or baseball where you have fixed positions, it is really exciting to experience the ball coming towards you. If there are VR producers coming out that cater to tennis, I think the WTA would start with the serve as that is our sport’s version of a pitch or a bowl. VR is not a high priority at this moment but we keep a close eye on it.
Telstra and Ooyala are WTA sponsors and Ooyala hosted the event where we heard Mike McGraw speaking. So there were a few questions on video production and distribution.
Mike explained that there is a need for highly specialised video experts, specifically in the production and distribution area. Content needs to be produced in many different formats and then has to be made available for on-demand streaming. Increasingly there is a need to integrate data into the videos and the broadcasted content. Stats on players, the speed of their serve compared to other tournaments, number of fore- and backhands, etc. etc. Mike referred to how baseball leagues in the US and Canada have started to weave stats into their content to predict success or failure of players and teams in a live environment. To see more change he thinks that data and video content should be fully integrated at the source.
One of the questions from the audience was about the format of tennis. The matches are, much like cricket, very long and that does not sit very well with the new way of content consumption. Would the WTA be willing to adapt the rules of the game, similar to what happened in soccer e.g.?
Mike explains that changing the rules for tennis globally is very challenging. It is easier to develop formats and optimise digital content to make matches more attractive. He explained that he would like to see a change in broadcast rights. Today are still very much based on linear streaming, which means that you will have to somehow monetise on long live broadcasted formats, which is exactly where the challenges arise.
Then how does the WTA approach the fact that not all players are equally known and famous everywhere on the globe? A great example comes from the Asia Pacific region where female players like Qiang Wang and Naomi Osaka are climbing in the global rankings, yet the majority of the players fly in from Eastern Europe. Mike brought up data and statistics again, and highlighted that e.g. comparing players across different tournaments and geographies and showing their individual strengths are useful tactics to provide local audiences with better ways to understand how good their favourite player is, going beyond ‘simple’ rankings.
With all of the above in mind, it was interesting to join a live match after the media event in Singapore, where Caroline Wozniacki played (and lost) against Elina Svitolina. During the match there were not many stats available but if you check this video on the event’s website: http://www.wtafinals.com/news/video-gallery/27-features/5119-my-performance-elina-svitolina-day-5, you quickly realise how much effort has gone into post-event production of content as part of the WTA content strategy. Check it out!