Thursday, March 20, 2014

FNTSY Sports Network Aims To Make Noise In A Crowded Field

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The emergence of television over the internet has broadened viewers' choices like never before. One of those choices might prove to be very valuable once football season commences this fall.

FNTSY Sports Network is the first 24-hour network dedicated to fantasy sports. As long as you have a Facebook page, you have the ability to watch various programs on the channel live and for free.

It's an experience which is really easy and simple compared to other online television experiences which require you to authenticate who your cable provider is.

I've kept a keen eye on the network and have watched hours of content from time to time. Even though this network isn't being operated or produced by a major media conglomerate, the content being churned out is extremely impressive and of high-quality.

First Impressions

The network's studios are very flashy and appealing to the eye without being too "in your face". The graphics displayed on-screen complement the main commentary of whatever program is on air and they don't get in the way of the viewing experience (unlike Fox Sports Live's old graphics scheme).

They feature an innovative Twitter widget on the left side of the screen which shows various tweets from some of the biggest personalities in sports.

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As NFL free agency got underway, it was really cool to see a rolling graphic of tweets from Adam Schefter, Yahoo! Sports, Ian Rapoport and other NFL insiders. The tweets weren't in real-time but it's still a really good idea which makes the viewer feel like they are up to speed with everything going on in the sports world.

The personalities on the network also seem to be very well-versed with how television works even though they aren't well known. Many of them have experience from working with other Canadian sports outlets including the flagship show's main host, Laura Diakun, who covered the Olympics for CBC.

Daily Programming

The network only has three programs which run on a consistent basis. Those shows include a Sirius/XM morning radio show which they produce and simulcast live, a fantasy version of "SportsCenter" known as "Fantasy Sports Today" and a call-in show known as "Gametime Decisions".

In between those programs, the network broadcasts podcasts from RotoExperts bloggers (it's sister website) and intersperses YouTube videos from it's personalities. The channel also has a partnership with Pro Football Focus to showcases their bloggers and YouTube videos.

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The channel also seems to be getting major support from legitimate, high-brow advertisers such as Monster Headphones, Ford and Bud Light (although all the ads are Canadian-based). The number of advertisers and types of advertisers a new network can garner is a key determinant of how successful the network can be.

Al-Jazeera America, for example, barely has any major advertisers willing to align their products with AJA's programming which makes their respective ratings problems even more dire.

Room to Grow

Despite all of these positives, the channel definitely has room to grow. There's barely any diversity in their on-air staff -- one woman and no people of color. A YouTube channel with highlights from various shows exists but it's not promoted on the official website or on-air.

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FNTSY Sports Network also shares most of it's personalities with RotoExperts but if you surfed through any of their websites, you wouldn't be able to tell. Not to mention, a lot of content on the channel's website and some of the lists displayed on-air come from rival websites like Yahoo!, CBS and ESPN.

The channel has also had a tough time staying relevant. When NFL free agency kicked off, instead of breaking down how player moves could affect their fantasy stock in real-time, fantasy baseball was the main topic of conversation.

Suggestions

1. Broaden the definition of fantasy sports - Fantasy sports in it's simplest form is the management of online teams based on statistics but there are other forms of playing fantasized sports which aren't necessarily termed as "fantasy sports".


  • Gambling is a major frontier which all the other sports networks (except FS1) don't feel comfortable discussing due to the conflicts of the interest. Why not take the lead in giving viewers the best strategies to being successful (especially with March Madness and Triple Crown horse racing coming into the horizon)?



  • Twitch.tv averages millions of views from video game fanatics who tune in to watch contestants battle it out to determine who the best player of any given video game is. Why not take some of their share in viewers and organize live televised FIFA, Madden, NBA2K tournaments featuring some of the most well-known players who have massive followings?



  • A lot of the conjecture seen on sports television deals with predicting what's happening next. Why not bring in Nate Silver-type statisticians to analyze and predict who will win games and who fans should pick in their March Madness brackets?


2. Build a blog network - It seems like this strategy is already starting to take place but build a network of existing expert fantasy blogs which will distribute videos from the channel and build recognition for the brand. Include those bloggers as your most prominent guests.

Campus Insiders has a group of "insiders" who they depend on for news in their respective geographic areas. CI doesn't employ them but instead promotes the insider's website on their webcasts in exchange for news. FNTSY could do the same with fantasy bloggers.

3. Start a sports medicine team - Success in fantasy sports is predicated on the athlete's health. Bring in some doctors who can break down injuries and the health of major athletes in an entertaining, educational way. It builds awareness for issues involving health and keeps fans more educated.

4. Cross-promote - SportsGrid deserves their own half-hour show breaking down what's trending in sports. They, as well as RotoExperts, also need to have FNTSY Sports Net videos pinned down on their front page.

5. Bring on more high-profile guests - So many athletes and high profile figures in sports do satellite tours and phone call-ins. Invite them onto your shows as guests and talk fantasy sports with them. These guests usually get asked the same questions on every single radio and TV show they appear on, so why not take advantage of your fantasy angle and try to get compelling answers that might create buzz for the network.

You'll also be able to draw more viewers in if they hear that their favorite athlete is on the air. FNTSY would also be smart to take advantage of the fact that they have the ability to reach both Canadians and Americans when trying to entice guests to come on their shows. The highest profile guest to come on so far has been Jonah Keri.

6. Record the podcasts using video - As mentioned before, FNTSY airs RotoExperts podcasts during the night to fill in time. The conversations seem genuine but we can't see who is talking because a graphic with text is the only thing displayed.

Television is a visual medium. Make sure the viewer can see who is talking and the interactions occurring because if they can't, remote buttons will be clicked immediately.

BUT, if you're going to air podcasts with no video, change the graphics around to reflect the progression of the conversation. Show me the stats which the hosts are talking about or a tweet with the same information the host and guest are discussing.

7. Entice some stars to become spokesmen/ambassadors - In today's polarized market, you can't gain a fan base unless you're endorsed by somebody else with a fanbase of their own. FNTSY has already hired Hall-of-Famer Chris Doleman to help promote the network.

The problem is, what 18-24 year old male knows who he is (no offense)? You have to bring in well-known athletes who're prominent fantasy players and seem dedicated to media to come endorse your product. The one person who immediately comes to mind, despite his volatility: Chad Ochocinco.

8. Find a partner with connections if you don't have to give up too much - In order to build brand awareness and find more investment money, you may need to partner with someone in the mainstream media. If FNTSY can find a way to do that without giving up their independence or a major stake in the company, it'll help them compete with the other big dogs in the sports TV industry.

Jon Klein (former president of CNN) and Jeff Gaspin (former president at NBCUniversal) are already partners in the venture but a partner who currently doesn't have their own sports TV network such as Turner, DirecTV, Discovery Communications, Yahoo!, Dish Network, Sirius/XM, one of the sports leagues etc. might be able to provide access to athletes, information/stats, on-site locations, funding, guests, programming and distribution on cable operators which FNTSY couldn't get on their own.

9. Provide live companion programming - During NFL Sunday afternoon games or during the baseball/basketball seasons, broadcast live from the studio (or a college campus, a bar or on-site at the sporting event). Become the best resource for stats, scores and injuries which could affect popular fantasy players. Fans of this age lack a reliable second screen companion which can provide those kind of things all-in-one to complement the viewing experience (except for Twitter of course).

10. Be different - Become the voice of the 18-34 year old sports fan who feels like their voice is not being properly represented or heard. Don't be afraid to cause controversy but don't intentionally cause controversy either. This type of network thrives on debate but you'll only gain respect from fans if you can debate intelligently rather than spew nonsense.

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The Future

Can this network work on television in a 24-hour format? Possibly. But it's going to be pretty hard to do so without any rights to live sporting events (see NBCSN and FS1's ratings).

Unless it can find a brand name to partner with (or if they're willing to pay a fee), I doubt FNTSY will be able to gain carriage on cable systems in the United States.

In my opinion, this channel works better as it is in it's current state (in the U.S.): Internet-delivered network/connected TV app.

If I were in charge, instead of pursuing a 24 hour network, I would produce an array of studio shows and distribute them on regional sports networks which have plenty space before and after the game. I would also serve as a complement channel to all of the pay-per-view packages which the sports leagues bring to fans each night.

You would reach more viewers through these strategies than you do as a fledgling 24/7 cable channel struggling for viewers and carriage.

But, FNTSY Sports Network isn't giving up. They've already signed a deal with at least one Canadian cable operator and hope to continue the push onward.

LOG ON TO http://fantasysportsnetwork.com/live-tv/ TO WATCH NOW!

Pictures courtesy of Twitter

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