For Turner, ESPN, and Verizon, mobile video success relies on 'holistic' business models

BOSTON -- Mobile devices may be an increasingly popular way to consume online video, but it's not necessarily the device that is driving popularity of certain video apps. That's the consensus of two major broadcast networks, Turner and ESPN, at a panel session on mobile video strategy here at the INTX tradeshow.

John Harran, SVP of business development, digital distribution & strategic partnerships for Turner, and Ryan Spoon, SVP of digital product, design & audience development for ESPN, joined Verizon Digital Media Services head Bob Toohey and moderator Maggie Reardon of CNET in discussing how they attract and keep mobile viewers.

Their secret? Know and understand the platform on which you're delivering content, and who's watching on that platform. While millennial-aged viewers and sports are the two biggest drivers of mobile video, according to Toohey, having that demographic information is only one part of the strategic picture, the panelists said.

"I'm a big believer in that it's all about context and where a person spends their time," said Spoon. For example, ESPN engages its mobile subscribers by sending out alerts to a viewer's phone based on their interests. But that is based on data that shows viewers spend much more time watching a game live on their TV, not their mobile phone. To catch mobile viewers, "we'll clip the highlights & push them out on the app, sub-30 second clips. That's a very different user experience and model," he said. The network also employs a unique shooting format and programming for its Snapchat channel to engage viewers from a social media standpoint.

At the same time, not all of ESPN's strategy is built around the idea that only short-form content should be shown on a mobile device. "… We've had real success with programs like SportsCenter live streaming, and we expect the same with the upcoming OJ (Simpson) documentary, which runs 10 hours," said Spoon.

"They all make sense in the right environment at the right time, and it's our job to get it to that consumer at the right time," Spoon said.

Harran said that measuring and analyzing viewer data is table stakes for any mobile video provider now, enabling them to better personalize content to viewers. "We spent a lot of time listening to our audience. If you look at how (Turner's) products have been iterative over time, we spent a lot of time in research. (With data) you're able to get a little more granular about those trends," he said.

Turner takes a holistic view toward the audience and its programming strategy. "Whether you're consuming on a device or casting it to your TV or watching it on your box … we don't really have a preference. We need to be on all those platforms," said Harran. "You may be watching it on your mobile device and taking it with you, but the experience itself needs to be our branded experience."

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