Comcast RSNs Retain Viewers Through NHL Playoffs, Even Without Games

In professional sports, once playoff time comes around, regional sports networks are left out of the live-game equation. That does not mean, however, that those RSNs lose their viewership entirely. In Chicago and Philadelphia, home of the Stanley Cup finalists, Comcast SportsNet Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia have devised plenty of innovative shoulder programming to keep fans coming back to the network, both on-air and online, before the games begin, during play, and even after the final horn sounds.

“We’ve found that, in terms of the digital world, fans thirst for as much content as possible,” says T.K. Gore, director of digital media for CSN Chicago. “We can’t over-cover the Blackhawks during the regular season and especially now during the playoffs.”

However, with all the media outlets that become hockey-centric for the next week, neither network takes its fans’ loyalty for granted.

“I think you do a lot of that groundwork very early on in the season,” says Rich Libero, VP of digital content for Comcast Sports Group. “You develop some habits. Our insiders and experts are constantly answering questions, so that fans come back to us to get analysis and to comment. Creating the conversation is very important.”

Keep the Conversation Going
During the playoffs, CSN Philly carries that conversation into the digital space with live chats throughout the games, as well as during pre- and post-game shows.

“While people watch the shows on-air, the online component gives them a clean feed from the studio with a companion chat program so they can communicate with the hosts,” Libero explains. “When we go to commercial break, fans can speak directly to the guys on the set, and it gives them a good glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.”

CSN Chicago is also hosting live online chats during the games, as well as blogging, answering fan questions through Twitter, and offering behind-the-scenes videos from practice, skate-arounds, and post-game time, among exclusive online elements. The RSN hired a full-time beat writer, Bret Ballantini, at the beginning of the season to cover the team not just editorially but with video as well.

“He’s become our insider,” Gore says. “We’ve given him a flip camera, and he’s gone out and shot content to complement everything we shoot as a TV and digital network. That content is exclusive to our Website, but a lot of local people link to our content on blogs and other media entities.”

Some of that content serves as appointment viewing, such as online chats with CSN Chicago writers and TV talent, who are now available during game time since NBC and Versus provide their own commentators.

Tweet Away
Both RSNs have emphasized social media throughout the playoffs. CSN Chicago set up a Twitter account for each of its writers, including Ballantini.

“He provides in-game tweets that are a little bit more analysis and commentary, not necessarily play-by-play,” Gore points out. “Then, he’ll do a lot of things with post-game locker-room reactions. All of those tweets create content that we’ll then place on our site. In terms of social media, we’ve tried to be pioneers in driving a lot of that insider content.”

CSN Philly also has its insiders tweeting from games, practices, and the press box.

“Social media is incredibly important because it’s a big distribution point for us,” Libero says. “All of our news gatherers and content creators tweet in an aggregated widget on the home page, and then, on the team pages, it’s broken down by people specifically assigned to those teams. I think it’s critically important for us to be side by side with our fans, to reach out to them and also have them communicate back to us.”

Friends and Foes
Though at odds on the ice, in the RSN world, Chicago and Philly are sister Comcast networks and are taking advantage of that relationship to share content.

“We will team up with our sister regional SportsNet in Chicago to bring the Blackhawks point of view,” Libero says. “We’ll work with their hockey insider and share some of the video that they put together in Chicago. We’re fortunate in that we have two of our regional SportsNet teams in the final, and we think it’s a unique opportunity to tie all of that content together.”

A Multi-Pronged Approach

Key for both networks as they look to re-engage viewers who must change the channel to watch the games is a multi-platform strategy. Both RSNs are using multiple platforms to push fans from TV to the Web, to social media, and back again.

“We’re smart about promoting our offerings on-air,” Gore explains. “We show that you can follow these writers and stay connected online.”

CSN Chicago has had a record-setting season in terms of TV ratings and Web traffic, and that traffic has stayed steady for its post-game shows, even when playoff games are shown on NBC or Versus. During live Web chats that take place during the games, CSN Chicago talent remind participants that the post-game show will air on CSN Chicago immediately following the game, and traffic has flowed accordingly.

CSN Philly has showed a similar inclination, creating a seamless operation between the television/news department and the online/interactive side.

“We have a very good hand-in-glove operation with our news department so that the TV folks are not afraid do come in and do interactive stuff,” Libero says. “We’ve been able to take our on-air product and stream it live to make it interactive. I’m proud of the fact that we don’t have a split between the digital department and TV. We’ve been able to take all the talent that we have in both the interactive team and the TV team and apply that to one gigantic package of content.”

That content can be enjoyed throughout the playoffs on both CSNChicago.com and CSNPhilly.com.