Commitment to Original Content Puts CineSport on Top

Gregg Winik calls himself ‘anti-Hollywood.’

It’s not that he’s against what the so-called ‘big boys’ do — after all, he spent over 16 years as executive vice president of NBA Entertainment. He’s one of them.

CineSport sets up its partners’ beat reporters with HD web cams and arranges schedules to record interviews with host Noah Coslov over Skype.

It’s that his latest project, CineSport, has seen a wealth of success by going against the grain in adjusting and appealing to the current state of the media-viewing audience by abandoning “appointment shows” and producing timely, relevant, and original content at the viewer’s convenience.

In May, the three-and-a-half-year-old media brand topped the U.S. comScore Video Metrics Sports charts for the second straight month, ringing up over 13.1 million unique viewers, putting it about 1.5 million viewers clear of the field that includes such media juggernauts as Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, Turner-SI Digital, and MLB.com.

“I think we have successfully threaded that needle of how to create content that local newspaper, radio, and television sites will want to clear out some real estate to put your player up on,” says Winik, who also presided over the birth of NBA TV. He adds that CineSport has shown “how you can monetize [content] and spend against the production costs that are not out of whack for what the revenue should generate.”

CineSport provides sports programming and production services to more than 70 websites throughout the country and brings fans quick-hitting, two-to-three minute interview videos with team beat writers

“You go online and you see some of these really long form videos, and that doesn’t work,” says CineSport host and managing editor Noah Coslov. “Everyone wants their information quickly and we make sure that its not just a regurgitation of an article; its supplemental video.”

A Critical Transition

CineSport launched in the fall of 2007 as a video syndication widget after it purchased the rights to highlights from many of the major sports leagues, a relatively unprecedented move at the time. However, it wasn’t long before Winik discovered that highlights alone weren’t going to be enough to make a legitimate impact on the industry.

“[It] was not creating the type of engagement with the audience [that we wanted],” says Winik. “It was not getting us involved with the editorial side of the newspaper site. So we knew in order for the business to really succeed we had to become as one with our partners and our distributors.”

Winik – teamed up with other former NBA execs Michael Dresner, Larry Weitzman, Scott Weinstock, and Andrew Coy Lombardi – brought aboard Coslov as their first fulltime host to be the face of the new mission.

“He told me, ‘I’d like you to redefine the role of the modern sports anchor,’” says Coslov. “He said he had no idea what that role is but it’s up to me to figure it out. I took it personally that I was tasked to really help build this thing.”

Localizing Original Content

With Coslov and a production team in place, CineSport began building stronger relationships with their partners’ respective beat writers and initiated a vision dedicated to original content. That change of direction is what has led to CineSport, an organization with about 20 employees, becoming one of the top sports video properties on the Web.

“The local angle works, and that’s what Gregg figured out,” says Coslov. “Newspapers might suffer but sports fans will never stop going to their local guys to find out what’s going on. You can turn on ESPN and get a report on the Phillies from a national guy who may or may not be around them once a week but you can also than just go online and read Matt Gelb (Philadelphia Inquirer) or David Murphy’s (Philadelphia Daily News) article and then get two and a half, three minutes of video from the guy that is around that team and in the clubhouse everyday. Why wouldn’t you click on that?”

Winik is in no way afraid to address what he calls the “secret sauce” behind those gaudy unique viewer numbers; gobbling up the clicks of all their clients’ local readers. But it took his vision to realize that, despite the dramatic sag in newspaper subscribership across the country, there was a considerable audience to tap into that was accessing their local news online.

“I don’t think anybody really realized just how large that audience was,” says Winik. “But I think, most importantly, what differentiates us is our commitment to original content creation. There’s a lot of other companies out there – not necessarily in the sports space – that are just grabbing pre-existing national content and it’s showing up all over the place. We’re committed to localizing the content.”

“Gregg is tenacious and knew there was an opportunity here,” says Jeff Price, president of The Sporting News, which partnered with CineSport in March of 2010. “He and his team have just worked hard to build from the ground up a sustainable, compelling programming vehicle and network. That’s a tough thing to do.”

Video Saves the Newspaper

Today, CineSport works directly with over 70 media websites, including 30 major newspapers, such as the New York Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe.

Those relationships have proven lucrative for not only CineSport but for its media clients. While the newspaper industry has hemmed and hawed about how the Internet is burying the newspaper, in many ways CineSport’s operation is helping save the newspaper by bringing added exposure to their most notable columnists and writers while funneling in a new revenue stream.

“We’re able to go out into the marketplace as a selling organization and bring to advertisers scaled video solutions in sports that is an alternative to the folks that you would expect,” says Price. “We can be nimble in that we can be national and we can be local. That’s relevant to advertisers.”

CineSport sets up its partners’ reporters with HD web cams and arranges schedules to record the interviews with Coslov over Skype. That finished product is then embedded atop the respective reporter’s latest article.

“I don’t even have to do anything besides position myself [in front of my web camera],” says Frank Seravalli, Philadelphia Daily News Flyers beat writer. “To be able to get my name out there and to get what I cover out there and to be able to talk about it in a different way, it’s certainly a bonus. And if I can help my company bring in any extra revenue from these video plays, even better.”

Continuing to Grow

A commitment to original content takes a step forward later this month as CineSport is set to launch the industry’s first interactive digital documentary series. The first series, Sports Leagues vs. Players, will debut July 25. Other topics in currently in production will discuss the greatest college football player ever and head trauma in sports.

The docs will be serialized with four chapters of three minutes in length with the fourth and final edition being a roundtable discussion. The topics for the roundtable will be based on viewer input and will be aggregated from Twitter, Facebook, and site-specific comments.

The project fits the company mold and continues to feed their niche, a market CineSport feels it has only begin to cater to.

“I could not have imagined how quickly it was going to grow,” says Coslov. “It’s still growing. I don’t think we’re even half way to where we want to be or where we can be.”

If it continues to grow at this rate, the operation that proudly calls itself “anti-Hollywood” could become the sports media mainstream.