The Transition From ESPN To eSports with Neeta Sreekanth
Neeta Sreekanth got her start in the digital and social media world at the Dallas Cowboys. She then transitioned to ESPN working in their social media department as an associate producer and manager for a little over 4 years. Her experiences in social brought her to IGN Entertainment as the Head of Social where she continues to innovate and change the game every day.
In this episode, Neeta talked with us about her transition from ESPN to eSports -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here are the highlights:
[01:49]: How do you balance speed vs. quality when it comes to capitalizing on a moment? Do you rush to get "the tweet" out or do you take some time to think about the strategy that's going to produce the highest engagement?
"It's tough to balance. I've been guilty of 'let's just get the tweet out!' before. But now, instead of rushing to get something out, we're seeing a shift to the question 'what are you doing to cut through the noise?' It’s the brands that are doing something different that see the highest engagement. It takes more time but if you're able to do something original, that's much better in the long run."
[33:58] Where do you see the undervalued attention right now on digital or social?
"YouTube. I don’t think people pay enough attention to YouTube. That's where people go to consume video. Not only that... They go to consume long-form video. I view YouTube as the most important social platform right now."
[47:17]: Are you beginning to tailor content to each specific social platform, or do you think you can still get away with repurposing the same content for multiple platforms?
"It still happens at IGN where we create content and want it to go everywhere. But now, I'm starting to change that by cutting content for social only. If we don't cut it specifically for social, then we'll make a few tweaks so it'll work for those platforms. My goal is to move away from taking a piece of content, putting it everywhere, and checking the box done."
Ep 17 - Neeta Sreekanth audio for iTunes
[00:00:05.32] David: What is going on? It is your David, David Brickley, and this is the business of social podcast brought to you ... by powered by STN Digital. We work with the experts to learn and stay up-to-date on the ever changing digital and marketing industry. We have the head of social at IGN Entertainment on the program today, Neeta Sreekanth, has a great story and really is one of the people in social that people pay attention to. She spent some time at the Dallas Cowboys for a few years, and then was working on pretty much everything over at ESPN, before her transition just recently to IGN. So brings a lot of skill set, brings a lot of tools of her success that we want to dive into on this edition of the business of social.
It is the business of social, she is the head of social at IGN Entertainment, Neeta Sreekanth joins me in studio here on Comic-Con weekend. How's it going?
[00:01:02.55] Neeta: It's going great.
[00:01:03.43] David: We have a lot of stuff to get into. I know you and I fall to each other for the last couple of years, went back and forth on some social media stuff. And then you were originally at ESPN then moved recently to IGN. So I really want to dig into I guess the differences between the two and kind of exciting stuff you guys are working on at IGN. But I'll start with I guess that first question, what is the biggest difference from Bristol, Connecticut in the ESPN world and moving over to more e-game and in IGN?
[00:01:29.05] Neeta: I think it has a lot to do with the industry specifically, I think the sports industry, everyone kind of just wants their stuff on social. But they don't really understand sort of like how it needs to get out on social. I think like specifically to the gaming and the entertainment industry, they want to do something that's innovative and different and bigger. So there's a lot more creative opportunity to kind of work and have some time in social media, if you have time and you're able to really spend a lengthy brainstorm process and putting creative behind content. It makes a much better campaign.
But I think also the entertainment and gaming industries know that they need to be partnering up with the media networks like IGN app to launch their games, to launch their TV shows or specifically their trailers. You know what I mean? Yesterday we launched the Dragon Ball Super trailer, and that thing overnight has two and half million views on YouTube, and it hasn't even been 24 hours yet.
So there's a great partnership mentality in these two industries as opposed to sports where everyone's competing with each other, and they're trying to just one-up each other, who's fastest to get this tweet out, who's going to be quickest to break this news. And so it's a little bit of a different pace.
[00:02:36.43] David: Yeah, I think and you make good point, I mean, if Tom Brady throws for 7 touchdowns on Monday night football everybody's in a frenzy, like what are we going to do to capitalize on this moment? How do you think like ... because I agree, it's like everybody's just trying to be quick, they're trying to be fast, there's not a lot of ... Because it is so fast and live, there's not a lot of like thought or brainstorm behind it. And like we'll talk about a little later, but I GTV, "Oh, my God, IGTV, the big shiny thing, we have to go." Like, well, why are you going? Is your audience there? Is there any strategy behind it? So from a sports standpoint like what's the first thing that comes to mind when it says like how are we supposed to attack these moments if it is in so real time?
[00:03:13.05] Neeta: Well, I think it goes down into like what the objective is in many ways, where there's a lot of pressure whenever you are publishing a social, that you're trying to drive engagement and show growth. And so there's a quick mentality, and I'm guilty of this because when I was on ESPN I did this all the time. I was like, "Let's just get the freaking tweet out that there's seven touchdowns." But the difference in sort of the shift of like where things are headed now is, "What are you doing to cut through the noise?" Because if you scroll on Twitter around Super Bowl everyone's doing the same stuff, but it's the ones that are doing things differently are the ones that are really cutting through and you're seeing higher engagement rates on the content.
So it takes a little bit of extra step, and maybe you might miss that first Tom Brady had seven touchdowns tweet, but if you're able to do something that's much more original to who your brand is, I think that's a better play in the long run.
[00:04:07.55] David: Well, let's go back to your time in ESPN, what we're ... maybe it's changed because you were there for four or five years I think. But I guess the main KPI's or ROI's that were there, like here's what we believe and here's what we want to attack, like was it just year-over-year growth or was there more to that?
[00:04:24.01] Neeta: So the KPI's were always changing. I was there for three years, and my first year was all about just driving growth. It was all about driving engagement and being on platform. And that was sort of the North Star at the time. And then it shifted to more of a protect, oh, no, protect cable mentality. And that hurt, that hurt ESPN significant.
[00:04:47.30] David: Protect cable meaning don't share too much stuff on social so you have to watch TV.
[00:04:50.35] Neeta: Yeah.
[00:04:51.00] David: Got it.
[00:04:52.06] Neeta: Protect the rights, so there wasn't a push for native video. We did some native video whenever Vine was still popping, but there are several examples I can go to of any time we did something native, but we didn't share a link to or just ...
[00:05:04.44] David: Back to the website.
[00:05:05.35] Neeta: Back to the website, and being very protectionist of the brand. And I think now the shift has gone back to where it was in 2015 under at the time my boss was Mike Buckland and now he's VP of digital content at Fox Sports. And his mentality was you need to be where people are, and sort of if they're consuming content on Twitter put content out on Twitter.
[00:05:28.30] David: And we've had so many conversations recently and I've heard some great advice, and it's simple, but it's like, "Go where the fan is."
[00:05:33.31] Neeta: Exactly.
[00:05:34.10] David: And make it convenient for them. So if they're hanging on Snapchat go to Snapchat.
[00:05:38.03] Neeta: The fan doesn't care if you're trying to protect the rights. The fan only cares to consume the content that they want to see. And if you're not giving it to them someone else is going to give it to them.
[00:05:46.12] David: And I feel like I've talked about this a lot, but it's nice to have somebody formerly via ESPN here, I felt like when ESPN officially went to Snapchat, SportsCenter on Snapchat, that was a big transition for them because it was always, no, no, no, we're ESPN, you come to us. And for the first time I think ever they said, "No, we'll come to you. We'll create genuine content for a platform," which maybe it was better late than never I guess in that regard.
[00:06:09.49] Neeta: Yeah, so before it shifted to SportsCenter on Snapchat it was an ESPN more of a publisher, a magazine format on Snapchat. And then it shifted to more of a show. There was a test done with College Game Day, they did a flight during I think the 2016 season where they did a full ... every Saturday there was a Snapchat edition around where College Game Day was going. And I think that was very successful for both us, or ESPN and Snapchat. And that kind of morphed into conversations. And the person who was lead producing on that College Game Day Snapchat show was Tim Dwyer who's now the lead producer on the SportsCenter on Snapchat.
[00:06:50.52] David: Got you, very nice. Well, I guess, we're in a crazy world, I talk a lot ... I've talked with senior vice presidents of television networks and listen, ESPN, the number is pretty clear, the last five years they went from a hundred million homes to $87 million homes, and went from getting $6 per month per subscriber, I don't know what that math is, I still haven't figured that out. It's a lot of money. So when your bread is buttered is linear television commercials and you make money via cable rights, it's tough, like you kind of have to take two steps backwards in order to take a step forward for the future where everything's going if you've traditionally been this cable and network and made money off cable subscribers.
[00:07:28.33] Neeta: Right, I think it's definitely a shift in the industry as a whole. And I think everyone is kind of feeling that pinch. But I do think it's sort of exacerbated and at times it's just kind of overhyped that ESPN's really like it's hurting them that much, because at the end of the day like ESPN's behemoth, they are the best that is out there in sports media. They are the mother ship. And I don't see them going anywhere.
[00:07:55.16] David: Well, yeah, and I've always said like as long as you have the rights, regardless of platform, whether it's on a radio or TV or Snapchat or what-have-you, I think as long as they continue to have the rights, that they can go to a ESPN Plus and start making money off that. But it's just going to be ... takes a little time to transition over their revenue.
[00:08:12.59] Neeta: Absolutely, and that's why there's such a race right now, like everyone's trying to scoop up all the rights that they can. But more importantly they're trying to scoop up the rights for digital as well. They want to make sure that they have that access to that.
[00:08:23.10] David: Talk to us a little bit about ESPN Plus as well, and the issue still remains that you can't get all the premium programming on ESPN Plus yet. And I get it, like it's that conflict of interest where you're getting paid from your cable subscriptions, you're being paid from linear television commercials, so you can't just like give it all away in another platform because maybe that hurts your bottom line in the other area. But like you said, if you don't move to where the fan is you're left behind. So I mean, that's a tough dilemma, man. I don't wish I was in that position.
[00:08:50.10] Neeta: Yeah, and to be honest with you, I haven't even opened or looked at ESPN Plus.
[00:08:53.59] David: Yeah, I haven't opened it either, but this is what I've read and heard.
[00:08:57.41] Neeta: If there was one thing I was going to get ESPN Plus for, it'd be Kobe's detail show. Like, I really wanted to see that, but I have friends there that send me some of the episodes so I'm just ... watch that.
[00:09:08.00] David: You have to hook up, you have to hook up. Yeah, that was interesting too, like they need to find ways to say, "Listen, it's only going to be on plus." Because to your point, I was like, "Should I download it? Because I'm actually very interested in this." But it was like uploaded on YouTube and you can find the way to find it. But that's the way I'm sure to get people to start saying, "Let me take time out of my day to download this thing if there is exclusive content."
[00:09:28.03] Neeta: Yeah, if plus ever offered live ESPN programming, I'd ditch my cable definitely.
[00:09:32.00] David: Yeah, it's true.
[00:09:33.03] Neeta: I mean, the only reason I have cable is because of ESPN. I want to watch it.
[00:09:36.39] David: Yeah, it's true. Me too. And I just wonder when they finally make that break, because Bleacher Report Live is about to do it right now. I mean, with NBA, and again, where your bread is buttered, where you make your most money is on television rights with NBA on ESPN and NBA on TNT. But if I can buy the Thunder versus the Knicks for a buck, like doesn't that hurt the bottom line over here, but again you have to kind of do it. So it's a tough line everybody's trying to cross right now.
[00:10:03.11] Neeta: Yeah, I mean, it's guaranteed money that people are getting. And if you go to a almost ala carte format, then how many games are you actually going to be able to watch if you're paying for that. And so I remember several times having NBA League Pass even when I was in college, and if I go back and look at it, "How many games did I actually watch? I'm a huge Mavericks fan, so how many games was I actually watching and yet I was paying almost 300 bucks a year." If I had paid per game probably be ... probably like five ten bucks in reality. But I think just the convenience of being able to just go home and be like, "Are the Mavs playing? I'm available to watch the game. I'm going to sit down watch."
[00:10:37.12] David: Yep, and I've said this before [unclear] because I'm sick of this analogy I make, but I think we've been reprogrammed to enjoy content on a 7-inch device. I often ... I'm sitting on my couch watching a 30-minute YouTube video and my 50-inch screen is off. So I think you talked about before we started the show, like the last like 12 to 24 months have been so interesting where I think as consumers we've been reprogrammed, as an industry we're changing. But that was ... I mean, I remember like years ago, seven years ago, like you would never watch anything more than a minute on your phone. And now it's just normal, you don't mind it.
[00:11:11.21] Neeta: No, absolutely. It's been absolutely mind-blowing to see that's the shift. And I'm looking forward to someone selling a vertical TV that's ... and start programming like a network to do like that.
[00:11:19.58] David: You can always turn TV's, we have one in the office, yeah.
[00:11:22.52] Neeta: Yeah, at some point that's going to continue to permeate, and I wonder if there's going to be exclusive online streams where they're producing specifically for vertica. That would be something interesting for me to see.
[00:11:36.45] David: Yeah, because I think the reason why I like what IGTV is doing is (a) there definitely needs to be a competitor to YouTube in terms of content over 10 minutes. I'm sure you've guys have dealt with that with uploading full games and something like that. But yeah, I think when you have like an iPhone X, when it fills up that whole screen it's actually pretty cool.
[00:11:53.23] Neeta: It's beautiful.
[00:11:54.26] David: But it needs to be genuine and not just like clip together and reformatted, it needs to be something that you actually shoot in vertical.
[00:12:00.48] Neeta: Yeah, I think the sixteen by nine format is slowly starting to die. And it's all going nine by sixteen. That's the shift, and the next generation, I mean, we're programming Snapchat right now with IGN, and the consumption rate on that compared to just anywhere else that we are, it's absolutely wild. So you have to wonder, what does this effect going to happen on the next generation? Like, is the next generation even going to start purchasing TVs later on or are they just going to say like, "We just want a bigger phone?"
[00:12:30.28] David: Yeah, and I think I remember growing up my parents put a computer in my hand like at five, and that was a huge thing for like our generation type deal, because I was able to reformat Windows at 10 years old. You know what I mean? So imagine this is Gen Z coming up type deal, they've always had a phone in their hand, they've always had Instagram and it's like ... I was ... I graduated high school in 05, so Facebook like literally just came out. But now obviously the generation below me, like they've grown up with that since they were born, which makes a difference.
[00:13:01.20] Neeta: Yeah, my 90-year old grandmother is on Facebook right now, and she always tells me like, "If I had this when I was even 10 years younger," it'd have been easier to connect with her own kids, my father for example. And she was living in India still, and everyone else was over here. So technology has really changed our culture, hasn't it?
[00:13:24.49] David: Yeah, it's amazing. I want to go backwards a little bit, because you went to college at Cal State Northridge. And then you were at the Cowboys actually in Dallas for like three or four years?
[00:13:33.56] Neeta: Four years.
[00:13:34.33] David: So I like ... I guess you've had an interesting story where you were a college athlete, you go to the Dallas Cowboys, you go to ESPN and now at IGN, but would love to hear I guess your trajectory, your career path so far and what's kind of led you to these different stops?
[00:13:48.44] Neeta: So it all started when I was in junior high. I grew up playing soccer, and then I hit a growth spurt, and I'm very tall ... you can't tell on the camera.
[00:13:58.15] David: How tall are you?
[00:13:58.58] Neeta: I'm 6'3".
[00:14:00.02] David: Wow, so am I. We're twins on the height front.
[00:14:04.37] Neeta: I hit the growth spurt late in high school and early in college, so I really started being there. But I really transitioned from soccer into basketball, so much so that my junior ... I'm sorry, in junior high and in high school I was a ball kid for the Dallas Mavericks, and I got to be up close and personal with those guys ... I was a ball kid for six years.
[00:14:25.26] David: What year was this?
[00:14:26.07] Neeta: I was ... Oh, it's going to date me. 2002 to 2007.
[00:14:33.06] David: Oh, so you had Dirk.
[00:14:34.23] Neeta: I had Dirk. Dirk, I mean, I wore 41, that was ... Dirk was my idol, still is.
[00:14:40.49] David: What player most resemble to your game?
[00:14:42.30] Neeta: Dirk.
[00:14:43.34] David: Yeah, so you're shooting from the outside at 6 foot 3.
[00:14:45.45] Neeta: I was a little bit slower than other people, but if you left me open on the three-pointer it was guaranteed three. But I was a ball kid for them. I got to really see the behind-the-scenes of how sports worked, and I knew that this is something I wanted to do. But at the same time I was able to get a full scholarship to play college basketball to fund my school, which was great. But then during the summers I was fortunate enough to have time to go do internships. So I was able to come back and do more of a professional internship with the Mavericks, and then I did one with the Sparks, CBS Television.
[00:15:19.32] David: So did you grow up like in the Texas area?
[00:15:21.26] Neeta: I was born and raised in Arlington, Texas.
[00:15:23.26] David: Got you. So Cowboy fan I'm sure growing up.
[00:15:26.33] Neeta: Oh, absolutely, die hard.
[00:15:27.11] David: But you had a North Ridge to the LA area based on the scholarship is what brought you there.
[00:15:31.00] Neeta: Yeah, I started out at Oregon for two years, I played college ... I played there.
[00:15:35.57] David: You and like half of my staff by the way, everybody's from Oregon. They come down to sunny Southern California after they spent time in the rain, but anyways ...
[00:15:41.56] Neeta: I played ball there for two years. I got significantly hurt, and then I ended up transferring ...
[00:15:47.34] David: ACL.
[00:15:48.31] Neeta: ACL and shoulder rotator cuff. And then I transferred down to Cal State Northridge, and then I finished out there a couple years. But then when I'm transitioning in Cal State obviously like things are much less impactful at Cal State compared to Oregon.
[00:16:08.05] David: Yeah, a lot slower.
[00:16:08.40] Neeta: A lot slower. I was able to spend my summers doing some internships that were really impactful for me. I worked with the Lakers one summer, which is really great. And then I worked with CBS television my senior year, which was really cool to kind of work with the entertainment industry which is why I always knew I wanted to get back to it at some point in my career. Basically what my job was, I was with Media Relations and the PR team, and I would go to table reads and kind of see what were the major talking points or discussion points of the shows that people are covering. So Two and a Half Men at the time, my first week as an interns, this is a funny story, was Charlie Sheen's last week on Two and Half Men - the breakdown.
[00:16:47.24] David: Tiger blood.
[00:16:48.09] Neeta: Oh, my goodness. That was a fun, fun start to the internship. And then I primarily worked on Amazing Race, Survivor, and How I Met Your Mother. So that was a fun experience. And then as I was graduating the NFL was in a lockout at the time. And then work just so happened to work whereas I was graduating, I had to take a couple summer classes to finish up. Before I even graduated I was locked in with the Cowboys to kind of run their sort of fan CRM database. So that was a really interesting start to my career to kind of see more of like the ... get a better understanding of like how fans were interacting with the Cowboys brand.
So we were working with the ecommerce and merchandise team to kind of figure out how we can drive more revenue through the fan base, more direct communication with them. But also how we were building out and building a more ... a deeper level of understanding of who the fans were, and also doing more grassroots events at anywhere the Cowboys were going.
[00:17:48.05] David: Well, what's funny, like we work to the Packers a lot and they make a great point that I didn't really realize, they were like, "We don't have to worry about ticket sales." Like, usually a lot of NFL teams have an entire ticket department, sales, like teams like the Cowboys and Packers, it's like the seats will fill themselves, we don't need to hire anybody to go out there and do it. That's a huge advantage for those America's team and also like brands like the Packers.
[00:18:09.13] Neeta: Yeah, absolutely. You know you're going to get your ticket sold. But what they did have sales team to do was get tour sales of the Cowboys Stadium, or any of the other events that they had at Cowboy, the AT&T Stadium basically has just a smorgasbord of events coming through there, so always trying to get more and more of that.
[00:18:26.17] David: I always find amazing too like they haven't won in 22 years, but they're still like this ... There's like energy about the fan base like next year, because like Lakers fans, we get really irritated, like if we don't win for a couple years, like we're all about winning championships. But the Cowboys I feel like it's weird, it's like they find a way to like inspire that fan base, like next year it'll be different.
[00:18:49.39] Neeta: Yeah, but the issue that they have to worry about is what's the next generation of fans looking at for them, because I mean it's great that they got Doncic now, and that'll kind of reignite some of the younger fans.
[00:19:00.53] David: You're saying they're still benefiting off the Aikman and Emit Smith and Urban days, now people are going to not ... there's a lot of people that don't even remember that, they weren't born back then.
[00:19:09.25] Neeta: They won ... I mean, two playoff games, which by the way [unclear ], I was at that. My last game [unclear].
[00:19:14.40] David: They changed the rule, I agree. Against the Packers too. That's interesting. So from the Cowboys and then what brings you to ESPN at that point?
[00:19:24.57] Neeta: I was interested in taking a next step in my career. I was talking to a guy named Jason Romano, I had connected with him, he came down to a Monday night game when the Cowboys were playing the Redskins. And we connected and we kind of just like anything else on Twitter you just trying to keep in touch. And then we started to ... And then he introduced me to a guy named Mike Buckland. And Mike Buckland called me and we had a very interesting interview. Our conversation actually at the time, and then it just escalated really quickly, and next thing I knew I was leaving Dallas for Bristol, Connecticut.
[00:20:00.21] David: Nice. So you worked ... You originally worked on the Monday night football feed, and then you were Letting Me Know That, and then kind of went to NFL, then everything. But I guess what were the best parts and maybe the bottlenecks or some of the frustrating parts about those different areas?
[00:20:16.53] Neeta: I think the best parts were always the people, like the memories I'm going to have of ESPN aren't going to be covering the Mexico City game, and Mexico's ... It's being with the people. And those are the people I'll miss in the long term, but I'll definitely keep in touch with. But I think some of the bottlenecks that happen is just like any other organization, just a lack of understanding of social media and like what it is. And people viewing it as more of like a risk than anything, and not understanding that you got to be putting your content where fans are. And so that was always a point of frustration for me.
[00:20:55.03] David: When do we break through that? Like, is it five years from now, like when does everybody start to finally ... Because I still feel like there's people that say, "Let's just hire a social media manager, and they can run our Twitter and Instagram." Like, "Wow, do you understand like how important it is for any brand to really put a lot of resources in." And that's why STN Digital exist, like I mean ...
[00:21:15.00] Neeta: It won't break through until the revenue model matches up at the end of the day. That's just ... I mean, you could have a great CPV campaign, even for O and O, like there's a lot of brands that still protect their own and operate it. And until the money matches up on social platforms where you can drive the same amount of revenue for pre-roll, it's still going to be the case.
[00:21:36.25] David: I feel like you're right, I just feel like if you do a live stream as a television network and Sprint gives you 1.9 million to be the presenting sponsor, then I think people will say, "Whoa, how much did we make? Yeah, let's get some more resources behind that." I mean that's just going to be money always tops.
[00:21:49.48] Neeta: Yeah, and Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News, basically said it actually best back in January, he's like ... he made a memo that he released where he asked Facebook to start paying their publishers for news. And I agree with him, like everyone's kind of putting their content out on Facebook because that's where the audience is, but what are we really getting back from Facebook specifically? Like, we've helped them grow into this behemoth that they are, and now they're having a lot of issues with data protection. But what are brands really getting back from ...
[00:22:22.24] David: But here, I'll play devil's advocate there, just industry talk. I also think Facebook is the largest free billboard that is out there right now. So I agree with you where it's like you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket, because Zuckerberg can choose to turn the algorithm whenever he wants. But then if you're not there you're missing out on this amazing opportunity to reach this base, so it's always a difficult balance.
[00:22:45.44] Neeta: And that's why everyone's still programs it, because of that specific challenge. But it's also ... it makes it more challenging because just like you said, like they're able to like turn to fine-tune those algorithms at anytime they want to and for any reason they want to. Like, they have a lot of power over there.
[00:23:02.18] David: Well, and I think the fake news thing is interesting, because back in the day you had CBS, NBC, Fox, you had to spend millions upon millions to get a satellite to hit the sky and all that. So if Tom Brokaw or whoever was, was on your screen you knew like it was a legitimate news source and they have ... But now ihaterepublicans.com whatever the news outlet ...
[00:23:23.34] Neeta: Infowars.
[00:23:24.05] David: Yeah, they're right there with CBS, they're right there with CNN. So everybody looks exactly the same rather than, "No, I'm flipping on my TV. This is a legitimate source. It's hard to dictate." And that's the problem they're having.
[00:23:34.01] Neeta: Absolutely, and that too, like a TV is not available to carry with you at the end of the day, so I mean that's why I'm so glad they're finally taking steps to make changes there. But again, like I do think that there should be more of like a collaborative partnership between Facebook and ...
[00:23:50.04] David: And to your point, if they did pay and kind of made more verified accounts and things like that, I think you would know, "I'm watching this video, but that's not a verified legitimate source." Facebook is kind of vetted out CNN or CBS or what-have-you, and those are the verified sources.
[00:24:03.26] Neeta: Yeah, and then that also goes down to the amendment, like right to free speech.
[00:24:07.18] David: Yeah, that's true. It's a tough situation to be in. All right, so we were talking a little bit off ... for the podcasts about Bleacher Report and I totally agree with you, I think it's tough, right? I always use the example blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million, and then blockbuster was worth 5 billion at the time. They go out of business, they're bankrupt, and look at Netflix now, what are they worth? 180 billion or so.
[00:24:31.56] Neeta: Something like that.
[00:24:33.07] David: So ESPN has always been the mother ship, has always been the the worldwide leader. But they've allowed maybe some people like a Bleacher to come up or a Barstool, like you mentioned that they probably sort of had that originally or they did, and maybe didn't go all in on it.
[00:24:48.59] Neeta: Yeah, I personally believe that before Bleacher Report became Bleacher Report, SportsNation was the account that at least my generation everyone loved and followed.
[00:24:56.51] David: Yeah, it was a smart idea.
[00:24:58.13] Neeta: It was great, and I think we got away from SportsNation when I was there. When it first started it was still very up there and Bleacher Report was competitive but SportsNation was still the thing. We started to slowly back away from programming it, and SportsNation as a show changed, it got away from that format themselves. And I think it was also realized that the risk of damage of like what you could do in terms of going after athletes was not something that they wanted to do anymore. And so Bleacher Report stepped in and kind of took that space where SportsNation used to be.
And then same thing with College Game Day, College Game Day was the account that on Saturdays you woke up to if you weren't up already, and you saw all the funny signs that people brought to the stadium. And I think ESPN kind of got away from that and they started to get a little bit more PC to say lightly.
[00:25:53.31] David: Yeah, but what's weird about ESPN is they've always thought like this target on their back, because I guess they're the biggest person in the room. Let's not forget like we know because we're in the industry, but a lot of people don't like, our grandma or aunt doesn't know this, but like Turner Sports owns Bleacher Report the same way that ESPN own SportsNation. But it wasn't okay for SportsNation to make fun of Deck, but it's cool if Bleacher Report does. So like Turner ... I mean, look at what Charles and Shaq do, I talked to [unclear 26:19] recently on this show, she's the vice president of marketing. Shaq and Charles ... well, JaVale McGee, the Commissioner, they'll be very open about how their feelings are. And they're the NBA partner.
But with ESPN if I think it was Bill Simmons, if he says something about Roger Goodell it's like this is a huge problem. So it's interesting those two dynamics that Turner has found a way to do it, but every time the ESPN does it it's a major problem.
[00:26:48.04] Neeta: Yeah, that's basically ...
[00:26:50.38] David: And I don't know how much of that is their fault or not, but it's like they always get in trouble for doing stuff that other people are doing as well.
[00:26:56.47] Neeta: Yeah, I think a lot of that has to do with just ... the protectionism in many ways. And I get it, I totally understand that you want to make sure that if you are saying you want to be better partners with other people, like you yourself have to be a better partner to them. But there's also like a conversation around like how much should they be chiming in on editorial, like that's another thing that needs to be taken into account.
But at the end of the day I think business strategies comes out from the top-down in effect. From the top-down the leadership wants to be more conservative in how the approach is going to be. And Turner it's maybe not, they have the reins loosened a little bit for Bleacher Report, and even you could say it's the same case for Barstool. Like, the audience is going to connect with the consumer, with who's providing the content that they want to connect with. So if ESPN is not providing that content the audience is going to find it elsewhere.
[00:27:58.59] David: Yeah, I've just found it interesting because now with all the conglomerates emerging, I think there's going to be six conglomerates that owned pretty much every cable channel in the world. And I think, I mean, listen, Coca-Cola owns Naked Juice, you wouldn't want to put Coke Juice on there because nobody would buy it, they would think it's unhealthy or too much sugar or whatever. So just from a branding perspective there's ways that you can have the ... the cycle is one, right? But there's got to be ways that ... and NFL has done this with the Check Down, right? So they knew that from NFL handled it wouldn't be appropriate to have these like debates and maybe make fun of people and things like that, but they developed another brand where they could do that.
[00:28:39.17] Neeta: It was very smart by the way.
[00:28:40.16] David: Yeah, which is very smart. And I think Turner did that by buying Bleacher and House of Highlights, but it's interesting that they haven't figured that part out, and I guess it's like if you're a Turner and you say, "We're going to do Bleacher and we're going to have them silo and they can do their own thing and we're not going to mess with them." Or you could say, "ESPN, we're going to make SportsNation, but we're going to keep a very close eye." That may be the issue it sounds like, like a little bit too much of, "Wait, what are you doing over there?" Instead of just like do your thing.
[00:29:05.42] Neeta: Yeah, and I think still to this day, I think specifically on Twitter and maybe even Facebook too, I might be wrong. But SportsNation still has a larger following than some of those other accounts, like Bleacher Report specifically. I could be wrong, because I haven't seen it in a couple months.
[00:29:20.37] David: But to your point people really enjoyed the content and what the voice was.
[00:29:24.20] Neeta: Yeah. When I first got a call about coming to ESPN I remember saying at the time like, "SportsNation account was basically like the thing I had on push notification." I used to connect, like I saw every single piece of content that they were producing, and I was like, "I get to be part of that team." That was it for me. And it was kind of sad to see behind the scenes how it went away.
[00:29:47.08] David: So I guess how ... like I said, how do you think that could be rectified? I mean, is it just like too much ... Because again, I think every time there's a statement made from any ESPN account, people look at it as this huge PR statement rather than like, "We're just having fun here." So can that be, can that be fixed?
[00:30:04.43] Neeta: I think the way you kind of fix it is you go for the next generation. So now you start building for the 13, 15-year olds as opposed to going after the 18 to 24-year olds, because the 18 to 24-year olds are now ... they're programmed, they know who they're going to, and they're going to Barstool and Bleacher Report. So now you go attack the next wave and you start figuring out what you're going to do there, which is why Fortnite comes into play, and you start doing more Fortnite, and you start figuring out what's the next game that's coming out. Fallout is it anthem, like you start figuring out what they're consuming on them and that's why I think you're starting to see more of a shift to eSports and Overwatch and stuff like that with ESPN.
[00:30:43.40] David: E-gaming has been a big deal obviously for a while now, but I've seen this shift in the last like 6 to 12 months especially with Fortnite. I know a couple days ago on LinkedIn you shared a statement on Fortnite.
[00:30:57.59] Neeta: It's unbelievable.
[00:30:59.06] David: It's like ... what you said? You said it's currently raking in more than $300 million a month and has made its maker, Epic Games, more than $1.2 billion since it's Battle Royale. Talk about when money starts to talk, that's when people start to move and we're going to see that very quickly, if not already.
[00:31:16.32] Neeta: So some of the people at IGN have told me that whenever it really started to blow up at the early part of this year, when it really started to blow up they didn't know what to do. They were kind of like asking people like, "What do we do?" Like, they were getting requests to go on, Anderson Cooper, they were getting a bunch of different requests to do things that I don't think they were ready for. But it's amazing to see how it grown.
[00:31:36.43] David: Why did Fortnite resonate so well? Why did it get so much legs as opposed to other games that have kind of been there for a while?
[00:31:43.38] Neeta: My little cousin who plays Fortnite, he actually showed me this game before it even started to blow up.
[00:31:50.49] David: I've watched full ninja streams, man. I'm into it.
[00:31:53.47] Neeta: Yeah, him and his friends they were all frat boys in college. And so I think a free game available where you could play with your friends and like, "Yes, you might have to pay to get some specific skins and emails and stuff like that." But it was a free game available on platforms that they all had, that they could connect to. And I think that was a way for them to kind of have fun with each other.
[00:32:14.16] David: And they also did it ... They do a really good job of like entering, like I think they've already entered the in my feelings challenge dance, like they stay very true. I mean, that's probably the first time that games ever had that, like constant updates, they're talking about pop-culture moments. So if your cousins in college laughing at, oh, my God, my character now does this, like that keeps the game relevant like time and time again.
[00:32:33.43] Neeta: Exactly. And I think they just ... they were just having fun with it, and you can see all the videos that came out early on about kids playing Fortnite as opposed to paying attention to their girlfriends or like they were playing Fortnite instead of actually like doing their chores or they would just get so upset that they throw their controller at the TV and bust it. Like, that's how much of a fandom that they tapped into.
[00:32:53.47] David: Well, I mean, you, having a sports background you've seen all these NFL players, NBA players talk about on social. They're not getting paid by Fortnite or IGN or anybody like that, Epic Games, they're just ... That's culture, it's like they all play and they enjoy and they talk about it, and talk about brand awareness or earned the media value.
[00:33:10.00] Neeta: Absolutely.
[00:33:11.00] David: Now that's pretty amazing.
[00:33:11.53] Neeta: Like, that's what they want to play. But it's not just Fortnite either, there's a lot of athletes out there that are just gamers in general and like that entire industry starting to grow because more and more people are starting to get away from like the traditional consumption of sports content. And they now want to go into more things that, how can I consume this athlete in ways that are not sports.
[00:33:31.50] David: And I remember to like back in the day whether its 2K or Half-Life or whatever, just like I think the intersection of 2018 and where internet speeds are right now, and because I mean every time you would log in like 2K or whatever, Madden, you would have buffer issues and things like that. So it's like this generation finally, like your cousin in college, like high-speed internet, no lagging, no buffering and like new games that are being updated like on a daily. That's why I think it's kind of taken off so much. Technology is met up with the creative.
[00:34:01.03] Neeta: I think so, and it's still got a long ways to go. But where we are right now even compared to just six months ago it's just a significant improvement in terms of internet speed. Like, at my place right now like I have a hundred megabyte speed, and it's just fiber optics cable. And in Bristol, Connecticut, again I was at Bristol, Connecticut; the max I could get was 25. And it's made a huge difference in terms of streaming; now I'm able to stream in 4K.
[00:34:25.04] David: Yeah, and I think it's crazy. I mean, 5G is going to be a whole another game, because we remember when 4G came out, that's when Instagram's like, "Okay, now we can have video on our platform." Facebook is like, "Now we can have video on our platform." It's amazing just a few years ago, four or five years ago, you couldn't upload a video to any social media platform. And now with technology it's like let's add these things to it.
[00:34:46.36] Neeta: Absolutely.
[00:34:48.00] David: So I guess being at ESPN I asked everybody this question, it's always a good one, but where do you see the undervalued attention right now on digital or social?
[00:34:55.59] Neeta: At ESPN?
[00:34:56.58] David: No, just being at ESPN and being at IGN overall as a social media landscape, like in our industry, where do you think the undervalued attention is that people don't pay enough attention to?
[00:35:05.12] Neeta: YouTube.
[00:35:06.44] David: Yeah, I agree.
[00:35:07.10] Neeta: I don't think people pay enough attention to YouTube.
[00:35:09.04] David: It's only like that number three site in the world.
[00:35:10.34] Neeta: Yeah, it's people go to YouTube for the intention to consume video, and not only that they go to YouTube to consume long-form videos. I almost view YouTube as sort of ... I actually view YouTube as the most important social platform.
[00:35:25.35] David: And I think it often gets forgotten. I mean, it's always like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Let's also upload that to YouTube. You almost had flipped it, and like especially when you're an industry.
[00:35:36.35] Neeta: Yeah, I think everyone goes to Twitter obviously for the news. But they also go for the like instant gratification of things. But on YouTube there's no ... other than commenting and maybe thumbs up, thumbs down, like there's really not much you can really do there.
[00:35:50.56] David: You just want to sit down and watch.
[00:35:52.18] Neeta: You just want to watch videos. You want to go sees some stupid things that people are doing around the country ... world. So I think it's most underutilized and under discussed platform out there.
[00:36:01.58] David: My cousin's always been in the e-gaming and he broke it down for me like in simpler terms a couple years ago when I was asking him like, "Why is this fan base so rabid? And why would you watch Ninja for an hour or so, an hour and a half, five hours live stream him." Like, just because remember when we were kids like, "I don't want to watch my boy play Madden. I want to play Madden." And he broke it down like, "David, the same way you watch LeBron dunk from the free throw line and you're like, 'Oh, my God, like that's crazy. I played basketball, I could never do that.'"
That's a lot of how these fans consume and like I play Fortnite, look what Ninja's doing, the same way we play basketball and we see LeBron in the court, we're like, "Holy crap. Like, if I can only do any of that." It seems like that's a huge part of it.
[00:36:42.44] Neeta: Absolutely. But it's also specific to what they're actually doing. Athletes there's a lot more that goes into it. DNA, how much after you put into it, in gaming you just sit on the couch and just practice. And knowing that now you're going to get to see a guy like Ninja who's the best there is at Fortnite right now, and you can see like, "What can you learn from him? And like how can you practice and do it yourself?" Like, shooting form or like weightlifting in football, like those are things that actually takes more ... beyond.
[00:37:11.09] David: Innate, yeah. Innate DNA.
[00:37:12.32] Neeta: Exactly, and so with the gaming that's not the case. Anyone can go out there and right now just practice, practice, practice and be a gamer.
[00:37:20.22] David: The ultimately equality sports essentially.
[00:37:22.08] Neeta: Exactly, exactly.
[00:37:23.51] David: So let's get into IGTV and vertical storytelling. How are you guys attacking it thus far at IGN? Is it kind of that hurry-up-and-wait approach, or what do you guys think?
[00:37:36.12] Neeta: So we did a couple early on just to try it and see what happens.
[00:37:41.20] David: And by couple like uploading a full our live stream or how did you guys do it?
[00:37:45.55] Neeta: So the first thing we did was we uploaded 20 minutes of Fortnite gameplay on the Nintendo Switch. And then we tested out a couple of other videos, I can't recall because we've done several other since. Basically what my approach has been to the team has been basically to say, "Listen, this is a very early product. We need to be testing. We need to be seeing what is going to move the needle more." The views are low across the board, that's just the way it is right now, and even Instagram has acknowledged that themselves.
[00:38:11.32] David: And to your point, does Instagram even know what the hell is going on? Probably they just have to kind of see how you guys use it first and then kind of tweak then.
[00:38:17.12] Neeta: Exactly. But what they say is sort of ... and they're right, it's basically like it's a new baby, like it needs to grow. It's almost like you have to build a new audience for this specific platform. But their belief, and I believe that they're right is that vertical video is the way of the future. And they want to be first to do long format vertical video. And I think it's a smart bet, which is why we are putting more resources towards it.
But I think right now because it's still new and we need to figure out kind of what works and what doesn't. I've asked my team to kind of figure out let's target specific titles for the gaming, let's target specific content for the entertainment side, and let's just have some fun. Let's just put some stuff in there. Like, we've done reviews of games, we've done more edgy stuff, we've done access content, show floor of Comic-Con. We've tested a lot of things.
[00:39:08.29] David: And I think for us like we're in the industry every day, so we're like geeked out about and we've seen ... It's been around now for four weeks, but again going back to maybe your cousin at that college, does he even know IGTV is a thing yet? So I think that mass consumption of it, it can only go up, it'll be interesting to see once people play around with it kind of the fringe audience if you will and not just the industry people and see how it goes.
[00:39:28.33] Neeta: I predict that at some point it's going to be more prominent on the Instagram app. I don't know when, but I do think that currently where it's placed in the top right corner. It's good for now because it's still very new, and people need to casually transform what the app is going to be. But where is it going to be on the bottom realm?
[00:39:45.13] David: Yeah, I wonder if they're going to insert it like in feeds, so when you're scrolling sometimes it'll show you a full IGTV thing that you can watch or click to view more type deal.
[00:39:53.10] Neeta: Or is it going to get its own top row similar to stories? Or maybe even is it going to have its own little feature at the bottom where you're able to just tap into it similar to discover and search or your profile that you're going to be able to look in there.
[00:40:06.12] David: Well, that's why I think ... I was telling to (MMA?) like I mentioned earlier, and I think like with Bleach Report Live with Instagram I can just see that where they actually preview the game that's in your feed, and you can click and it takes you automatically to the app or ESPN Plus or what have you. That would be cool if you're scrolling and then you stop and Westbrooke dunks or whatever, you're like, "Oh, the game's on right now. Let me click and go." And then you can actually ... the data part of it is like, "No, no, we paid money for this ad and here's how many people converted and got our app type deal." So that'll be interesting.
What was the Drake in Ninja video prior to you at IGN or after you already got there?
[00:40:41.15] Neeta: It's funny, that happened the night before my last day at ESPN.
[00:40:46.37] David: That's funny, because that was a big pop culture moment too that I think got a lot people like ... I think it got me, because I was like then I checked out Ninja and I watched like two hours of his stream like the next day. So I knew this thing was coming, but when that happened I'm like, "This is getting like crazy."
[00:41:00.00] Neeta: I got really, really lucky, David, that that happened the night before I left ESPN and the next week I was starting at IGN. So there was a lot more of like pop culture push towards the gaming industry. So it was great timing for me where I was going into this industry where there was now a movement towards Fortnite. And this guy named Ninja that everyone wanted to consume. And there was a lot more.
[00:41:20.56] David: Yeah, that helps with numbers.
[00:41:22.22] Neeta: It really, really helps. It helps us right now, like I want to talk real quick about our Snapchat, we have a Snap Discovery platform right now that basically every day we're doing Fortnite because it's just booming. Like, there was an algorithm change or the app re-designed back in February, and everyone saw significant decreases. IGN, we've seen nothing but increases, like I just pulled the numbers now compared to year over year we're up 1.2 million daily core users compared to this time last year. And when we do a Fortnite edition sometimes we get up to like 4.9 million people tapping into that thing.
[00:41:55.00] David: Well, I think for you guys specifically like, I mean, Snapchat although with Instagram stories and everything that kind of has been stolen, but everybody steals from everybody. But for Snapchat specifically, like that 13 to 18-year old demo, you just can't get it anywhere and you guys, that's your core demo for like Fortnite I'm sure, like that younger audience. So if anybody's going to succeed on Snapchat I'm sure it's the gaming industry.
[00:42:18.18] Neeta: It's interesting, Fortnite works from a news angle across all platforms. But if you put gameplay on any other platform, it doesn't really work. The only place it's really working for us is on Snapchat.
[00:42:29.55] David: And then how are you guys involved with Twitch?
[00:42:31.59] Neeta: We have a Twitch account where we're streaming to. Basically right now it's primarily just like we are the go-to for games, so we do a lot of like expert level or like Let's Plays and kind of just show people like new games and just ...
[00:42:45.37] David: Does it make sense to ever have like a gamer like take over your channel, like Ninja to take over IGN?
[00:42:50.47] Neeta: Yes, but he's got his own channel, right?
[00:42:53.00] David: Yeah, he's like, "Why?" There's no incentive for him to do that unless there's a lot of money.
[00:42:54.25] Neeta: Yeah, exactly. Twitch is a very interesting platform though, like Amazon knew what they were doing when they bought that thing.
[00:43:01.37] David: Yeah, and that's from a gaming perspective it's like first second third or fourth, like talk about ESPN being the worldwide leader. Twitch in gaming. I mean, game set match.
[00:43:10.01] Neeta: Exactly.
[00:43:11.56] David: To that on Snapchat, I don't know if you saw this news yesterday, I think I shared on LinkedIn, I shared on Twitter. Grabio now allows you to push live publishing Snapchat, which correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there is ever an API to push anything to Snapchat. And that was always a frustration thing for us as the agency is like we're doing live coverage of Super Bowls and Olympics, and we want to use the Snapchat platform, but it only really worked for people on the ground and kind of do it behind the scenes, but now that opens up ... Because if I'm on Snapchat I do want to see real-time highlights of my favorite team on the official Lakers account or whatever. So that's going to be I think super interesting.
[00:43:47.15] Neeta: It is. And it also shows you ... more importantly to me, it shows that Snapshot's willing to like change who they have been. And a third party API going ...
[00:43:54.38] David: They were a camera company, remember.
[00:43:56.00] Neeta: Yeah, it's good to like ... that should be ... That's encouraging to me. Like, I really believe in Snapchat as a company, and it's encouraging to me that they're starting to finally transition to more of like, "Okay, we were fixing things."
[00:44:09.30] David: Yep, all right, so I asked this question a lot, it's a tough one. But of five years from today what is the future of social media look like?
[00:44:20.33] Neeta: I don't think it's going to change too much. I really don't. I think until people start consuming or spending more time on consuming videos on social media, it's going to pretty much just stay the same in my opinion. You might have some features come in that are new, you might have more smaller platforms pop up here and there. But I don't think the consumption habits are going to change too much more than they already have.
I do think that TV and just sitting down and watching shows is going to be tougher, but I think where you're really going to see the change is not necessarily in social media, it's going to be more in the subscription models like Netflix, ESPN Plus.
[00:45:11.04] David: And I think too to your earlier point about the revenue model, I think five years from now there's going to be a huge shift in (a) how we measure, so Nielsen total ratings or whatever we end up agreeing to as an industry. But once billions of dollars comes over from linear and goes into digital I think the biggest change will probably be just the larger staffs and taking more pride in like your social media presence and knowing that you have to program Instagram and Twitter.
[00:45:39.54] Neeta: I don't know even know ... To counter that, I don't know if it's necessarily going to go into social. I think it's going to go into branded content. Branded content honestly to me is where things are going to grow the most.
[00:45:50.10] David: I guess, I mean, digital exclusives though, you know what I'm saying?
[00:45:51.57] Neeta: Okay, that's right.
[00:45:53.00] David: So yeah.
[00:45:53.26] Neeta: I think branded content is going to be sort of where people are going to drive most of their revenue going forward, not necessary through social. Social's probably the distribution obviously. But I think you'll start to see some of those dollars shift towards growing of branded content teams.
[00:46:10.30] David: So to that point with IGN, I guess where are you guys now in terms of digital inventory and branded content and sponsorship trying to attach sponsors, not just like slapping a logo on you, and I've talked about that a lot and we hate that. But making it genuine to the audience, like this is going to be engaging no matter what, but let's make this ... and Bleacher's done a pretty good job at this actually, but like branding the content so that the sponsor wins, IGN wins, and then the consumer wins.
[00:46:35.04] Neeta: I think the strength of IGN aside from the editorial, editorial is very strong, is the branded content teams. A guy named Blair Herter runs branded content at IGN, and they do just an outstanding job of working with sales to quickly formulate creative content or creative ideas for the sales team to respond to RFPs on.
I think where they stand right now is we are a digital first company, like we have a mindset of like this needs to work on digital. Where I'm providing the expertise to IGN right now is kind of showing them data and how things are performing, but more importantly I'm trying to get them to change their thought in terms of like here's how we need to be programming for a social first audience, as opposed to here's how we should be programming the content for more of like a .com audience. So that's been sort of where I've spent a lot of my time over the past couple months.
But most importantly I think where IGN stands right now is ... and I'm not just saying this because I work there, but I mean, I've been with the Cowboys, I've been with ESPN, and there is enormous energy around social media that you just don't see elsewhere. And it's what's made my jobs so exciting every single day. Because I know I'm going to go in and everyone's going to say and ask me questions about like what can we do here, what can we do here on social, and the projects that we're working on are just so cool.
[00:48:03.37] David: Yeah, so I like what you said there. So I think there's always been this ... especially in linear television, but we have all this content, let's just throw it on social. And what you're saying is like, "No, let's look at Twitter individually, let's look at Instagram individually, and let's program this." The same way a cable television program would program their shows and their commercials and their bumpers and everything like that, you're saying it needs to be more of a strict process on each platform.
[00:48:27.54] Neeta: And that still happens even at IGN where it's sort of like we create this content, we want it to go everywhere. But now what I'm starting to do is we're starting to say, "Okay, it's great content, but we're going to recut this for social or we're going to tweak a couple things for it to work more on social," instead of just taking like a piece of content putting it everywhere, check the box, and done. We still do that but it's a transition process that we're doing.
But most importantly like everyone at IGN is like very interested in hearing what I have to say, how to change that. And that's most important. When you have two people that are interested in changing it as opposed to one person telling you how to do it, it's much more powerful.
[00:49:02.22] David: And what helps you too like from a career shift standpoint is like they brought you in, which I think is interesting rather than like applying for a gig and like, "Hey, Neeta. Here's what we need from you." It's like, "No, we went and got you and brought you in because we trust you and we need your help from your experience." And I think from just like an employee standpoint, that puts you in a much better situation where there's a lot more respect on day one I think, right?
[00:49:25.10] Neeta: Absolutely, obviously there's a challenge where I'm not a gamer, I wasn't a gamer. I'm starting to get into games now, I'm really good at Fortnite by the way. But there was a level of respect of where I had been, and I obviously respected a lot of people for what they know about the industry. I think there's been a lot of progress made has been the fact that like I know you know the content, you know I know how to do social media, let's work together and figure out how we can make it work for both of us. And that relationship across the board has been what's helped.
[00:49:58.10] David: Well, I think that outsider's perspective helps a lot because if you enjoy it, we already know that the 14-year old gamers going to love everything you guys do. But if you find a way, like if I enjoy it as maybe not as big as a gamer then we hit kind of mass consumption into more people. And that's huge.
[00:50:15.08] Neeta: So that's actually been sort of what my strategy has been. It's kind of if you look at a spectrum of where IGN sits, IGN kind of serves the hardcore gamer on the site. And I've sort of started to change the mentality where, "Yes, like we, our bread and butter we are serving all games. But right now on social, like we got to focus on we can't do everything, because if we do everything not everyone's going to care about our brand." We need to focus on the things that people care about the most. And Fortnite obviously is one that everyone cares about but it's also one that the hardcore gamers really just despise, because it's like a very simple game like the Zelda games, the PUBG, is considered a better Battle Royale game. Like, the hardcore gamers don't necessarily play Fortnite. And so it's been a challenge because knowing that, knowing that this works on social, like we're kind of alienating at time some of our hardcore fans.
[00:51:03.14] David: And that's like PR branding at its best, like Antonio Brown, Steeler fans are going to love that dude no matter what. If he does more interviews and gets on Ellen, then maybe more people and NFL people like him. But I think if he gets on Dancing with the Stars, then he opens his brand up to a whole another audience that says, "Oh, I know that guy." So same with like gaming, it's like the gamers are going to get to the content about it what, but how can you hit that fringe audience?
[00:51:25.22] Neeta: Exactly. You know the hardcore audience is going to go find the content themselves, but on social you got to go create a new audience. It's similar to how was at ESPN, everyone is trashing ESPN because all they covered was Tebow and it was the most small thing that he did, running in the rain with the shirt off. But ESPN will cover it because the audience cared for it. They consumed it.
[00:51:44.59] David: Yes, because my grandma was talking about it type deal.
[00:51:47.05] Neeta: Exactly, so like you have to connect to a more broader audience on social.
[00:51:51.30] David: We talked with Shawn Duras, I'm not sure if you know who he is, but we call him the godfather of Snapchat, one of the original influencers on Snapchat. And he launched a company called Space Station Gaming where he has gamers on his roster and they do tournaments. But he said he's seen a huge shift, and I'm not sure some of your colleagues have said this to you as well, it usually only be like keyboard and mouse companies would be a part of this branded content. Then it kind of shifted to maybe like an Uber Eats where we can deliver food to you while you're gaming. But now he's seen it open up to every brand, and that's the market shift to where it's like if Skittles is interested or Aquafina Water's interested or whatever, that just opens up your whole ability to just kind of go mass-market on it.
[00:52:32.19] Neeta: Yeah, absolutely. Like, you said earlier, like no one wants their logo slapped on content anymore. They all want to have more be part of what the content is. And I think knowing that that's the shift, marketers are getting smarter and smarter, and they're saying we want to do that.
[00:52:45.45] David: And brands want to be involved in e-gaming because they know that's where the younger audience is and that's where pop culture is, so you're seeing them.
[00:52:50.12] Neeta: Yeah, everyone says they want to be part of eSports, they want to be part of e-gaming, and it's like, "Okay, but do you understand what it is?" Even for me, like to be fair, like I don't understand it as thoroughly as other people that work at IGN do, but I do know enough about it to know that when people come and they say, "We want to be part of eSports." Okay, cool.
[00:53:10.01] David: So what do you think, I mean, someone in your seat, either it's your personal or in the industry as a whole, where do you think the bottlenecks or challenges are like on a daily basis? I guess the answer probably would be putting more emphasis on social and more resources, which I hear a lot of, but anything else come to mind?
[00:53:28.57] Neeta: So that's a very loaded question in many ways. I think here's been my approach to my team - on a daily basis you hit your singles and doubles, basically you know what content is coming up from the editorial side and the video side, and you hit your singles and doubles. From like just long-term planning standpoint, where I've kind of challenged my team to do is basically look ahead. We know Comic-Con's coming every year; we know E3 is coming every year. We get told almost a year in advance what all these movies that are coming out - What can we be doing to create original pieces of content around that?
And that's the beauty of being out of the sports industry, because breaking news can happen at any point. It can even happen in entertainment, someone gets cast in a movie, like all hands on deck we're moving. But with movies specifically like we can go back into the origins of the comics, we can go back into what people have done in previous movies and put together content. We could also like go into the fandom of it and what people are speculating on what's going to happen.
You can't really do that in sports, like in sports the results are played on the field right in front of everyone. And there's a little bit ... obviously less brute in the entertainment industry and there's less trash talk too. So I guess what I'm trying to get to is basically this - We plan ahead and we try to be as creative as possible, and on a day to day basis you just hit your singles and doubles, if that makes sense.
[00:55:01.44] David: Yeah, I love it. Well, how big is your team at IGN?
[00:55:05.37] Neeta: Right now we are 10 people, going on 11.
[00:55:08.06] David: And all those folks are doing social specific content?
[00:55:11.21] Neeta: Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, design, and then we have a couple coordinators who are ...
[00:55:16.06] David: I mean, you're probably in the top 5, 10% of the industry, that large of a team focusing directly on social.
[00:55:22.10] Neeta: That goes back to IGN like really, really believes in social. Like, we are owned by a company named Ziff Davis who also owns Mashable, and the president of Ziff Davis has like ... He sends me emails all the time saying, "Check this out on social." They're very, very invested in it, because they understand that social is key to the future.
[00:55:39.22] David: I think I just like get your thoughts just more of like a rant or whatever on the industry, but one thing I hear too much in our industry is, "Well, Bleacher Report has a hundred million dollars or Bleacher Report has a bunch of more resources than we ever have." So they kind of give up in a way, like we can't compete with Dallas Cowboys, we can't compete with the Yankees because they have a bigger following or they have more budget, rather than here's our situation, we only have a two man staff, whatever it may be how can we ... because we've seen like the Atlanta Hawks, we've seen the Sacramento Kings, we've seen some different sports teams that have small staffs and they've found a way to enter their self in the lexicon and the pop culture and made waves. So I don't know if you noticed that at all, but it's just like I think too often it's like, "Well, we can't compete so why even try," type deal.
[00:56:26.31] Neeta: I think that goes to sort of people's just not understanding, at the end of the day it's a business. It's a business; you have to make money in order to keep playing the game. And I've been sheltered at ESPN, it's a big conglomerate, you don't really feel the impact as much about the business as other places. But here at IGN you kind of really understand like it's a business. And people forget that all the time, people think, "Oh, why can't people dedicate more resources to social?" Like, I said earlier social cost money; we got to start driving more revenue. And I think if you look at an example of who's doing it best right now in the sports landscape specifically, it's Fox Sports. Previously I believe it's they were losing a lot of money.
[00:57:14.05] David: Well, and then with USA not making the World Cup, everybody pretty much wrote them off, like this is going to be the worse, worse, worse, and like they had some record-breaking numbers on digital. So they didn't like rest on their laurels like, "Well, let's cash it in." And that's a perfect example.
[00:57:28.58] Neeta: But more importantly I believe they're profitable now. That was not the case, and I won't give them a bunch of crap about their pivot that they made to just all video, but look who's laughing now, like who's laughing now?
[00:57:42.01] David: And they got a lot of heat for not sending broadcasters to the actual events as well. They had a lot of their play-by-play were actually out of LA watching it. And that was a huge like no-no in the industry. But like you said like they figure out a way to make it happen.
[00:57:56.33] Neeta: Yeah, and again, this goes to a guy who hired me at ESPN, Mike Buckland who's now running digital at Fox, like he's done a great job there.
[00:58:04.45] David: I think Tyler, right?
[00:58:06.13] Neeta: Tyler works for Buck I believe, yes.
[00:58:09.07] David: Yeah, and he's done a good job since he's been there.
[00:58:10.19] Neeta: The social team, a lot of those people are my very good friends. But they've done a tremendous job there, and like I'm not saying that because I know them, but it's just the truth, like they're now like a profitable group, that wasn't the case before, and they all got there.
[00:58:25.16] David: And especially with all the changes, I mean, you guys went ... was it John Skipper while you were there?
[00:58:30.11] Neeta: Yes, John Skipper.
[00:58:31.48] David: But at Fox, I mean, they dealt with Jamie Horowitz, and he shifted the whole company and then he was out, so they were like in this like very weird area, like what do we do now? Do we keep on doing what he said or do we like kind of revert back to the old? Because to talk about all video, that's what they were all about on web.
[00:58:49.30] Neeta: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how things continue to transition for a cross sports, and I'm glad I get to be stepping out of it for a little bit here just to see what happens. But I'm going back to it right now, it's really tough to make profit in digital in general, it really is. And when you're an all-digital company like IGN is right now it's an investment. But if you do it the right way, you build from the ground up and you know, "This is going to drive more revenue than other things, page views do less than actual pre-roll and videos, and then you are patient with it, and you wait for the dividends to happen," you're going to see success stories like what Fox had it for the World Cup.
[00:59:31.00] David: Well, and I think no better example than Twitter took them 12 years to have a profitable quarter, and they just kept on trucking along. And now I think they found themselves, let's stay in the race, let's stay there, let's stay steady. And then Facebook happens with fake news, and there was like this market or this opening all of a sudden for them to come in, and they hit it, they I think in my opinion they double down, they do a really good job on relationship building I think with athletes and just folks like yourself. And they were able to kind of attack that the right way and they've done really well the last year.
[00:59:59.53] Neeta: Twitter really positioned themselves as the pulse. I think a lot of it had to do with POTUS who's there right now where there's a lot of more attention on what's happening on Twitter. But they were smart, and they did it the right way. I think their shift to doing more live has really helped them a lot.
[01:00:13.58] David: And they're programming for that, yeah.
[01:00:16.05] Neeta: Exactly. And they're continuing to evolve, but they're also doing a great job of out reaching to influencers, and they're making sure that they're helped and taken care of. And I think ...
[01:00:23.37] David: Yes, that pays in the long run.
[01:00:26.00] Neeta: And I also think one of the more underrated things that they've done is like beefing up the customer service and like the case handling on a lot of these ... There's still trolls on there, but they're removing them quickly.
[01:00:37.10] David: Well, what is frustrating for me in like Facebook we've had campaigns we're spending tens and tens of thousands of dollars, and you can't get anyone on the phone. And it's like if you're handing people, and I'm sure other companies, hundreds of thousands or millions. But even at that level, tens of thousands of dollars, there should be some type of rep you can call to ask if your campaign is not running correctly. And I think Twitter from at least on the sports side that I see and entertainment side, like they've always had a really good connection with all of their top media partners.
[01:01:04.30] Neeta: Yep, they really have. I work with a couple right now around Comic-Con specifically, they've been great. I think they are very personable, but I always make the joke to them still how many Russian bots are following me.
[01:01:19.58] David: Did you work with Dave Herman or TJ or anything with ESPN at all?
[01:01:24.07] Neeta: No, I worked a little bit with Andrew Barge, and now I'm working with Rishi Shara.
[01:01:28.53] David: Nice, very cool. We worked with her as well. I mean, this is like a more of a business owner interesting, I've always wondered this and now they have somebody from ESPN, I want to ask them, from a culture standpoint when layoffs happen, and you talked about how it's family and you missed the people. Listen, every company can have that and like you said when you're restructuring and we're in this crazy industry, you can't fault them for saying, hey, we need to make a change. But what does that do like on campus for the culture when everybody starts looking over their shoulder and can that be, how do you navigate that when that happens?
[01:02:05.52] Neeta: The toughest day of my ESPN career was the 2017 NFL Draft. It was in April, it was in Philadelphia, the day before the draft was when there was a pretty mass layoffs. And it just makes it real, like we work in this ... We operate in this bubble where we get to cover sports, or we got to ... here, we get to cover gaming. And you think like, "Man, my job's really cool," like someone's going to find out that what I actually do on the job, and then it becomes real, and then it's sad but it also like refocuses you and it reminds you that you have to continue pushing yourself to be better and better and better. And you can't stop improving your own development, because the minute you do you're gone.
And not that that's necessarily the case on why those people are gone, those are more business decisions. But you have to make sure you're putting yourself in the proper situation to where you become invaluable.
[01:02:58.24] David: Yeah, from relationship standpoint.
[01:03:00.03] Neeta: Exactly.
[01:03:01.52] David: Yeah, and then also I feel like with the ESPN specifically, when you move, and you know this because you did it, when you moved to Bristol, Connecticut, you either work for ESPN or the post office, like there's not like if you live in New York in LA you get laid off like, cool, I'm going to go down the street to Fox Sports, I'm going down the street to Turner or whatever. But that's what's interesting about that, like you move your family and your life to this like to Bristol and if it doesn't work out you got to move your family and life out of Bristol and find a different then, now that makes it even more difficult I think from a ...
[01:03:31.56] Neeta: I think Richard Deutsch, if that's his name, he said it best like, "You don't date ESPN, you marry it." And that's so true. And Bristol, Connecticut has its charm and you're kind of out there in the middle of nowhere.
[01:03:49.20] David: But you're there for the job.
[01:03:50.14] Neeta: But you're there for the job. And I knew that going in, but I know how long I was going to be there, I wanted to be there as long as I could possibly take it. And I ended up being there for exactly three years. But it takes a toll on you. I was out on the road quite often, and you come back late at night and there's nothing open to eat, and there's snow, and then you go back to your place and you're like, "Oh, I don't even have groceries, like what are we going to do?" Like, there's not much to it. And not only that one of the reasons I say the people of ESPN are so great is everyone is in the same boat.
[01:04:22.28] David: You all feel each other on that level.
[01:04:23.56] Neeta: You all feel each other. And so it starts to blend where the people you work with end up being the people you hang out with, and it becomes like the fraternity of ESPN basically.
[01:04:33.15] David: All right, so I got to get you back to Comic-Con, but I got some rapid-fire questions for you. What is the one social or marketing tool that you cannot live without?
[01:04:42.14] Neeta: Crowd Tangle.
[01:04:43.28] David: Oh, we've heard that twice now. Okay, West Coast or East Coast?
[01:04:47.04] Neeta: West.
[01:04:49.04] David: Rank and order, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat in terms of importance for IGN?
[01:04:54.57] Neeta: Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter.
[01:04:58.35] David: Interesting. I'm sure from an Instagram standpoint you've seen just ... I mean, even like your time with ESPN but everybody that we've spoken to and all the accounts that we work on, like that's the organic play now as far as our engagement. The only one left maybe.
[01:05:15.17] Neeta: Well, it drives most engagement of all platforms.
[01:05:17.43] David: Yeah, who is a must follow on Twitter?
[01:05:20.59] Neeta: Can you narrow it down to industry for me?
[01:05:27.11] David: Let's do sports.
[01:05:29.46] Neeta: Okay, Adam Schefter.
[01:05:32.42] David: Okay, what is your one guilty non-business, non-sports, non-gaming follow?
[01:05:39.16] Neeta: I'm very into the news industry right now. I guess I feel like if you're not paying attention you're not doing your job as a citizen in this country. I think Kyle Griffin and Maggie Haberman are the two people I follow.
[01:05:54.15] David: I admit that this WorldStarHipHop is my guilty non ...
[01:05:57.44] Neeta: You're much clearer than me.
[01:05:59.10] David: In our industry FOMO I think is a major thing, everything moves so fast. So what's the one thing that you would recommend everybody in our industry, social media marketers like read or follow or make sure you're staying on top of on a day to day basis?
[01:06:14.54] Neeta: Wall Street Journal. I think it's important you know where the money's coming from.
[01:06:22.04] David: That's a good point, and also like it all just comes together, it's all full circle stuff when you know what's going on.
[01:06:27.08] Neeta: Yeah, people make fun of me for reading it all the time, but it's important.
[01:06:30.14] David: But you're not like actual paper, you're ... What is it by the way, the subscription model?
[01:06:36.36] Neeta: I pay the annual price; it's like 300 bucks a year.
[01:06:39.01] David: There you go. And then any I guess lasting advice for anybody working in this industry?
[01:06:43.50] Neeta: Network, people say it's cliché, like people say it all the time. But like it's important that you network, network, network. And not only that, when you network just don't burn any bridges.
[01:06:52.21] David: Well, yeah, and I think you make a great point. And also when I go back to San Diego State, I'm sure maybe you've talked to students before. But network is not handing your business card out at a conference, it's just building relationships. It's like that's a huge thing I've learned through five years of STN Digital too. It's like once you ... Everybody knows like, "That's a good dude. I like him," then all of a sudden like, "Let me call David and see if he can help out," type of deal. And if you burn a bridge then ... It's a small industry though, I really feel like it is.
[01:07:21.23] Neeta: I used to get made fun of at ESPN all the time about how I was part of the I think the #smsports community at the time, specifically Mike Buckland, he's make fun of me and just tweet me like, "Oh, you didn't hash tag it." But at the end of the day like that community is very ... They all had to serve the same purpose, they all just want to know who's doing what. And I can go to my phone now and I have so many contacts that I met through Twitter, yourself included, that I can just go to and I can say like, "Yeah, if we want to come up with an idea, if we want to ask question," like I feel comfortable going ...
[01:07:55.41] David: Yeah, it's funny, like we had a minor relationship on Twitter and LinkedIn and things like that when you're at ESPN, and there was just not an opportunity at ESPN, they didn't really hire agencies and things like that. But yeah, to your point too, it's like the second you went to IGN it's like, "Let's hop on a call," because I know there's some things that we can probably collab on, so it's so important.
[01:08:12.24] Neeta: Exactly, and I think not only that, just being able to just create awareness of what you're doing yourself is just so important, because there may be something that someone else will learn from you even if you're not learning from them.
[01:08:25.49] David: And I think ... I don't know if you notice this in LA, but me growing up an hour east of LA and working in LA, there's a little bit of a culture there where unless you can help me now I'm not going to waste my time with you. So if we're going out to lunch like, "Is this a business meeting or not? Because I have other stuff to do." And I think that's a poor way to look at it, and I think if you make sure you don't have that clouded, characteristic, that you can do some amazing things in any industry because you build relationships and you're being genuine and great value type deal.
[01:08:55.50] Neeta: Yes.
[01:08:56.22] David: That's just some overall life advice. All right, so Neeta, thank you so much. And once again, the head of social at IGN Entertainment. That was fun.
[01:09:02.25] Neeta: This is great. Thank you for having me.
[01:09:04.06] David: Thank you very much. All right, there she was, the head of social at IGN Entertainment, Neeta Sreekanth, a very, very interesting conversation. I always like to have those in person as well, just a different vibe to them and it is definitely great to really talk with her. I haven't had a chance to sit across the table from her ever, so to actually me or in person, here in the studio and talked about her success in the industry so far, especially coming from the team level at the Cowboys to the worldwide leader in sports, which she talked a lot about it at ESPN, and now transitioning over in the last few months actually to IGN and the eSports community is just so interesting, that trajectory from her.
So I thought that was great, the undervalued attention remark about YouTube I think is a great piece of advice. We often forget about YouTube, even though it's like the third biggest website as far as unique views per day, so that was awesome. And just everything that she broke down in terms of what she's trying to do at IGN and the numbers and what Fortnite is doing to the industry and culture, just really cool conversation, and I hope you guys found a lot of value out of it.
As always, David Brickley here, you guys can always email me any questions, any thoughts, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I want to thank everybody that helps with the program including David Ferker, Sam Howard, and Auntie Lightning. This has been another edition of the business of social podcast brought to you by STN Digital.