How Bleacher Report May Be Digitally Minded Turner’s Next Global Conquest

Online publisher focuses on social, mobile and sports culture

Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio speaks at the NewFronts today.
Turner

Around 700 marketers filed into Turner Broadcasting’s expansive event space near the Hudson River in New York’s West Village for the Digital Content NewFronts, where they were treated to an interactive funhouse. Pliable, synthetic walls could be touched, or even leaned into, in order to watch and listen to certain video content from CNN Digital, Bleacher Report and the media giant’s social-minded storytelling endeavor called Great Big Story.

CNN partner and social star Casey Neistat was there, revealing that his much-anticipated, viral-news-styled program will premiere this summer, while Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio kicked off the show by virtually appearing on a screen—even though he was on site. Later, CNN chief Jeff Zucker introduced a deal to distribute exclusive videos from the popular tech events circuit Ted Talks.

So, with a level of pomp-and-circumstance that would make founder Ted Turner a proud papa, the emphasis was clear to NewFronts attendees who may have wondered why the Atlanta-based player wasn’t presenting all of this via its normal venue, the Upfronts. It wants you to know it’s a super-duper digital company—and have you heard how much millennials love Bleacher Report?

“Young people have a really low tolerance content that isn’t relevant to them,” Finocchio said. “Don’t miss the boat marketing to a [sports] culture that no longer exists.”

Indeed, many Bleacher Report readers evidently care more about NBA star Russell Westbrook’s fashion line than his stats line. Or they may be more interested in a creatively edited, mash-up of Westbrook or LeBron James’ recent dunks. (Such a highlight reel focusing on Phoenix Devin Booker scoring 70 points on March 25 garnered 300,000 likes on Instagram alone.) Or perhaps they want to follow Game of Zones, the animated original series starring pro hoops stars, which Finocchio said is getting a 90 percent completion rate on YouTube and garnering 100 likes for every one dislike.

His media brand’s basketball focus seems wise, since hoops is growing internationally and has arguably become the globe’s clear No. 2 sport after fútbol. About 30 percent to 35 percent of Bleacher Report’s traffic comes from overseas (especially during events like soccer’s English Premiere League), and other countries drive about half of its social engagement.

“Whether or not [basketball] gets to where people [outside the U.S.] really care about whether a team loses or not, I don’t know,” Finocchio said off stage. “But the players [and] the culture of basketball resonate globally.”

He predicted that the NBA is set for a growth spurt in the U.S., where it very much trails pro football in popularity. “One sport that is already mature that will be bigger here in 10 years than it is now—I’d bet on the NBA,” the exec said.

Social and mobile are key to why B/R has more than 250 million millennial global users. For instance, it apparently gains 8,000 Instagram followers every day and now has 4.3 million followers on the platform. It uses Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to especially push videos and GIFs.

Original programming seems to be taking over Bleacher Report’s video aspirations, as Finocchio said that more than half of his video budget is now going to creating new short-form and long-form shows.

“My guess is that that [investment] will grow over time,” he added. “We are going to build our voice, we are going to build our content. And if people don’t love [some] series, we are going to shut them down.”

Turner bought Bleacher Report in August 2012 for around $175 million and since has spent at least $100 million building the platform. Its next big investment appears to be in Neistat, who was vague in describing what his CNN Digital program would contain in the coming months. He said the cable network is affording him “tremendous autonomy.”

“A lot of it will be news,” the YouTube phenomenon said. “It’s not going to be traditional news.”

Meanwhile, Zucker said Great Big Story’s year-over-year viewership was recently up as much as 300 percent. “It’s getting tens of millions of 18-to-34-year-olds,” he proclaimed.

The CNN chief also lauded the Ted Talks deal. “We are more relevant than ever,” he said.

Overall, Turner’s NewFront talks lasted less than one hour.

“That was quite an exhibition for such a short event,” remarked one marketer leaving the building.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that B/R had 400 million millennial users.