The latest platform to throw its hat into the stories ring is … ESPN?
While the sports giant isn’t a social platform by definition, it maintains a presence across social platforms worldwide, but its new ESPN Stories format is actually part of its application.
The company called ESPN Stories its most significant content-driven release since it debuted streaming service ESPN+ in April 2018.
ESPN Stories will begin rolling out Friday with topical compilations and original executions created exclusively for the app, with video, audio and graphics designed for a mobile-first experience. All users of the app should have access by Monday.
Senior vice president of digital and social content Ryan Spoon called the new format a chance to tell a different story and to take some of the content ESPN is creating in other environments and bring it to the app.
Spoon said in an interview that ESPN Stories marks the first time the app has had vertical video, and vertical videos ads will debut at a later date.
ESPN Stories will also feature highlights, hot takes and opinions from existing ESPN franchises such as First Take, Get Up and SportsCenter, as well as highlights, top plays, live previews, live updates, recaps and reactions to the day’s sporting events.
The new format will join live digital shows that are already available via the ESPN app, including Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show, Hoop Streams and MLS Countdown Live.
Spoon said the ESPN Stories format allows for mixing elements such as highlights, stories, statistics and trivia together, and it enables the publisher to showcase different options and developments around a story.
When asked if there were any concerns about the ESPN Stories name causing confusion with the social media format that has been a major development for social platforms including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, Spoon said, “It achieves the opposite of confusion. It brings the familiarity. The user interface is familiar, the concept is familiar: What we’re doing to do with it is unique.”
ESPN said the format may be adapted and used by other properties under the Disney and Walt Disney Direct to Consumer & International (DTCI) umbrella, including ABC News, Freeform and National Geographic.
ESPN cited data from Shareablee showing that it tallied almost 2.2 billion social actions (comments, favorites, loves, reactions, retweets, shares) across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter during the first six months of 2020, up 70% year-over-year.
And according to Comscore, the ESPN app is far and away the top sports app in the U.S., with 254% more unique visitors and 240% more minutes spent per month than its closest competitor from January through June.
The ESPN app averaged 21.3 million unique visitors and 1.98 minutes spent per month in 2019, with those figures reaching 25.4 million and 2.88 minutes in September, ESPN said, citing Comscore data.
Walt Disney DTCI Technology vp of product and design Jarrod Schwarz said in a statement, “As we worked with ESPN to bring this format natively to the ESPN app, we wanted to ensure that we could present its unmatched talent and content in a way that makes the most of what is great about the stories format, like vertical full-screen video, imagery and pathways to related content. We also wanted to make iterative advancements so that our stories could integrate some of what is unique about ESPN digitally, like integrated access to livestreaming events, incredible graphics, feature storytelling and the richest library of sports video and audio in the world.”