Sports Illustrated Wades Into TV and Film Production

A new partnership with 101 Studios will produce long-form video content

SI Studios will oversee the production of longform video and audio projects. Sports Illustrated

Key insight:

While the idea of going to a movie theater to watch the latest blockbuster is still a far-off prospect for many of us, Sports Illustrated is going ahead with plans to begin producing long-form video and films under a new partnership between its owner, Authentic Brands Group (ABG) and 101 Studios, a California-based entertainment producer.

Execs consider the joint venture, called Sports Illustrated Studios, a way to bring some of the brand’s most important journalism, spanning its more than 65-year history, to big screens and small.

The first project under the partnership will be a docuseries called Covers, taking a look back at some of SI’s most iconic magazine covers and how they were created.

“With the amount of platforms available to content today, it’s the perfect time for SI to plant its flag,” said David Glasser, CEO of 101 Studios. “There is no better treasure and library out there.”

Digital media outlets, in particular, have already seen the business opportunity in courting Hollywood production studios. Shops like BuzzFeed, Vice and Refinery 29 (the latter two of which are now one company) have made attempts to get into film production, tapping their valuable IP and providing a new revenue stream.

Another recent example is the 2018 Robert Redford film The Old Man and the Gun, which was based on a 2003 New Yorker article. New Yorker’s parent company, Condé Nast, was a co-producer of the film.

Under the new partnership between ABG and 101, SI Studios will be used to develop, produce and distribute audio projects, long-form films, and TV programming such as docuseries, reality TV and scripted podcasts. Exact financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

Executives pointed to ESPN’s new Michael Jordan docuseries, The Last Dance, as proof of consumer appetite for long-form sports content.

“We have to continue to focus on really, really good content. That takes good journalism to do that. So we’re going to continue to focus on that—and probably supercharge it a little bit,” said Jamie Salter, founder, chairman and CEO of ABG. “At the same time, we’ve got to continue to focus on the digital platform and invest in the digital platform, because that’s where consumers are gravitating for their content.”

The partnership was in the works before ABG acquired Sports Illustrated from Meredith in April 2019 for $110 million. ABG has since transferred management of the company to Maven, a media company. Under that leadership, the newsroom underwent a massive round of layoffs, leaving 9% of staffers without jobs as the maneuver was postured as a way to pivot the publication. Once a weekly magazine, SI continues to publish a print edition monthly. 

SI’s newsroom again underwent another round of staff cuts as Covid-19 hit media businesses, reportedly laying off 6% of the editorial team. All the while, tensions between ownership and staff over management’s strategy have bubbled to the surface. 

In this new partnership, the SI newsroom will work with the studio to develop their stories into video projects, with 101 Studios overseeing production, distribution and marketing. Exact distribution channels for these projects were not announced.

“It gives us another outlet to tell the stories that SI has always been known for telling, but it’s a way to tell those stories to new audiences and new platforms,” said Stephen Cannella, co-editor in chief of Sports Illustrated.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.