Fox Sports wanted to increase its YouTube presence with fresh sports programming that would resonate well with audiences on the world’s largest video sharing site. The 20-year-old division of the Fox Broadcasting Company was smart enough to know that the people who are best at resonating well with YouTube audiences are successful YouTubers. So, in coordination with YouTube Space LA, Fox Sports orchestrated Fox Sports Digital VideoFest, a three-day competition with a grand prize of a six-month development deal and a $1 million marketing budget that brought together 12 prominent YouTube channels representing a solid cross-section of online video genres with varying levels of notoriety.
“We’re looking for a new and innovative way to discover new and native YouTube content and talent in the sports category,” explained Pete Vlastelica, Senior Vice President of Digital at Fox Sports, over the phone. “We decided to go direct to the Youtube community for their expertise.”
Digital media savvy individuals at Fox Sports, YouTube, as well as what Vlastelica said were a couple of multi-channel networks he and his team were close to, “like Big Frame and Fullscreen,” went on a hunt looking for creators who showed signs they could be athletically-minded and bring something unique to online video sports coverage. A sampling of vloggers, sketch comedy groups, and musical acts made the final cut and were flown out to Los Angeles to write, shoot, edit, and upload their pilot episode for a potential Fox Sports digital series. All of it took place at the 41,000 square foot YouTube Space LA facility in Playa Vista from January 23 through 25.
The competition was solid. Here’s a list of all those channels that contended:
- Aja Dang
- Rachel Annamarie DeMita
- Lana McKissack
- Mikey Bolts
- Greg and Lou
- The Brothers Riedell
- Second City
- J.D. Witherspoon
- Totally Sketch
AVbyte won. And if you’re surprised that a YouTube channel with some 400,000+ subscribers and a penchant for live-action musical theater that’s most famous for a 2:06 video about hipster Disney princesses took home first place in a contest of who could make the best sports series, you’re not alone.
“AVbyte’s treatment on paper wasn’t one that jumped out at me,” said Vlastelica. “But that’s because of my small mind. I mean, my small mind is the whole reason we did this. We were looking for content that surprises us. I never thought we would invest in a series of sports musical clips. But the one-minute video they put together was wall-to-wall smiles and different enough from everything out there that we think it has a good shot at breaking through.”
Give AVbyte’s This Week In Sports pilot video a watch and I think you’ll agree.
“Fox Sports was looking for a pilot episode of something that they could develop into a series that was easy to watch and shareable,” AVbyte’s fraternal founders, Vijay and Antonius Nazareth, explained on the phone. “So, we applied the same set of reasoning to this sports video that we do to our music channel, all the while knowing that musicals aren’t only for the stereotypical audience everyone may think they’re for, but that they can really find a large audience online.”
That’s especially the case if AVbyte continues to use burgeoning online video talent in its productions. SourceFed fans will note Ross Everett is the star of the minute-long video’s first half, which certainly won’t hurt its viewership numbers. “Ross is a friend of the channel,” said Vijay and Antonius. “He brings the manliness to our musical.”
The Nazareths are currently working out the logistics of the partnership with Vlastelica and his team at Fox Sports, figuring out the specifics of when the series will commence, where it will be distributed, and how it will be produced, but what’s certain is it will get a lot of promotional support on Fox Sports’ digital and traditional entertainment properties.
Ford Fusion is the brand that’s footing the bill for the seven-figure marketing budget that Fox Sports hopes will help propel its and AVbyte’s new series into the mainstream. (That’s why the Nazareth brothers are leaning against the vehicle in the intro to their pilot.) The mid-sized American car is also a sponsor of Fox Sports’ Super Bowl pre-game show. That’s when and where AVbyte’s This Week In Sports’ will get it’s first on-air promotional spot.
But the possibilities from there are near endless. “You can sort of imagine where this format can go, especially when you add in Fox Sports’ highlight rights to footage from professional sports leagues and potential guest appearances from athletes and on-air talent,” said Vlastelica. “I think the format can scale really well and we’re always trying to incubate programs on digital platforms to bring them to the television world.”