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SVG Sit-Down: House of Highlights' Sam Gilbert on the Live Strategy Behind the HoH Creator League

10/05/2022

SVG Sit-Down: House of Highlights' Sam Gilbert on the Live Strategy Behind the HoH Creator League Twelve-week 1v1 hoops tournament shot with iPhones boosts engagement for the digital brand By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 - 2:02 pm

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In an era when social-media influencers and independent content creators have greater reach and impact than ever, media brands are looking to harness the power of the organic side of digital media.

One of the preeminent brands in digital sports is House of Highlights, the Bleacher Report-owned vertical that built its prestige as a social-media destination for sports highlights and pop culture. These days, HoH is increasingly turning to its own live productions, most notably putting a wrap on a 12-week-long 1-on-1 basketball tournament streamed on YouTube and pitting popular hoops-content creators from across the internet against each other.

The series, the HoH Creator League, wrapped last month and was, by all metrics, a massive hit. According to Bleacher Report, HoH Creator League saw 11 of its 16 matchups trend in YouTube's top 25, with the championship game hitting the No. 5 spot on YouTube Global Trending. The league registered more than 226 million views and more than 20 million engagements across all House of Highlights social channels.

In an interesting wrinkle, the productions were shot on two iPhones.

House of Highlights Director, Content, Sam Gilbert sat down with SVG to share what his team has learned about these productions and offer his thoughts on the value of engaging with the brand's following with live, engaging content.

House of Highlights' Sam Gilbert: Our focus is to continue to test, to push boundaries, and to see what works and what doesn't in the live space in particular.

How would you describe the approach your team took to producing these live programs in a less traditional-television manner?

One is to, obviously, produce them as cost-efficiently as possible while not reducing any of the audience interest and overall production value. Knowing that they are YouTube-first live streams and knowing that they're creator-focused, we're able to allow a slightly less polished production because it's more natural and authentic to what these audiences are used to seeing on creator pages.

Our focus was giving it to them as raw and as authentic as possible. We used two iPhones. We have some backend technology that we stream back to our New York control room, where we have a single producer/editor or producer/director live-cutting those two streams and a graphic [operator] who's updating the score.

Other than that, this was very much focused on getting the audience there to see what they want and then delivering it to them in the cleanest way possible. It's 1-on-1 basketball; we're not adding any bells and whistles. [The audience] knows what they want to see, and we're giving it to them exactly how they want it.

When was this an idea that you guys started knocking around, and when did it make the shift from an idea to something you actually decided you could execute on?

We initially dabbled in 1v1 basketball back in 2020 with a few one-off events. We did them with a couple content creators - FaZe Rug played against his brother, Brawadis - and that was our first real test of an iPhone stream. It did decently well. I think we had 20,000 concurrent [viewers], but it was definitely the most we had ever done at the time and for the least cost that we've ever had to do it. We were able to see at least that nugget of thought that these don't need to be highly produced pieces of content to perform at the level that we want.

Then we tested again with FaZe Rug playing Aiden Ross, who is another prominent streamer/creator. That one led to 70,000 live concurrent viewers. Again taking that performance-first cost metric, it was the most efficient thing we've ever done. The audience seemed to love the structure of how we developed the 1v1 game. It felt more focused on Gen Z, not as buttoned-up as what other basketball or sports tournaments in general look like these days.

Once we had a few of those under our belts, we needed to solve for the one-offs, where we would have a week of lead-up [to promote]. We would have the main event; it would be a huge success, but then we would be dark the day after. We were starting from the ground up, again, on how we build all of that anticipation for the next one.

We looked to figure out how to make it more of an always-on experience. Let's take all the things that we love about regular sports leagues and strip away all the things that we think are unnecessary or just bog it down. That's where we got eight creators in the pick-up basketball space to sign up to a 12-week season where they played weekly. That way, we were able to build that storyline, create that compounding effect from week to week, up until the finals.

Were there any substantial challenges, technical/ operational obstacles that your team had to overcome to feel confident about executing live?

The biggest difficulty that we had to overcome was the varying levels of production within the same production. We had this fully built-out studio in New York where we do our NFL Draft shows and all of our very high end executions. It can host 20 production people, and it's got everything that you need. Meanwhile, onsite, we have two people holding cellphones in their hand. How do you get those to work together naturally and keep the authentic visuals that we want to have come across on-screen to our audience?

Another one of the biggest struggles that we had the entire time was cellular service. We have some Wi-Fi connections that we bring with us remotely, but, depending on the indoor facility, that&#
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