What makes a rights holder a hit on YouTube – The ECB might have the answer

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are the first cricket account to reach 1m YouTube subscribers thanks to their engaging content and their loyal fanbase. For Digital Sport, Josh Raisey spoke to Steven Dent, Social Media Manager, ECB, to get the lowdown on what makes the account so successful.

And later this month, Rob Calder, Commercial Director, ECB speak on our panel of experts at October’s Digital Sport London event!

What is your favourite piece of content on the channel?

There’s lots of different bits of content on the channel that are brilliant. I think, personally, some of the documentary side of things that we’ve done this year has been fantastic. All of that’s come out this year, in fact, which is even better. I love the personality side of things, so Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid did a quiz with each other, which was a fantastically funny video and it did exceptionally well for us. Adil and Mo have a great relationship with each other so that was fantastic.

But the channel on the whole has so many fantastic videos from all our different highlights from all our different competitions from county cricket to England cricket which has been great. It’s been a real success story for us.

Who does the ECB draw influence from when it comes to content creation on their channel?

We’re always looking for inspiration from either different sports or the entertainment industry or lots of different areas. We know that, in the one regard, with our YouTube channel the main thing that we have is cricket highlights and the archive and we use that to the best of our ability to get that out there the best we can. [We’re always looking at] trying to get as much inspiration from American sports or the entertainment industry when it comes to funny and different content. We’re always having conversations here in the YouTube team about the different styles of content we can produce. So we get our inspiration form lots of different areas both from this country and further afield, but I think that’s a good way to get a content mix on a channel such as this.

Do you ever foresee a live cricket match broadcast on YouTube – in much the same way the BT channel showed Champions League football?

I think it’s certainly part of the conversation. We know that live content on YouTube is something that will do exceptionally well for us, we know that live content does help the algorithms and helps make sure our content gets seen by more people and there’s more watch time on it, so it’s something that we’re always looking at and considering to see if we can do.

Obviously, there’s always a rights restriction in place in certain areas and not in others, so it’s something that, as the future unfolds, we’ll look at and see if it’s right for us. I think we’ve noticed that there’s lots of different ways people consume content; live is obviously one of them and there’s fantastic work that our broadcasters and others do around live content. Also, on-demand content works exceptionally well, so getting that balance is always a good thing. But live content down the line might well be something that we will look at if we feel that it’s the right thing, and the rights all line up perfectly as well.

Which other channels on YouTube would you say engage with sports fans well?

From a sport point of view, I personally am a big fan of the NBA channels. I love what a lot of our county cricket channels do as well. I think some fantastic stuff is done by the likes of Somerset, Surrey and Derbyshire, and they all play around in this content world on YouTube. I think, for me, I enjoy watching the England Football team and what they’ve done this year. That’s been really interesting to see what they did during the World Cup seeing as we have a World Cup coming next year. It’s always nice to see what resonates and what does well on those channels.

So there’s a few in there, but I’m personally a big fan of American sports as well. I’m always looking to see what types of things they’re doing. They seem to be a little further ahead sometimes so it’s always nice to take a few things from those guys as well.

What could you learn from those American channels to translate into your channel?

A lot of the American sports are so very different to British sports in many ways, but I guess their open access and their ability to not just produce highlights but really think about the other elements of access that they get.

The player buy-in is fantastic and we are always trying to improve our player buy-in to allow things on YouTube to get better. There’s some fantastic stuff we do at the minute and our players love what we do, but it’s always interesting to have a look at those American sports and see just how they are trying things differently or playing around with different elements.

I think we’re really lucky with our YouTube channel; we’ve done fantastically well from a cricket point of view, but how do we broaden our audience? That was the original reason why we started this work and this effort on YouTube- to get it as big as possible and that’s the whole point of what we’re doing, we’re trying to broaden our audience.

What are your plans going into 2019 for the ECB YouTube channel, particularly with the World Cup and the Ashes?

On a simple level, more of the same. We know what we’ve done this year has worked and worked exceptionally well, so we definitely want to continue doing what has worked well with the highlights and the archives and things like that.

We’re always trying to broaden out and what is always a challenge during a World Cup is ensuring that video content is front and centre. We don’t have any rights for our social channels during the World Cup- they all belong to the ICC- so that presents a different challenge for us. It’s one that we faced with the Women’s World Cup last year but it is an interesting time as we get to try and experiment with new content, so we will do a lot of work in and around the team. Specifically, we’re always looking to build up the personalities of players as best that we can. So we will look ahead and play around with the campaign around the World Cup which can integrate fantastically with YouTube, which is great.

Then with the Ashes itself, we do have the rights there as well as the Ireland Test that England have got, which is going to be momentous for Ireland and a nice piece of history for cricket. So we have a lot of things that we do have rights for, and will be able to maximise those rights as best we can, and present them in ways that are digestible and fun.

We’ve got a few bits of content coming up later on this year which may give a different take on the ‘How to’ video which we’ll want to do more of next year. Also, we’re keen to build a series of content so people keep coming back for the channel for things that they know and love. When you see the likes of Dude Perfect and F2Freestylers out there, who are fantastic at building a series of content, we want to do the same with the content we have available to use.

Do you have any plans for the proposed 100-ball competition in England?

All that is a concept and a work in progress at the minute so nothing’s really finalised in that area. I guess what we’d love to do is use the platform of a tournament that is talking to a new and varied audience to show things in a different light and show cricket off.

Cricket’s fantastic, but how do you break cricket down to be as understandable and as great as possible? That’s what we want to do. And the more effort behind our YouTube channel to broaden our audience in the first place, with this younger demographic that are predominantly sitting on our channel and watching our content and engaging with it, is a perfect opportunity for us to understand that. When we looked at YouTube and Instagram, we realised that those are the two channels that have the 18-24 demographic that everyone strives to get hold of, and that’s where we want to put some effort into talking to that demographic.

We realise that other channels talk to different audiences and that’s completely fine, so we’re quite tactical about how we go about things, and again, when it comes to looking at content around a new tournament, that’s exactly what we’ll do there. We’ll identify the audience that we’re going after and create the content that we want to present to them and make them engage with it and enjoy cricket at its heart.

How do you balance content between the shorter formats of cricket and Test Cricket? And do you think that the younger demographic are more interested in the shorter formats, and does that lend itself to YouTube in terms of highlights packages?

It’s really interesting because it varies. We do quite a lot of great segmentation work with our marketing team here in identifying audiences. We know that there is a younger audience that just wants to lap up all cricket, regardless of whether it’s T20 or Tests. But there’s another audience that probably don’t want to watch the whole highlights and stuff like that, but they might want to watch more of the funnier or compilation type content, so we build that in there as well. We did a fantastic compilation series with Specsavers this year, which is our #SHOULDVE content series, which picks out three funny moments and delivered them at different time periods throughout the India Test series and that was fantastic. We were able to broaden our reach, not just in terms of the hardcore cricket side of things but being a bit more fun and irreverent.

In international T20 and the Vitality Blast, [we want to appeal] to a slightly different audience than the hardcore Test Match audience. But again, it doesn’t mean that you don’t watch T20 and Test together, and also One Day cricket combined. I think there are different audiences that are appealed quite naturally, but also people like to consume all cricket as well. So we’re making sure we get a good blend to ensure that if we’re ticking one box for one person, we’re ticking another box for another somewhere else. So it’s about getting a good content mix that we feel is right and we think we’ve got to a nice place where we are right now in terms of what we do.

A lot of your most popular videos are on Indian players. Is that just because they toured this summer, or is that a popular market?

We tend to find that whoever the touring country is, the fans tend to follow our channel just as much as they follow their own team, which is fantastic. With India being here this summer, we’ve had a great following from a subcontinental audience. With the likes of Virat Kohli, who is a global superstar, you’d expect people to enjoy his content. Just as much, thankfully, we have players like Jos Buttler and Joe Root who are also global superstars. So the right combination works really, really well.

We’re very conscious that this summer, with India here, was really nice, and when you look to next year with the Ashes, that again, is in many ways a global cricket tournament for many people and we’re sure that that will bring in a slightly different audience to what this year did. It just changes and varies depending on the opposition. That’s quite normal for us, we’re used to that and we quite enjoy it; it means different content works for different audiences, and we get to experiment to see what works better with different audiences depending on what’s going on. We know our UK audience absolutely love the Ashes and we can’t wait to play around with that and get them to consume as much of the fantastic series that takes place next year.

In the immediate future, with the Test series with Sri Lanka, do you have a different strategy covering that, with regards to the different time zones?

It’s always an interesting one, time zones and the winter tours. The most interesting one we have, where we feel that we have close to 24 hour coverage across all our channels, is when we play the Ashes in the winter time. That tends to be a huge amount of work around the clock for everyone who’s either in Australia or the UK.

Again, with Sri Lanka this winter, we will be doing our absolute best to ensure with our channel that, when people wake up, they get the best update of where play is at at that point in time, not just on YouTube but on other channels as well. With the World Cup next year, we don’t have the rights, so it’s how do we put on our archives to ensure that our video is ready and waiting for people. We look at things in such minutiae, such as, if England were batting, we would probably release a batting video, or if England are playing really well, we’ll look at that side of things to make sure the archive is relevant. But on our other channels, we’ve got that ability to play around with the live content and make sure that people are paying attention at the right moments. We know we get a small spike when people wake up in the morning when cricket is going on, so we’ll make sure we try and get out content ready for that moment.

We’re really lucky, we’ve got the Women’s World T20 this November, so there’s going to be a few days there where we get Test Match cricket during most of the day, then a little break, and then into the evening we’ve got the Women’s World T20 games, so we’re going to have a pretty full-on fews days there where there’s lots of content but it’s a fantastically fun time to be able to show off both the men and women’s England teams on our account.

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