These days you can pick any sport and you're guaranteed to find examples of how online video is improving the fan experience. Beyond improved access, through live streaming to multiple devices, and post-event catch-up through highlight clips, another dimension of online video's value is now also emerging - fan engagement and interaction. A perfect example of this is the US Open tennis tournament's first-time use of Google Hangouts during its men's and women's finals matches.
Recently, I caught up with the two US Tennis Association executives responsible for the hangouts, Phil Green, senior director, advanced media and Peter Dopkin, director, strategic and business development, advanced media, to learn more. Listening to the strategy behind the hangouts, and how they were executed, what struck me is that in the digital age, forward-thinking sports executives are able to bring the fan, analyst and game together as never before.
In the case of the US Open, Green and Dopkin noted their objective was to engage fans with the event as if they were there. They wanted to keep fans' attention and push the envelope with how fans interact. USTA had commentator Kevin Skinner and retired pro Taylor Dent, who were broadcasting the analysis for the Open's international feed, host the hangouts, taking questions from fans while discussing the on-court action.
As seen in the archived video below, it's a single camera shot, with a simple banner hung as background. Some of it is pretty raw, giving it an authentic, web feel. Participants were vetted before going on air, and then their thumbnails appear in the window below. In addition to the participants, special guests like Virginia Wade were brought in to join Skinner and Dent. There was no advertising, so the hangouts mostly play as an uninterrupted stream. The hangouts were promoted through the USTA's various social and digital channels.
Green and Dopkin weren't yet ready to share specific data on usage or time spent in the hangouts, but both were very enthusiastic about how they complimented the overall Open experience. Digital has become a huge part of the US Open, with 11.7 million unique visitors to its web site during the 2012 tournament's 15 days, with 45 million visits, driving 325 million page views (136 million on mobile/tablet). The majority of matches were live streamed, aggregating almost 3 million hours viewed, domestic only.
It's exciting to follow the development of "second screen" apps, and how they can compliment the underlying viewing experience. From my standpoint, I think the hangout idea looks like a winner for all sports. Especially as more fans become aware of them and participate, and rights-holders refine the experience, I can see them becoming very popular. More broadly speaking, hangouts are getting traction in news/current events, product launches, customer service, and commerce. Hangouts are a great example of how online video is not only about increasing viewing convenience, but also of driving higher fan engagement.
Men's final hangout:
Women's final hangout: