Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Women's World Cup game plan for Fox Sports does not include presence of on-screen social media indicators

With the first part of the Women’s World Cup as proof, expect tonight’s U.S.-Germany semifinal to deliver on almost every level.

It’ll be compelling TV that attracts viewers (some 5.7 million people watched the quarterfinal victory over Japan), and it’ll be a quality broadcast, because the Fox Sports on-air and production team has been pitch perfect so far, delivering access and information with criticism and insight when appropriate.

Still, one thing tonight’s match might not deliver -- at least overtly and regularly -- is an on-screen social media connection. And that’s not an oversight.

While Fox Sports takes pride in its social media efforts, the network’s plan does not include a consistent on-screen presence for handles and hashtags for Facebook and Twitter during live broadcasts.

That’s really not unusual for any sports broadcaster. While it seems like a missed opportunity, those who conduct social media research and engage users on a regular basis insist the plan has merit. That’s because an often-referenced “second-screen experience” for sporting events -- an interaction by users or viewers with both the TV and a computer or smartphone -- is not necessarily a reality.

“We always want to have a second-screen experience. Facebook and Twitter are high-traffic places for live events, and we try to be in front of the conversation,” said Josh Baird, director of social media for Fox Sports. He adds a caveat, though. “The assumption that there is a huge overlap that are watching TV and the people on social channels is a bold one.”

Baird thinks an opportunity exists to drive viewers from broadcasts to social media channels. However, that’s not his overriding goal, or that of his team.

For the Women’s World Cup, the Fox Sports social media team includes two people embedded in Canada, one with the network's studio crew in Vancouver and the other traveling with the U.S. women’s national team. An editorial and social team at the network’s headquarters in Los Angeles complements and oversees the work of the two staff members in Canada.

Overall, Baird sees handles and hashtags as keywords, a way to curate content and engage a community. He does not see them as necessary standing elements of a live broadcast -- and that’s apparently standard convention across most networks with live sports, because viewers watching closely will invariably not see any on-screen social media indicators or signals for action.

Baird is proud of the network’s social media footprint. On Twitter that includes 1.28 million followers for Fox Sports and 538,000 for Fox Soccer. He said measuring viewership as a result of social media remains the “toughest nut to crack” for social media.

Still, if the women’s soccer game tonight draws nearly 6 million viewers, and if a broadcast can make some impact in terms of awareness or impact for social media channel, a consistent on-screen presence for handles and hashtags would seem beneficial.

If even a small portion of those millions of viewers would give social media a chance, the number of people for whom Baird curates content, and with whom his team engages, would seemingly increase. And that would be an added delivery of impact and value for Fox Sports.