How Fox Sports Picked Its Million-Dollar Digital VideoFest Winner

/ Feb 4, 2014

this week in sports

YouTube Space LA, in the year since it officially opened, has never been a particularly quiet place — the production facility has become a major hub for the Los Angeles web video community.

But on a Friday a week and a half before the Super Bowl, the place was packed with filmmakers shooting in every available nook and cranny, attempting to meet a challenge laid down by Fox Sports that would win one of them a development deal worth a million dollars.

Utilizing YouTube Space LA’s many sound stages, an assortment of creators including The Second City Network, 5SecondFilms, and the Brothers Riedell were given 48 hours to create a sports-themed pilot for Fox Sports’s consideration.

“We were looking for a new way to discover sports-themed content that was native to the YouTube platform,” said Pete Vlastelica, Fox Sports’ senior vice president of digital. “Because one thing we noticed as we started to invest more and more in YouTube is that while all the other channels have breakout formats, there wasn’t really one for the sports category. So this contest was designed to reach out to the experts on YouTube, and come up with a format that we would invest in as part of our strategy.”

Thus, creators who weren’t based in Los Angeles were flown into town, and on Thursday, the 12 teams were given their instructions. Production began on Friday morning, with the final videos due at 8:30pm on Saturday.

You’d have expected the mood to be more tense. But the 12 teams of YouTube creators shooting in the space seemed relatively confident. That came as no surprise to YouTube Space LA manager of creative development Kathleen Grace: “For traditional filmmakers, 48 hours is hard, but YouTubers know how to move quickly. From watching them, they seemed to be in their element,” she said.

When I visited the space on Friday afternoon, teams were either waiting for their chance at a green screen or one of the three standing sets (a bar, a living room, and a television news desk), or filming in the space’s other locations (including the building’s lobby and outdoor lawn area).

Read more about AVByte, the group that won the contest!

When I spoke with Totally Sketch’s Michael Gallagher, while he waited for his crew to light a hallway, he seemed calm — but he also didn’t know about the grand prize. “Now I have to try,” he joked.

The creators were selected, according to Grace, by YouTube creating a list of 30 to 40 potential YouTubers, and then doing outreach to see who was available. Each channel was assisted by a professional crew, a decision that YouTube and Fox Sports made in collaboration. “Some of these creators are used to making videos on their own — we were interested in seeing what they did with more production resources,” Vlastelica said.

It was a move that seemed appreciated by the creators involved: YouTubers Greg and Lou even planned to take extra advantage of the opportunity and shoot a second sketch with their crew.

Once the videos were submitted, the winning channel was determined by a scorecard measuring qualities like originality, shareability, and scaleability, rather than less objective means — “They’re sports guys,” Grace noted.

The winner, AVByte’s one minute musical “This Week in Sports,” came as a bit of a surprise to Grace — but a good one. “[AVByte] is so great and so YouTube-y, but not very traditional. I wasn’t sure Fox Sports was going to like it — but I’m proud of them for picking the most creative and original video,” she said.

“It ticked a lot of the boxes that we asked the creators to check in the process,” said Vlastelica. “And the fact that it was a musical was really surprising. When you start watching this video and the sportscaster breaks into a show-tune, it immediately puts a smile on your face. Nobody expects to see sports content in musical form, and that’s why it worked.”

The development deal for which each team was competing is good for six months of investment in their series, as well as a million dollars’ worth of promotion across Fox Sports’ broadcast and digital networks; so far, that’s already included AVByte getting congratulated for their win during last Sunday’s Super Bowl pre-game show.

That doesn’t mean that the door is closed for other competitors, though. “We met some really talented people through this process, and we’re always interested in working with really talented people,” Vlastelica said. “The door is always open for pitches, and if opportunities come up we may be calling on them to help produce digital content for our platform. The contest was structured as winner-take-all, but almost certainly more than one winner will come out of it.”

And it may not be the last time Fox Sports and YouTube team up. “What they’ve built here in Playa Vista is a really amazing resource for creators, but it’s also an amazing resource for broadcasters and mainstream media,” Vlastelica said. “It was a great collaboration, and we hope to do more with them.”

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