Mastering Interactive Experiences with Michael Bucklin of FOX Sports

“There’s a real pride in being innovative, trying things, and not being afraid to fail,” said Michael Bucklin, VP of Digital Content for FOX Sports. “And that whole not being afraid of failing is really hard to teach but we just committed to it, and that’s how we learned.”

That approach to content and production has positioned Bucklin and FOX Sports as industry leaders and prepared them for the challenges of remote production amidst the pandemic. This mindset has also led to wildly successful innovative projects including FOX Sports Watch Parties, which have become a staple for every big sporting event and drew over 7.5 million views across digital and social platforms during the 2020 MLB World Series.

Live from the #Storyteller Experience stage, Bucklin joins us to break down how to effectively provide an interactive second-screen experience, what goes into producing live content remotely, and the importance of fostering a strong community.

 

On the inception of FOX Sports Watch Parties:

We’ve always really good at covering live events that were on our air. And we thought, how do we put together a complimentary experience for those events that is specifically engineered for the digital fan? So we ended up creating these watch parties that were live during these events on our air. And it would eventually stretch to do watch parties for ones that were not even on our air, just because of that live element being live.

 

On the goal & future of Watch Parties:

What we’re trying to do is provide a differentiated experience for the fan that’s looking for more of an interactive experience. And so when you watch our watch parties you’re gonna notice that, you can ask the personalities questions and your tweets, or your comment will end up on screen and the talent or the personalities will address it.

These interactive experiences are just a different way to enjoy a game. We think they’re the future. There’s no reason there should even be one interactive watch party for a live event. I see a future where there’s different themes, different styles for different types of users, different platforms.

 

On those “golden stories” that really stand out but are hard to manufacture:

There was a moment in the Super Bowl where we asked Joe Montana a question about getting nervous in a big game, and this was completely unprepared. And this is the type of thing I think you get when you don’t have a scripted show. Joe says, you know guys, how I used to settle nerves is I figured out that the phone’s on the bench, you can dial nine to get out. So I would just call my wife on the sidelines. And that was the first time anyone had ever been told that story. 

It’s like that goal that you could have never planned for. You can only really create the environment for it. But if you have planned the right way, sometimes you get lucky and those stories come out.

 

On the remote production setup during the pandemic:

We called it the garage band because instead of being in studio, we started producing out of the garages and apartments. Rick’s garage is now going to be in the FOX Sports hall of fame because we produced 900 hours of television content to help our TV team out of Rick’s garage, in Danny’s apartment across in Santa Monica. 

 

How to deal with the challenges of remote production:

You have to kind of accept that the WIFI is going to go out sometimes, or that someone is going to freeze and you gotta prepare your talent for those moments. You need to prepare your staff and say hey, this won’t be perfect, but we’re going to keep progressing.

You just try to lean into what your differences can be. And one of the things we did is we leaned into graphic design and we were like, okay, the whole world is going to be living in the boxes. We at least want to have the most beautiful boxes there are. And we just leaned into that.

 

On the impact of having a strong community:

People like people more than brands. And I think we need to find more people that have these communities. Ben Verlander is the number one MLB The Show player on Twitch. And when we asked him how he wanted to announce he was coming to FOX Sports, you know, most people say, I want to tweet or on a press release. He’s like, I want to tell my community that I’m going. And he went into his Twitch stream that night and he told his community, I’m going to do this thing with FOX Sports, but an important part of this is you’re all coming with me. And we were mind blown when we started that watch party. We saw about 2000 more people in that YouTube comments section than we’ve ever seen before.

 

Click here to see more from the #Storyteller Livestream Experience including conversations with WWE’s VP of Production & Strategy, Nate Loucks, MLB SVP of Marketing, Barbara McHugh, Apple Music’s Head of Content, Larry Jackson, and more!

 

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