Behind the scenes of one of the fastest growing global media companies [interview]

Behind the scenes of one of the fastest growing global media companies [interview]

Growing a global media company is difficult.  Language, culture and commercial landscapes differ from country-to-country, meaning that even if you succeed in setting up a country office, success is far from assured.  One thing that is common across the globe is sport and the passion of fans.  And it's the power of the fan that MinuteMedia, the company behind sites 90min and 12up, has successfully leveraged to scale its operations to 6 countries, publishing in 11 languages and reaching 75 million unique users in just 5 years - along with $60 million in venture funding.

MinuteMedia’s secret is its hybrid of fan-generated content together with quality editorial content, powered by a proprietary publishing technology providing editorial, audience management and commercial levers to all of its partners.

Hackers.Media popped around to MinuteMedia’s London HQ to meet Commercial Director Duncan McMonagle to get a glimpse under the hood of this emerging global media powerhouse.

Q: Background: tell me about MinuteMedia's history and where it's at now?

A: We were founded in 2011 by Asaf Peled in Tel Aviv.  As a sports fan himself, Asaf saw a gap in the market of how sports was being covered, identifying that there was no global view of sport and that the majority of sport was covered by local media operators - especially football.  Additionally Asaf spotted a trend in social, in that social was becoming the de-facto way of consuming media.  
Piecing these parts together, we launched our first site FTBpro.com aimed at providing a global fan-powered view of football.  Key to our early success was the unique CMS we created, designed specifically to empower fans to create high quality content via feature-rich templates, turning our audience into writers and creators.  Using our CMS as a hook, we went out to influential football bloggers around the world offering them a chance to use our tools to help them scale their audience and social reach.  Alongside this strategy, we approached mainstream publishers like Yahoo Sports and MSN Sports offering the ability to embed articles on their sites giving them access to our fan-powered content and giving them a ‘fan-eye view’.  Of course our writers love the fact that their content gets syndicated onto sites like Yahoo Sports as it gives them audience scale.
It was this mix of vision, technology and timing that gave us the edge and allowed us to scale rapidly.  Since rebranding FTBPro.com to 90min in 2014, we’ve scaled our audience to 75 million uniques, publishing in 11 languages, with 4000+ contributors and offices in Tel Aviv, London, New York, Singapore, Sao Paulo and Manilla.  We hope to hit 100 million uniques by the end of year, giving a sense of our momentum and rapid scale.

Q: Numbers & Scale: talk me through your numbers and how you achieved scale so quickly?

A: Our scale is very much down to the fans themselves.  Our strategy around growing stickiness with fans has been based around giving influencers, each with a focus on a specific fan team community like PSG fans or Spurs fans, a compelling CMS to help them produce the best content possible - which they then distribute across their followers / fan groups.  There are 92 clubs in the EFL (English Football League) alone.  If you scale that across the major football playing countries in the world, and then think about the different levels of fans you may have for each major team (e.g. ManU UK fan groups, US ManU fan groups, Asian Man U fan groups) you can see how using this CMS-based influencer strategy we’ve built our scale.  We’re not alone in using this type of influencer strategy to grow an audience, as this is a similar strategy that many new publishers have used to scale; create content that appeals to influential communities, and build an audience from there.
90min has become one of the biggest content creators on the web, creating over 800 pieces of content a day, and providing customised feeds of localised football content at a global scale.  From a commercial perspective what this means is that we can compete with the traditional media companies on global scale, but also with local media companies because of our hyper-local relevance.
For example, looking back a year or two we had decent global scale, but not such strength on a local basis.  If you look at ComScore today, we're no.3 for sport in the UK (behind BBC and Sky) and no.8 in the US.  Our US growth has come from launching 12Up, a platform which mixes US sports with pop culture.  The US is a very much saturated market, but we’ve managed to create cut-through by creating fan-generated content, curated at scale. 
12Up has been live for 9 months, and we’re already at 18 million uniques - which is at present scaling up quicker than 90min.  An example of the type of content we’ve created is a light-hearted video about the Super Bowl, which generated 5 million views in just 24 hours.  The success of 12Up, and our content model in general, is about creating content that is fun, timely and relevant with a differentiated point of view.

Q: $$$: Talk me through your commercial philosophy / strategy in a world where publishers are getting a beating?

A: We have a mainly ad funded commercial model, working with brands to co-create or distribute branded content to fans.  We enable brands to create credible storytelling in their target audience’s feed.  Brands want to be (and already are) the creators of their own content. What we do is let brands tell their own stories, and bring credible context to their brand messaging.
We work with mainstream brands like Nike and Pepsi, and also brands that align with our Millennial audience - like movie studios who struggle to reach Millennials via traditional channels.  For example, we worked on the latest Terminator release (through Paramount Pictures) creating fun branded Terminator-style content.
Alongside branded content, we also generate revenue from display and video pre-roll. There will always be a mix of traditional media, but the value for us is in creating content and importantly measuring on engagement metrics rather than CPMs.

Q: Tech stack: Talk me through your technology strategy?

A: The CMS is one part of our overall publishing stack, which we call Hydra.  Hydra is one-part CMS and one-part distribution platform.  The CMS part allows influencers to use various templates to create great content that is mobile and social optimised.  Once someone’s created a great article, Hydra then offers a sophisticated distribution strategy; for example, enabling someone to target AC Milan fans on Facebook or Nicks fans on Twitter.  Our stack allows partners to create hugely tailored audiences and target minutely, providing a next generation CMS with in-built audience scale.

Q: The future: Finally, what’s next for Minute Media?

A: In the last month we secured another $15 million investment, which is mostly about market growth and eSports. eSports is going to very big for us in the future.  Our first move has been to acquire eSports rights, becoming official partners with ESL and DreamHack (two eSport Tournament and League providers - the equivalent to UEFA Champions League or PGA Tourfor eSports) giving us access to their live feeds so that we can then remix content and create our own original programming from events. We’ve also done deals with teams too, the first being Fnatic - one of the biggest, most successful eSport teams in the world.
Our vision and unique angle for eSports is focused on event story-telling.  At the moment eSports is fragmented, with different teams, games and genres across the world making it very difficult to cover comprehensively.  From a streaming perspective eSports is very well catered for, with Twitch and YouTube Gaming providing robust streaming coverage.  What isn’t well catered for is the story-telling around the events themselves, which is where we fit in.  We want to be a compliment to the live stream, a destination for eSports-related short-form content, providing a fan-eye-view of what goes on at these events - from Cos-Play through to the heroes and villains ever-present across eSport events.
The eSport product we've launched is called DBLTAP.com.  The site has initially launched in English language, with our content team initially based in our New York office.  We expect to quickly scale the site into other languages, finding more contributors in different languages in time.  The DBLTAP publishing product has been made bespoke for the brand, with a strong focus on video and a focus on 'the feed’.
Our bullish view of eSports is backed up by numbers.  Research from NewZoo estimates that there are 280 million unique viewers of eSports, with 40% of those not actually playing the games they’re watching - giving an indication that its truly becoming a ‘viewing sport’.  From our own research, we know that 80% of our existing 75 million audience are avid gamers, giving an indication that the potential audience and scale for DBLTAP is enormous. 
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