"Those Bleacher boys make some good stuff." - Shaq
Throughout my time at Turner Sports, due to the vertical integration of Bleacher Report as a digital property that was the web extension of Inside the NBA, we often found opportunities to feature our content during in house segments on the show, working closely with show and segment producers to make sure our DNA was consistently represented and B/R's voice was translated to a broadcast format. Over the years as more programming was developed, I was given more chances to help shape the overall creative and be in the discussions that would help create certain content executions. Within the larger framework of the organization, this meant a lot of cross functional collaboration between teams and organizations and allowed for new ideas and concepts to take life.
In 2012 Turner Sports completed an acquisition of Bleacher Report and folded it into the larger media portfolio that it owned as it's premiere sports digital property, this meant that the broadcast television show Inside the NBA was suddenly an avenue to amplify our storytelling and collaborate with one of the most storied cultural touchstones in the basketball universe. The show is regarded with the utmost respect for it's ability to truly reflect equal parts barbershop shenanigans and authentic raw coverage of the game that resonates at a very human level.
The reason the show works is because of the authenticity of the voice and the way that it resonates with anyone who is enmeshed in the NBA culture sphere. People would tune into the postgame show as appointment viewing after big drama or even somber events like Kobe's passing to the TNT crew as a moral compass and as a very vulnerable and reliable source of gravity. Whether that is Kenny and Chris Webber standing up during the black lives matter protests, or it was Ernie's son's inspiring story of resilience, or even Shaq and Chuck's shenanigans the group provided a safe haven for fans and a true discourse that mirrored those happening in living rooms and barbershops all around the world.
The way that Bleacher Report worked into the equation post acquisition is that we became the social media production arm of the show, often consulting with the lead producers Craig Barry and Drew Watkins on various segments and digital specials. A great metaphor for what Bleacher Report was to NBA on TNT is like what The Lonely Island would do for SNL in producing digital shorts, we were often brought in to consult on animated features, head swaps and various social executions that fell exactly into our production wheelhouse. The NBA on TNT production crew had been going strong since 1989 and had things from a television production standpoint on lock, but where BR brought value to them was in bringing on a nimble social and digital team that could allow the show to respond in real time to news and storylines.
One moment that really stands out as a culmination of how Bleacher Report's digital team became integrated into the NBA on TNT coverage due to having a quick response social moments team was when PJ Selzer the motion designer and head swap guru on our squad who happened to also be a huge Office fan had a pre motion tracked version of the famous Shibuya Roll Call bus scene from the office keyed up to respond to Charles Barkley making some hilarious comments about Kevin Durant not being a "bus driver" and it turning into a huge meme that the crew reacted to and even gave PJ and the team a shoutout for creating assets like that in such quick response.
Something the Bleacher Report team was uniquely suited to move quickly and tactically on was stuff like the above NBA 2K simulation we were able to put together with a custom game mod that featured different versions of Charles Barkley through the years taking on the new and improved Golden State Warriors and an audio track of various sound bites of Chuck denigrating small ball three point shooting superteams into a coherent catchy remix as something for him to react to during the broadcast. These type of pre-produced elevated social segments would become a core pillar of my creative contributions to the broadcast. It really shows how far we have come when you look at what our social team was capable of doing and how we have made that far more efficient and capable of quick yet creative turnaround.
One of the first moments that our Bleacher Report social team got to really showcase what we could do for digital segments was during the launch of our collaboration with Maverick Carter and LeBron James, Uninterrupted. Bleacher Report and LRMR Management Company, the sports marketing entity run by NBA superstar LeBron James and agent Maverick Carter, quietly collaborated in early 2015 to create and launch Uninterrupted, a new player-driven website. Uninterrupted attempts to provide unfiltered athlete content in video format directly to fans without a middleman. Segments were shot before games in intimate settings with direct access to players and provided a new way for the fans to connect with the game. This was a great way for Bleacher Report to begin featuring exclusive Uninterrupted content in the television broadcasts and elevate our web coverage in a meaningful way by driving eyeballs to the Team Stream app.
Often times, there would be opportunities to take what we were doing digitally and find ways to tie that to the broadcast happening that week, for instance when we created a custom Game of Zones episode for the Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr as a way to hype the team up during NBA Training camp, we were also given access to film an exclusive game of PIG between newly signed sharpshooting Kevin Durant and the legendary three point sniper Steph Curry when they first became teammates on the Warriors. We were able to elevate this segment on television and add in a layer of fun banter with Kenny and Chuck to turn it into a full fledged segment.
Another aspect of the work I was doing with reinventing and elevating highlights was often brought on to the broadcast as in house ads to help promote Bleacher Report's brand awareness. We wanted to position ourselves as the place to go beyond the game, to create a space where you have had a chance to watch the game, see the highlights, hear the analysis and now we were taking things up a notch and adding a layer of effects and entertainment to the ball game. I had chances like the Ball is Back campaign above to help build brand awareness and excitement for our audience in 30 second segments at the end of commercial caps where we could place our own content. These spots saw an amazing response, often getting tons of tweets during the broadcast and comments around how dope we had made the players look, the spots really allowed BR to position itself as a part of the NBA culture.
Around this time we also were building a robust social moments team at Bleacher Report which I was in charge of building out a thorough rolodex of artists and independent contractors from a variety of mediums that we would collaborate with in order to produce sports content. NBA on TNT would often tap into our team to amplify advertising campaigns around things like the start of the season. In the example above, we tapped in an artist that I had initially collaborated with quite often for BR Kicks and Bleacher Report social illustrations, Christopher Mineses to create a colorful season opener campaign that ran on various out of home billboard locations around the United States.
One of the major things with TNT was the fact that it owned various broadcast rights to things like the NBA but it also had a very robust integration to college basketball and the March Madness tournament that would happen every year. This led to us often coming up with ideas for TNT talent to be a part of integrated marketing pitches that involved both the linear television coverage that our sister network was doing, but also the instant news and analysis that could be found on the Bleacher Report Team Stream app. As can be see in the ad above with Smitty, the whole purpose was to promote a second screen experience that made it seamless for a fan to switch from the broadcast to stats or to their bracket. This really transformed coverage and was an indication of what was to come with further innovations in AR and multiple screen experiences.
NBA style was a massive vertical for us by the time Ieft Bleacher Report and Turner, but in the early years we had a chance to pilot a lot of segments and videos with the production teams at NBA TV to prove the viability of it as a revenue stream thanks to a massive lifestyle sponsorship deal with the new Samsung Galaxy phones. Working with Lance Fresh who helped start the BR Kicks vertical, we were able to create style segments that showed up on segments during broadcast and as various web exclusives on the Bleacher Report website and socials.
Turner Sports also owned the broadcast rights to All Star Weekend, and one of the things we were tasked with at Bleacher Report was in finding new and innovative broadcast vehicles that could explore more of NBA culture during the weekend and provide a much fuller experience for fans. Due to my experience in launching BR Kicks with Lance Fresh and Oruny Choi, we were often pulled into conversations around how we could integrate major sponsors like Samsung into our lifestyle coverage in a more meaningful way. One of the first experiments in this was with our 2015 NBA Fashion show in New York City during All-Star in which we created a unique experience between our digital segments and what you would see on television.
The NBA Awards were another innovative programming opportunity for TNT that I had a chance to help ideate around, specifically using our jersey swap and photoshopping and social expertise in a segment produced around Magic and Larry Bird getting the lifetime achievement award. There were multiple spots in the video, which imagined what the world would be like if that iconic NBA rivalry existed in the modern media age that allowed for us to flex that unique Bleacher Report flavor.
Over the years there were multiple integrations into the NBA awards that I had a chance to participate in, one of my favorite segments being that for the NBA BR Kicks sponsored Sneaker King honor. Along with naming our top 10 sneakers of the year list, we were also going to give out a bunch of fashion and style awards, with most of them being curated on our social feeds and then the major one, sneaker king being announced during the broadcast. Below you can see an interview with PJ Tucker by the irreplaceable Taylor Rooks as he holds the custom design Air Jordan 1 inspired award that I art directed and worked on with sculptor Brock.
Along with the award being announced, I also had a chance to work with one of my favorite collaborators, Khammy Villiasang to produce a great mixtape and animation to honor PJ Tucker and his insane rotation of sneakers throughout the season, featuring favorites like the classic Nike zoom Kobe's and even heavy hitters like the Air Jordan 1 Off White Chicago designed by Virgil Abloh in his collaboration with Nike to do "The Ten."
TNT was really a forward thinking media company in the terms that it embraced both its broadcast and television roots but also invested and experimented with its digital and web presence to further it' engagement with its audience. This was something that was of clear value to advertisers, and with the BR Kicks centric experiments our sales team found an opportunity to do an All Star Air Jordan integration that really showcase the ability of these worlds to come together and work in harmony in a great branded content segment that set the stage for what was possible with vertically integrated brands that leveraged an opportunity with Facebook Live and "Outside the NBA" in a fresh new livestream vehicle.
Game of Zones was perhaps the ultimate example of how Bleacher Report content that was at the top of our content offerings could fit right in with broadcast television and we were able to run promotional segments that drove viewership and fandom and also allowed for the crew to react to the episodes. It really led to some gems as always but also showed how the content we were creating for an audience online was of high enough quality to really swing with just about anyone.
What was actually amazing was when Adam and Craig Malamut the creators had a chance to actually go down to a Houston Rockets playoff game to promote the newest season of Game of Zones while gifting the crew a custom piece of artwork with a ton of easter eggs that still hangs in the Atlanta Studio J to this day and having some moments of playful banter as they explain how the episodes come to be and where the ideas come from. Game of Zones was really a crown jewel in Bleacher Report's content portfolio and integrating it into TNT offerings was a huge way to get the most bang for our buck.
With the success of the Game of Zones style animated content, and TNT's BR Kicks inspired Air Jordan Future of Flight All-Star integration during Outside the NBA with Facebook Watch we were not only able to drive millions of dollars of revenue in separate deals, but also through a branded content opportunity to release a show called Small Ball in partnership with Nike where we even got Charles Barkley and athletes like Scottie Pippen to do their own voices in the show. Featuring young Nike stars like Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, Karl Anthony Towns and Paul George it really was a new and fresh take that took the best of both worlds and presented it as a vertically integrated animation that functioned as a great win for both BR and TNT.
Another great example of vertical integration was the fact that Turner owned Adult Swim and Cartoon Network and actually had a chance to include some Rick and Morty promotional segments on the TNT broadcast and wanted to work with Bleacher Report's animation team to bring it to life in a unique way. What they essentially wanted to do and we were able to execute thanks to the brilliance of our animation guru Kristofer Wollinger was to rig a live character of Summer and use face tracking technology to have the voice artist respond to the crew in real time. Although the segment had some road bumps, it was a great proof of concept and something that would go on to be turned into an award winning holographic interview experience with intel.
The partnership with Nike and Brand Jordan really became a staple of our branded content integrations, and this all started with BR Kicks being an incubator both for these type of relationships and to measure how our audience would react and respond as we moved away from what was happening on the court to the periphery of the game and expanded the coverage to give it more of a lifestyle spin. The sneaker integrations really worked well and as can be seen win the Space Jam 11's release, we really were able to take some of the biggest moments on the sneaker release calendar and turn them into touchstone moments and segments on the show.
Another great branded content opportunity came through in the many vehicles for content promotion that I helped ideate around with folks like Dan Worthington around Capital One's "The Match" Television special where we had top golfers face off against each other in a celebrity bettable game with a ton of cameras and trash talk made for television. I had a chance to shoot some great segments that helped promote the unique content franchise and draw viewership both on the BR Live application and on television, especially when we executed an episode during the Pandemic.
Speaking of the Pandemic, it really became an inflection point where the relationship between NBA on TNT and Bleacher Report grew from more of a big brother little brother one to more of a symbiotic relationship where both were equals and produced content that supported each other. It was a shift in the way that content was consumed and captured and really a cultural reset in many ways. When basketball finally came back, I had a chance to be in the brainstorming room with folks like Drew Brown as we ideated how Meek Mill could announce the return of the game we had fallen in love with after so much change and turmoil. These production meetings really broke down the walls between the broadcast and digital worlds and were an inflection point for more opportunities in the future.
These type of promo segments that ran at the beginning of playoff games or when all star weekend would open were really cinematic moments for TNT to tell a story and in the past they had enlisted the likes of the Rock or Jeremy Piven to give iconic speeches set to epic music and highlights to really bring the upcoming matchups to life. This was a staple of the production and Drew Brown really brought our Bleacher Report team into the mix as we brought on new talent and experimented with different folks to be a part of the promos and how we could inject elements of our new voice and appeal to a broader audience. \
One of the cooler aspects of these opening promo segments was that they were also cut up into shorter spots to run as bumps between games and often had a ton of alternate shots and elements that could be re-used. Bringing in our voices to the ideation of the segments really was a chance to think about new ways to film them and include cool ties to the elevated highlights and cultural cache of the game that had developed through viral moments on BR and House of Highlights.
The studio team at Bleacher Report was the arm that looked at producing longform content and we had a chance to work with TNT's broadcast arms during the Covid-19 lockdown on a concept known as The Arena, which was really a documentary style show with produced and live segments that allowed to create a space to discuss some of the many hot topics from social justice to the pandemic and what was happing in the game of basketball at large. The episode below, entitled Dominoes is a good example of how this partnership between Bleacher Report and TNT really became a key part of programming as conversations and ideas flowed freely between the teams.
Another aspect of content production and ideation that I had a chance to be a part of as the pandemic raged on and the bubble presented new ways to showcase the awards we had traditionally given away at the show, we had to come up with new and sometimes more wholesome ways that we could have the awards given away on the Disney World campus following all the rules and regulations. This meant zoom calls from relatives, it meant teammates giving the awards away and just a new way of experiencing the whole thing. The speeches were different and a bit more heartfelt and while we didn't get the roar of a home crowd, the red carpet of an awards show or even the press conference so many iconic moments have come from the awards were still unique and it is cool to have been a part of the team that came up with how to present them to the winners.
One of the most unique pieces of content I had a chance to get some fingerprints on in the ideation and production stages was due to Vince Carter coming to the end of his long and storied NBA career but also being a part of the Turner broadcast talent team as he sometimes joined NBA TV or the Inside the NBA crew to talk games. With the access we had to him to film a bit of a longer segment and also some great partners at Phillips arena in downtown Atlanta a stone's throw away from Turner HQ where the show is filmed, we were able to take over the in arena Jumbotron to showcase a heartfelt tribute from his former teammates and rivals congratulating him on his retirement from the game that he left an indelible mark on with his high flying antics, clutch shots and iconic moments.
One thing that makes Inside the NBA unique really is the family atmosphere and how wholesome everyone is about the fact that it is even a real job to get to talk about basketball and do any of this stuff. And out of this and Adam Lefkoe's mind we had a great segment idea that was unique to the NBA on TNT Tuesday show which premiered with Candace Parker, Dwyane Wade, Lefkoe and Shaq right before the start of the pandemic. The segment in question was called "Give them their Roses" and as Adam texted me about it in its genesis stages, I knew it would be a great addition to the show. It allowed for amazing moments like the one with Shaq and Penny below, the main point of the whole thing being that whenever we had a guest on the show we would give them their flowers while they were around and we could appreciate them. Especially with the loss of David Stern and Kobe Bryant, these segments felt all the more prescient and were some of my favorite to be a part of.
Another great one that came about was a segment where we had JR Smith who had been going back to school to get a degree and also to get a chance to play golf and the crew were really able to give him his flowers for the work he was doing to change his perception and chart his own path. It was opportunities like this that made working at Bleacher Report and getting to be a part of the ideation and segment production process so exciting. It really was great to have these things that set the Tuesday show apart and really helped it forge its own distinct identity separate from the. usual Thursday show. This was a major challenge, and these segments were a way to give the Tuesday show a spin all it's own.
Flash it Forward was a segment that came about in the Tuesday shows as the opportunity to feature some local communities and shine a light on HBCU's or minority owned businesses and inspiring social justice stories from around the country as a way to really use the platform for good and to give Dwyane Wade his own part of the show that he could throw to and make an impact with. One of the segments can be found below, this type of stuff really gave the Tuesday show a more wholesome and reflective mood rather than the carefree banter of the regular one.
All credit for my deep involvement in the production and brainstorming for segments in the NBA on TNT Tuesday shows really goes to Adam Lefkoe who pulled me into those rooms in order to really bring a fresh perspective and challenge what we could do in that forum. He has a deep respect for Ernie and the whole crew and takes the responsibility of hosting the Tuesday show very seriously, and when he first asked me to become a consulting producer on the segments, it really showed how much he cared about bringing new perspectives to the table and trying out new things. One of the things we would often discuss is his sneaker rotation for the season and how to pair that with the outfits and the matchups that are on the schedule. As can be seen in the fit watch below, we always brought the heat.
The BR Kicks cam is one of my favorite examples of how an idea that started really as a passing thought, of how we could take free throws and get an angle of the sneakers players were wearing while they were on the line, and turn it into a branded BR promotional opportunity live during games. Early experiments with the chyron and other elements in the stadium and on the broadcast were more subtle, but this was a way to really give us a short but informational segment during games that felt unique and was true to our voice and style.
The genesis of the kicks cam was really basic, something based on short segments in game where the commentary could shift to the sneakers and give a brief insight to the colorway or the model, this became especially important as this feature and segment went into effect the year that the NBA really loosened their guidelines on which colors players were able to wear with their uniforms, really unlocking a ton of new ways to add personality and flair to the whole situation. This was the basis for a whole new type of segment that would evolve over time and be even more vertically integrated both on broadcast and in the social cutdowns that would appear on different platforms like instagram stories or TikTok drip recaps.
Fitwatch was a series that came from a similar ilk of sneaker coverage from BR Kicks and really began in earnest with segments that were just for social and sponsored by Don Julio Tequila. Our team ideated around a bite sized version of the more full fledged branded content we had been doing on our digital platforms with Tissot Style Watch and one of the main things to come out of it was this idea of the BR Kicks Tunnel Arrival cam. The pregame tunnel has really become a runway, and this was our way of really showcasing that in a new and fresh way. The chance to take all star to the next level and really brand it with our logo and make it a moment that lived on social as well as on broadcast was unreal.
What was awesome about this segment was that as the audience responded and we had a chance to improve our equipment with slow motion, low angle cinematic footage that speed ramped on it's own that we were really able to turn this into a repeatable content vehicle that felt unique and all it's own. This showed how a segment could mature and grow up over time and really turn from a quick broadcast segment and a bit of an afterthought to multiple different content vehicles.
What felt natural about FitWatch as a segment for the Tuesday show is that it played on Dwyane Wade's past as an NBA fashion icon, along with Lefkoe's encyclopedic knowledge and Candace's effortless style and paired it with Shaq's old man hate and G14 classification that essentially allowed him to roast anyone with impunity. They really lightened the show and made it feel natural to banter about what players were wearing, this really was something that would have devolved into complete comedy on the Thursday broadcast, but on Tuesday it really did evolve to have it's own value and personality. Below are a few of my favorite segments to close us out. Getting a chance to work on an Emmy award winning show like Inside the NBA as a small part of the ideation and production process really was a pleasure and I learned a ton of things as we learned to integrate ourselves into the space available on the show.