How ESPN’s The Undefeated is using video

ESPN’s The Undefeated launched today with a focus on covering sports, news and culture from the African-American perspective. Dubbed “the Black Grantland” — after the now-defunct sports and pop culture site run by Bill Simmons — The Undefeated’s ambitions in video are equally wide and varied.

On launch day alone, the site’s original video content includes sports-related items such as a profile of a college athlete who postponed his NBA dreams in order to get a college degree, and a featurette on Marshawn Lynch tied to a longer written profile of the enigmatic retired NFL running back. But the site also has videos that have nothing to do with sports, including a site rap anthem from rapper Dee-1 and interviews with poets and writers about what Maya Angelou means to them.

“We want to focus on perspectives that people haven’t seen before and go outside the norm, with the benefit of greater access,” said Latoya Peterson, deputy editor of digital innovation for The Undefeated.

Most of this content will be made by The Undefeated’s eight-person production team, which has staffers with backgrounds ranging from doing long-form video journalism to short, social content. The Undefeated will also collaborate with other ESPN units, such as ESPN Films to produce films and other long-form content.

 

The content will include deeper documentaries that run from 15 minutes to an hour, features and short-form social clips for platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The site currently hosts the first season of “Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints,” 10-to 15-minute profiles of black athletes that originally ran on ESPN. The Undefeated is currently working with the filmmaker for a second season, which will also air on ESPN but will live concurrently on the site. On The Undefeated’s Facebook page, viewers can watch breezier fare, like an interview with NBA star Damian Lillard about this “#4BarFriday” Instagram series.

Beyond original content, The Undefeated will also be the digital home for clips from ESPN’s afternoon talk show “His & Hers.” Although even here, the site will aim to create original content with show hosts Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, as well as other ESPN personalities whenever it’s deemed relevant.

“We want to do things that are playful and fun, but also deeper dives into stories that reflect the moment that we’re in,” said Peterson.

“It allows us to have a breadth of understanding about the different types of storytelling we want to do,” said Peterson. “Everyone we’ve hired has a perspective and deep experience on at least one channel, if not multiple channels.”

Initially, The Undefeated’s video efforts will focus on its site and social platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. But as it looks ahead, streaming platforms and connected TVs will begin to play a major role. While there aren’t any plans in place for the site to have its own streaming video app, Peterson’s not ruling out creating content for existing video platforms ranging from Netflix to the PlayStation Network, as well as ESPN’s own apps.

“There isn’t a ton of 360-degree or VR content that focuses on African Americans, and particularly African Americans in a wide range of lifestyles,” said Peterson. “It’s a wealth of opportunity for us.”

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