Sports publisher theScore increased its episodic programming on YouTube and saw subscriptions soar

Toronto-based sports publisher theScore has been producing programming that focuses on e-sports players and storylines, and it has seen its view time on YouTube explode as a result.

TheScore’s esports channel has more than 480,000 subscribers on YouTube, up from just 30,000 subscribers in January of 2017. The channel got 10 million video views in September, making it the 13th-biggest gaming channel from a media company on YouTube, according to Tubular Labs. Its watch time grew from 6 million minutes per month in January of 2017 to more than 100 million in August, which worked out to more than eight minutes of watch time per view, according to internal YouTube data cited by theScore.

The channel’s YouTube growth can be attributed to two things: More consistent, episodic programming focusing on stories appealing to both hardcore esports fans and general viewers, not just the latest news and results from competitions.

TheScore has 25 people focused on esports video coverage and used to send them all over the world to cover major competitions such as the League of Legends finals, said Aubrey Levy, vp of marketing and partnerships for theScore. “We sent guys to LA and Berlin, covering esports like it was regular sports,” he said. “That stuff did not play; the audience was not responsive to it, and it was getting no traction.”

Early in 2017, the publisher decided that instead of trying to be a “SportsCenter” for esports, it would go deep and profile games, leagues, teams and players by creating episodic shows that it could program for YouTube on a weekly basis.

Today, theScore has five weekly shows on YouTube: “Top 10” (various countdowns); “Esports Shorts” (a deep dive into a great esports gameplay moment); “Best Of” (another countdown covering great moments in esports competitions); “Story Of” (a long-form documentary series telling the story behind an individual player, team, rivalry and more); and “What Is…” (an explainer show breaking down different terms and why they matter).

In addition to the five weekly series, theScore has two other recurring YouTube series tied to major competitions, “Fails and Funny Moments” and “Iconic Moments.”

Most of these shows range between six and seven minutes per episode, except the long-form documentary series “Story Of,” which typically goes for 20 to 30 minutes per episode, Levy said.

Within its algorithm, YouTube prioritizes watch time as well as consistent programming, Levy said. This means that if a publisher is able to create longer shows that people actually watch and come back to watch, the videos will get a recommendation from the boost from the algorithm, which helps grow subscribers.

“YouTube usually circulates [videos] to subscribers, then out more widely if it’s getting traction,” Levy said. “We’ve seen our esports videos make their way to non-subscribers pretty quickly, which have been then converting.”

TheScore is not the only publisher looking to carve out a piece of the growing esports business. Between ads and sponsorships, marketers are expected to spend roughly $533 million on esports this year, according to a report released by esports industry research firm Newzoo earlier this year.

Levy said he’s confident that the theScore’s track record in the industry — the publisher launched its esports vertical four years ago — will help the publisher stick out among an increasingly crowded field. “We have built up some good brand equity,” he said.

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