Sports Illustrated is adding to its video roster with the introduction today of "SI Wire," an editorial franchise that aims to produce dozens of 30- to 60-second video dispatches each day.
If, for instance, a player inks a big contract, Sports Illustrated will scramble its video anchors to provide a quick burst of video commentary. To that end, the magazine hired three TV broadcasters to deliver reports from its video studio at the New York headquarters of Time Inc., owner of Sports Illustrated and other magazine titles including People, Time and InStyle.
The trio of anchors are among 12 people the magazine has brought on to work on "SI Wire." Segments will begin running at 6 a.m. ET and last until the end of the sports day. The reports will all be taped.
"The news cycle is so vicious and moves so quickly," said Paul Fichtenbaum, editor of the Time Inc. Sports Group, which includes Sports Illustrated. "We want to make sure that as these things evolve that we can present them in video fashion."
The financial services firm John Hancock is sponsoring "SI Wire," with pre-roll ads running against the show. James Bacharach, VP-brand, marketing and creative services at John Hancock, said in an email that the primary focus of its campaign is create engagement. "To do that, we're taking advantage of 'second screen' behavior," he said, referring to consumers' video consumption on screens beyond the TV.
Mr. Bacharach declined to say how much the company was paying to run the ads.
The new video franchise comes as Sports Illustrated is looking to replace declines in print revenue with growth in digital sales. The print magazine has shed print ad pages -- it's off 8% through the week of Sept. 1 -- and said it lost about 1% of its overall circulation during the first six months of 2014.
On the digital front, however, its website -- which got a top-to-bottom makeover this summer -- has seen sharp traffic growth in the last year, with unique visitors across desktop and mobile devices increasing 57% to 20.3 million in July, according to analytics firm ComScore. That makes it 11th among sports media brands that ComScore measures. The audience for ESPN, which ranks No. 1 in the category, dwarfs that of Sports Illustrated, with nearly 75 million unique visitors.
Digital video seems to be where Sports Illustrated is placing many of its bets. With the addition of "SI Wire," Sports Illustrated will now produce more than 200 original videos every week, it said. That includes the daily live-streaming show "SI Now," season two of the weekly series "Pro Football Now" and season three of "Underdogs," about high school football, which is set to premiere later this year. Also this year, Sports Illustrated became an equity partner in the live-streaming digital network 120 Sports.
"To paraphrase Wayne Gretsky, this is where the puck is going," Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, said of digital video. "It's a crowded space that's going to get even more crowded."
Spending on digital video advertising is expected to top $5 billion this year and $6.3 billion in 2015, according to Forrester estimates.
Mr. Fichtenbaum said advertising is not the primary motivation behind Sports Illustrated's video efforts.
"We don't want to turn away any advertising opportunities, but it starts with the audience -- if we can make them happy, advertisers will follow," he said. "This is not so much an advertising play as an audience play. We know there's an appetite for quick-twitch video."
Last month, Sports Illustrated was knocked on its heels after Gawker published a report that revealed the magazine had evaluated writers for its website based partly on whether they produce content that's "beneficial to advertiser relationship."
A Sports Illustrated spokesman the website's "editorial content is uncompromised and speaks for itself."
Last week, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp told an audience at a Re/Code conference that he wants the company's many magazine titles -- including People, Time and InStyle -- to emulate the 60-year-old weekly sports title. "Sports Illustrated is actually growing now," he said. "I think these brands have lots of opportunities for growth well beyond the printed pages."'
Time Inc., which was spun off from Time Warner in June, reported a 2% decline in revenue during the quarter ending June 30 to $820 million.