SBD/March 10, 2014/Media

Silver Details FiveThirtyEight Relaunch With ESPN On March 17, Timed To March Madness

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Websites led by Silver and Simmons will fall under ESPN's Exit 31 department
FiveThirtyEight Founder Nate Silver on Saturday at the SXSW conference in Austin "revealed a slew of details" about the site's new home on ESPN, according to Sam Laird of MASHABLE. The site "will launch on March 17, just in time for college basketball's annual March Madness tournament." The "basketball bonanza should be a perfect stage for FiveThirtyEight to show off its data-heavy approach to sports journalism." Silver in an interview with Grantland's Bill Simmons said that FiveThirtyEight "will launch with five verticals -- sports, politics, economics, science and lifestyle -- and probably devote '30% or something' to sports." Silver said that one reason he left the N.Y. Times for ESPN is he "didn't want to be a 'Thomas Friedman-esque figure,' where you have a big personal brand, but aren't building anything bigger or more entrepreneurial." Silver added that ESPN also "seemed more eager to act on his idea for a new site." He said legacy media companies such as the N.Y. Times and Washington Post "want to have their names on everything." The new site has hired 20 people so far, including what Silver called a "very quantitative, kind of geeky team of writers" (MASHABLE.com, 3/9). Silver said of preparation for the site's debut, "It is only going to be 75 per cent ready. You can only learn in the real environment." He said of moving the site to ESPN, "We looked at eight or 12 media options. The advantage of major media brands is that they can get major advertisers." Silver added that the site has "a new sponsor that he can’t name yet." Silver said of the site's approach, "Our cushion is data journalism. To us that means a lot of different things -- analysis, analytics, numerate reporting" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 3/8).

PART OF ESPN'S GROWTH: TIME's Jack Dickey writes FiveThirtyEight has "the potential to change how we think not just about politics and sports," which are Silver's "usual bailiwicks, but also about fistfuls of other concerns." ESPN with Silver "for the first time employs a chief economics writer," which is "a long way from slow-pitch softball." Newsnomics analyst Ken Doctor estimated that ESPN is "providing Silver with an annual editorial budget" of $3.25M-$4M "to start, with an additional down payment for his intellectual property." Silver and the site "exist outside ESPN's usual editorial structure, reporting directly" to ESPN President John Skipper and Senior VP/Global Strategy, Business Development & Business Affairs Marie Donoghue (TIME, 3/17 issue). Dickey notes Silver "has spent an estimated 90% of his time interviewing candidates to add to FiveThirtyEight's team" (TIME, 3/17 issue).

PEAS IN A POD: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Debbie Emery noted Simmons "had a big announcement of his own revealing that Grantland is 'launching [a] video podcast network,' via YouTube." Simmons said, "Nate is building a studio in New York City and that's going to give Grantland writers there somewhere to go to film something cool." Simmons: "We're blowing up the podcasts more than ever. ... This is a big year for us, we hit the three year anniversary in June and we like where we are at the moment. The goal is to take six or seven big swings on top of that" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 3/8). Simmons said, "This is a really dangerous time for us. Because you can hit a point -- we’re not massively successful or anything, but I think we’re doing okay -- where you just kind of become who you are. I don’t want that to happen." Simmons: "Grantland’s doing really well, but at the same time most people don’t know it even exists. So we have to figure out how to use the company better, to get on TV more and do more multimedia stuff." He said of Silver and FiveThirtyEight, "I was able to help ... him carve out parameters about what he was going to do. Like telling him -- get as much figured out before you start the site as you can, because once you’re in a big company, they have a way of trying to grab you here, and grab you here, and all of these people are coming at you" (RECODE.net, 3/10).

ALL FOR ONE: ESPN is forming Exit 31, a creative enterprise that will combine the resources of ESPN Films, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight under one umbrella. The group will experiment with subjects, formats, editorial approaches and platforms in new and different ways. Exit 31 will be led by Donoghue. Reporting to Donoghue will be Silver, Simmons, ESPN Films and Original Entertainment VP Connor Schell and Grantland and FiveThirtyEight Senior Director/Strategy and Business Development David Cho (ESPN).
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