The Athletic signs television vets to boost video content
Three veteran TV journalists, including “60 Minutes” correspondent Armen Keteyian, joined The Athletic last week, the first part of the three-year-old publication’s efforts to produce more video content.
Keteyian will join the website exclusively — he will not appear on other platforms — as an anchor and executive producer along with Alan Goldberg and Victor Frank, both of whom are executive producers. A former “60 Minutes” producer, Goldberg was Barbara Walters’ principal producer for 18 years; Frank’s résumé includes stints at CBS and NBC Sports.
“We came as a group — the three of us,” Keteyian said.
The Athletic launched in January 2016 with a subscription website devoted to Chicago sports. It has since expanded to 47 markets, most recently launching in Memphis in August. The site has picked up around $30 million in investments from companies such as Evolution Media.
With these hires, the site known for high-quality and long-form content is building out a platform that will be ready to produce videos by the spring.
These moves, though, do not mean that The Athletic is pivoting to video, which is a strategy pursued by other websites. Since its launch in January 2016, The Athletic’s business plan has been based on investing in writers and editors as it has competed with local newspapers for sports coverage. That strategy is not changing, according to Alex Mather, founder of The Athletic.
“We’re not necessarily changing our business model here — 95 percent of our editorial budget is still going to the written word,” Mather said. “For us to augment some of our written-word content with some premium stories on the video side is not too big of a leap for us.”
The reason to add video content to The Athletic’s websites is obvious, Mather said. The presence of video keeps subscribers on the site longer and is instrumental in driving renewal rates. The site costs $9.99 a month to subscribe.
“We have enough subscribers now that we can really put an emphasis on engagement,” he said. The Athletic does not release subscriber numbers but said that it’s more than 100,000. “When we engage our audience in different ways other than the written word — whether it be podcasts or video — we see a meaningful difference in engagement and retention. … We’re at the scale now where the difference in retention can make tens of millions of dollars difference in revenue. It’s really optimizing to get people to continue to renew.”
Mather also pointed to The Athletic’s partnership with The Players’ Tribune as a reason why they brought in such high-profile video producers as Keteyian, Goldberg and Frank. In the fall, The Athletic and The Players’ Tribune partnered on a five-part video series with the Celtics’ Gordon Hayward — a move that Mather credits for putting The Athletic in front of people who are not likely to subscribe to a print product.
Mather said The Athletic’s traffic increased by two or three times since the Hayward series debuted.
“It’s a different set of users,” he said. “The awareness has really improved since the Gordon Hayward series that we put out. That has continued even now six weeks later. We see awareness increasing. That has an absolute effect on the growth of our business.”
The first video efforts from Keteyian’s team should be ready by the spring. At least initially, videos almost certainly will be similar to the “60 Minutes” pieces that the longtime broadcast journalist has produced.
Mather said he is not setting limits on the types of videos that could appear on his sites. He wants to see everything from investigative pieces to shorter videos that augment The Athletic’s print stories.
“You can imagine mini versions of ‘30 for 30’ — more documentary style,” Mather said. “We’re going to definitely experiment quite a bit with format and time.”
The Athletic’s reporters will consult with Ketayian’s team on stories they feel could be expanded. Some who are used to being on camera, like Seth Davis and David Aldridge, will do just that.
“It really is an open-door policy for our writers to discuss ideas and bring them forward,” Mather said. “There are some stories that wind up being better as a five-minute video than 1,800 words.”
In an interview last week, Mather described The Athletic’s video ambitions more as experiments — at least at the beginning — though he allows that he would not be surprised to see Keteyian’s video team grow eventually.
“Our goal is to learn and really produce great stuff with the team we have and see how it goes,” he said. “We’re incredibly patient with how we learn and figure stuff out that makes sense for our business.”