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May 26

The Art (and Science) of Storytelling: Rogers Sportsnet Engages Audience with the Right Tools

On a November day in 2013, the Canadian media establishment was turned on its head when Rogers Sportsnet announced they had signed a $5.2 billion, 12 year deal to acquire the exclusive rights to broadcast hockey in Canada starting with the 2014/15 season.

Seizing the rights from the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster and home of Hockey Night in Canada for 61 years, Rogers promised to bring coverage of Canada’s national winter sport to new levels, adding more games and expanding pre and post-game coverage.

Another significant part of the promise Rogers made to the NHL and its audience was to bring innovation to the space, including live streaming, new camera angles and adopting broadcast integration tools like the iPowow Participation TV platform.

We look for tools that add value to storytelling.

Innovation in media requires a willingness to leave comfortable surroundings, but you hedge your bets by hiring smart people who can navigate unknowns with aplomb. Nicole D’Cruz is one such acquisition. D’Cruz left the CBC to join Rogers Sportsnet as a product manager working primarily on digital projects and implementing digital integration tools with broadcast. In this capacity, D’Cruz has helped to shepherd in the era of Participation TV on Canadian sports broadcasting.

Speaking on what made iPowow a natural fit for the nascent sports net as it took on the Herculean task of broadcasting the highest profile sport in Canada, D’Cruz simply said, “We look for tools that add value to storytelling.”

In many ways live sport embodies the best in storytelling. There is adversity, jeopardy, and surprise outcomes as myths are created and dynasties are toppled. Hockey, in particular and especially in Canada, has no shortage of passionate fans who immerse themselves in the drama and legends of the game. Rogers is trying to evolve how the story is told, and like all evolutions of storytelling, from campfire to book to radio to television to internet, new tools emerge that lend their elegance to making such an evolution happen.

“Digital integration can be successful when it adds value to the story that is being told,” D’Cruz said. “You need to bring the conversation to the audience by reaching more deeply into existing networks.”

Rogers Sportsnet has taken the iPowow platform and created a compelling addition to the story around each game. They’ve created a second period intermission segment called “To the Point” which pits pundits against each other, the audience, and the clock. During a time of the broadcast when traditionally the refrigerator becomes the most engaging appliance in the house, points are awarded and entertaining banter that breaks the fourth wall keeps the audience leaning forward and deeply engaged.

In addition, the network’s foray into Participation TV has pushed the envelope of sponsorship integration bringing brand J.P. Wiser’s to the table during the whole of the regular season. Using the iPowow Premium Engagement Network, Rogers was able to push sponsored video directly into the hands of users playing along with “To the Point” at home.

On expanding the use of Participation TV, D’Cruz, who works to develop audience digitally said, “We’ve found that what has to happen is we need to go where the audience is talking, where they are already having the conversation. The future of audience participation [for us] is a deeper integration into existing networks.”

Rogers Sportsnet has extended their use of iPowow throughout the NHL playoffs and to the Stanley Cup final. For D’Cruz, her experience with the broadcast tool has been positive. “The people have been great,” she said of the personalized client service the enterprise provides. “Always available.”