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Fox Sports' head of digital explains why experimentation is vital to success

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Fox Sports' head of digital explains why experimentation is vital to success
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It's not easy being in the broadcasting industry right now.

Figures from the Australian Multi-Screen Report for Q4 2016 revealed that average broadcast viewing dropped 4.7 per cent over the previous 12 months. The rise of online streaming platforms such as Optus, Stan and Netflix has meant Australian broadcasters are having to innovate in order to engage their viewers.

In an industry where broadcast viewing is declining, Fox Sports’ culture of experimentation, which has seen the business integrate Optimizely to manage the experimentation, has driven greater engagement and viewers.

One of the experiments Fox Sports ran was through the Rugby Match Centre. Fox Sports tested having video highlights in another drop down menu, as opposed to automatically opening on the screen. The result was a dramatic rise in the number of people engaging on the site.

Fox Sports head of digital, Brad Schultz, said key to this success is not just relying on senior people to make the decisions. Instead, the company has empowered the wider team to test experiments across platforms and act on the data they have. To do this, the team supports and iterates on feature sets and products across a dozen or more digital platforms, from Snapchat to Amazon Alexa, to its websites and apps.

“We’ve always put our customers first and sought to give them value but as a relatively small team, it’s important we’re also efficient and are able to iterate quickly. To deliver great experiences across many sports and hundreds of events, regardless of the platform and tech, means we have to be very smart about how we prioritise features and products and also how we validate our ideas,” Schultz told CMO.

“We are constantly challenging ourselves to find value in the smallest iterations and so an experimentation mindset and the right tools are absolutely vital for our product teams. The same is true of our brilliant content teams, who are creating an extraordinary volume of content that is designed and fit for platform."

For example, what the Snapchat audience sees is not what the Facebook audience sees, which in turn is not what appears via Instagram. "With a different look, feel and tone for each platform and audience, experimentation and feedback loops are the only way to learn fast and shape our content for our different customers," he said.

While Schultz is quick to suggest Fox Sports is at the beginning of the experimentation journey, he can already see how the culture in the digital team has evolved. By making learning one of the key metrics that matter, people are encouraged to test and experiment, and the result is that they’re questioning assumptions about products and customers.

Integrating Optimizely into digital has been huge for operational efficiency and growth, plus from a culture perspective it has seen the increase in discussion, debate, and collaboration within the team.

“We needed a tool that all members of the team could master. Optimizely makes things easy for our product, technology, and analytics teams to create and manage experiments. We did consider other solutions but ultimately Optimizely understood where we were as a business and how much guidance we needed around experimentation,” he explained.

“Our teams have been able to develop their skills with the support of the customer team at Optimizely, which has been one of the huge upsides in our partnership.”

Fox Sports is yet to roll out the full server-side solution, which will give them another significant boost in capability when this occurs.

“The first six months was a learning curve as we implemented the product into the team’s workflow. Change can’t happen overnight and full value in these kinds of platforms takes time to realise,” Schultz said.

“However, the new technology has allowed the team to be much more attentive to the signals we’re getting from customers. We’ve touched the surface in terms of what the tech can do but in a short period of time we’ve generated more valuable data than we’ve had before.”

Initial efforts focused on learning more about how customers consume content on key pages.

“We’ve been able to launch betas for our homepage, and through testing have determined new features to grow some key engagement metrics around content consumption on page," Schultz said. "Through simple A/B testing, we’ve been able to show benefits such as increased scroll depth. It’s a basic iteration, but we’re pulling a lot of data out of testing, which is giving us a better understanding of customer behaviour. There are perhaps half a dozen other content and layout experiments that have been similarly valuable."

The other important area is Fos Sports' subscription services, which will be a big part of the program going forward. Schultz said the top of the funnel for live and on-demand subscription services is the brand's editorial experiences via homepage, sports sections, video and article pages.

“The great value of experimentation will be to help us to optimise conversion rates to our subscription services from these experiences. We have the audience, we just need to make it easier for them to find the services they need. We’ve run a few experiments to date and have seen immediate results where we’ve seen great growth in conversions," he continued.

“Our long-term ambition is to really bed in the processes we’ve started. Experimentation and data analysis leading to action has to be a business-wide goal. We also need to put growth at the heart of our thinking on a daily basis and have the discipline to allocate resources to, and prioritise, growth initiatives. The more experiments we run and assumptions we test, the more growth we’ll generate.”

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