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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Global entertainment giant IMG Media is partnering up to give social media sports video company Wave.tv broad access to its sports licensing rights, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: The deal speaks to a new generation of sports programming for younger people on social media who are avid sports fans but don't like sitting through long games on traditional TV.

  • "The value of original programming utilizing the highlight and the long tail archive is rapidly increasing, to both the fan and media ecosystem at large," says Brian Verne, co-founder and CEO, WAVE.tv.
  • "For fans they’re pure entertainment, for leagues and rights holders they’re seen as the vital bridge to increasing fandom amongst Gen Z and Millennials."

Driving the news: Wave.tv, which is home to dozens of sports shows across platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube, will be able to access a broad range of IMG's licensed sports rights to use for its shows, including Euroleague Basketball and World’s Strongest Man.

  • The partnership includes an overarching contract allowing Wave.tv to access IMG's owned content on a case-by-case basis, as well as individual contracts that include specific licensing agreements depending on the sport.
  • The companies will split the ad revenue that Wave.tv makes by airing these shows on social platforms.
  • "This partnership was born out of our initial success working together," says Rebecca Levin, Director of Media at IMG. "WAVE.tv’s media brands engage millions of fans by sharing memorable sporting moments in a fresh and entertaining way."

The big picture: Over the last few years, a new crop of digitally-native sports media companies have popped up to create sports shows for younger generations of sports fans that aren't interested in watching hours-long coverage of games on live TV.

  • Overtime, a sports media company that produces shows for social media, has experienced record engagement during the coronavirus pandemic, in part because its sports shows don't rely on streaming straight games, but rather commentary, highlights and culture around sports. Zachary Weiner, Co-Founder and President of Overtime, says the company has gained 10 million social followers during COVID.
  • Bleacher Report's House of Highlights is another breakout brand doing sports coverage on social media. House of Highlights had 51 of the top 100 branded content posts on Instagram in 2019. It's the #2 sports publisher on YouTube, averaging 100 million views per month and has over 24 million followers across across all platforms, including a giant following on TikTok.

Be smart: Among all of the players we've spoken to in social sports media, format is universally deemed critical.

  • "The most important thing is to find young people where they are, on social media. The second is format," says Weiner. "A lot of legacy companies reformat their TV content for digital. We create on digital and social right off the bat."

What's next: Wave.tv is expanding to accommodate the flurry of new content rights deals, says Verne. It plans to hire 12-20 additional full-time employees to add to its existing 42 employees this quarter.

  • "When you break our business down into a sum of its parts, it is really quite simple. Fandom + Formats + IP = new hit programming," says Verne.

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2020 - Sports

Esports network VENN raises $26 million Series A round

Photo: VENN

The Video Game Entertainment and News Network (VENN) will announce Tuesday a $26 million Series A investment round co-led by BITKRAFT Ventures, an eSports and gaming venture capital firm, as well as Nexstar Media Group, executives told Axios.

Why it matters: The network started out in streaming, but will now be moving some of its shows to linear television through its strategic partnership with Nexstar. Large production networks typically operated in the opposite direction — making shows for linear TV and then selling them to streaming distributors later.

Biden draws more online engagement as election draws near

Data: Conviva; Chart: Axios Visuals

New data from media intelligence company Conviva finds that Joe Biden has begun to draw more engagement per post on Twitter than President Trump.

  • There's been a steady increase by Biden in the monthly averages of engagements per post, average engagements per video, and follower adds since the beginning of the year.
  • This past month, Biden passed Trump in all three metrics. (The Conviva data only includes retweets and likes, not quote tweets.)

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.