Next Thursday, May 28, some of the best and brightest from ESPN’s Longhorn Network will attend the College Sports Media Awards (CSMA) in Atlanta. The network devoted to coverage of the University of Texas athletics has had at least five projects nominated each year since the event launched in 2011, including this year’s seven nods. LHN has won Outstanding Special Feature three years in a row and is hopeful of making it four straight with two nominations this year. Front Row sat with Tom McCollum, LHN coordinating producer and an alum of the ESPN Features Unit, to learn more about the network’s award-winning content:
Why has LHN had such success in feature categories at the CSMAs and the Lone Star Emmys?
When we launched LHN four years ago, several members of our leadership team came from feature backgrounds, including my boss, [Senior Vice President, Production, ESPN College Networks] Stephanie Druley, and two of the producers at the time, Ben Hobbs and Joe Disney. We made it a priority to emphasize the same long-form storytelling principles and we were fortunate to bring younger talent with us – folks like Jarred Schiff and Michael Holmes – who learned quickly and embraced the hard work and creative touch that goes into producing great features. Schiff and Holmes have now won national awards for their work and are both up again this year in the features category.
How hard is it to create award-winning original content for a channel dedicated to one school?
The biggest challenge is the smaller pool of stories to choose from. With the ESPN Features Unit, we picked stories from the whole world. We have to keep a constant eye out for the truly unique opportunities and be ready to pounce when they come along. The advantage we have is the proximity to the Texas athletes. While ESPN’s feature groups often get ideas from previously-published local stories, interacting with Texas and their athletes on a regular basis allows us to find original stories that might otherwise have never come to light.
As you reflect on the entire year of content during the award submission process, what sticks out about this year for LHN?
The momentum of our evolving network fed our inspiration. LHN recently launched on DirecTV and now has around 20 million subscribers nationwide. Within the state borders it’s carried on nine of the top 10 cable providers. That is a sizable increase in reach to share content and further serve sports fans. Also, the excitement in Texas athletics for [new head men’s basketball coach] Shaka Smart and [head football coach] Charlie Strong to get the UT programs turned around is almost palpable and continues to pique the interest of Longhorn fans.