WarnerMedia’s Sports Social Media Star to Debut at Rival ESPN

When it comes to sports video clips on social media, Pakistan/American national Omar Raja’s “House of Highlights” on WarnerMedia’s Bleacher Report (B/R) is a huge hit with more than 15 million followers on Instagram.

In 2019, “House of Highlights” became the only U.S. sports media brand to surpass ESPN in followers across all social media platforms. That apparently didn’t sit well with the Disney-owned sports brand. Now the 25-year-old Raja is taking his skills to ESPN for bigger money.

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Raja founded “House of Highlights” in 2014 while a student at University of Central Florida as a way to share video clips of moments both on and off the court with friends.

The Instagram account quickly gained a following and, in just five years, has built a community of both a younger audience of sports fans and superstar athletes and celebrities like LeBron James and Drake.

“Omar’s distinct, edgy and authentic voice resonates perfectly with those we reach across digital platforms, and we’re excited to have him play a key role in creating fun content and strengthening our connection with fans across our entire digital footprint,” Ryan Spoon, SVP of digital and social content, said in a statement. “With the resources and the reach and scale of ESPN behind them, Omar and his team will be adding fuel to the fire.”

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Raja will spearhead ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Instagram account and will play a key role in content offerings on the channel’s sports app.

He will also be a contributor to ESPN’s NBA digital and social content, including a new “Hoop Streams” live show with co-hosts Chiney Ogwumike and Christine Williamson. The weekly studio show premieres on Jan. 15 from 6:30 to 7 p.m. ET and will focus on culture and viral moments across basketball.

It will be the first show produced from ESPN’s new Studio E in Bristol, Conn. dedicated exclusively to its growing digital content and shows. The show will be available to stream live on Twitter, YouTube and the ESPN App.

Raja’s first appearance on ESPN platforms will be as a guest on “Countdown to the CFP Championship” Jan. 13, ahead of the College Football Playoff National Championship game between Clemson and LSU.

MTV Hires Bleacher Report’s Rory Brown as Head of Digital

Viacom-owned MTV April 8 named Rory Brown to the newly created position of head of digital and social for MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo.

Brown will be responsible for building on MTV’s brand resurgence, which now includes MTV Studios, live events “Spring Break” and the SnowGlobe Music Festival, cable channels, digital and social content.

Rory Brown

Brown reports directly to Jacqueline Parkes, chief marketing officer and EVP of digital studios for MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo, and work closely with Viacom Digital Studios.

Most recently, Brown served as president of sports-themed Bleacher Report, a role in which he oversaw content, product, social, programming as well as the “House of Highlights” team.

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During his 10 years with the company, Brown helped it grow from a 13-person team and two million monthly unique visitors to more than one billion monthly social interactions, nine figures in annual revenue and more than 450 employees worldwide.

“Rory has a powerful vision for how to connect with audiences where they live, on their terms and across platforms, and he made the closely guarded world of sports work for millennials and gen-Z in a way that legacy brands never could,” Parkes said in a statement. “With 250 million followers, MTV is the biggest youth media brand on social media, and we’re very excited to see what Rory creates for our fans across our massive footprint.”

Under Brown’s leadership, Bleacher Report and House of Highlights consistently ranked among the most viewed brands with the mostly highly engaged audience on social media.

Bleacher Report is #1 in social engagements among all sports networks (Listen First) and is the #1 media and entertainment brand on Twitter, with nearly 200 million monthly video views (Tubular).

Brown oversaw many of the original series and initiatives that drove Bleacher Report’s explosive growth, including “Game of Zones,” “The Champions” and “No Script with Marshawn Lynch.” He also served on the House of Highlights board of directors.

Turner Bowing Live Sports Streaming Service

As expected, Turner Sports will launch a live-sports streaming service in April. Dubbed, “Bleacher Report Live,” after the B/R online sports information platform, the service will initially be free, with “flexible” pricing plans to be rolled out later.

The platform reportedly will bow April 7 streaming “Spring League” football with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

The service – which is powered by Turner’s iStreamPlanet – is slated to carry UEFA Champions and Europa League soccer, NBA League Pass, PGA Championship, NCAA championship events (excluding football and basketball), lacrosse, rally racing and arm wrestling, among other sports.

“B/R Live” comes as Disney readies “ESPN Plus,” a $4.99 monthly SVOD service powered by BAMTech targeting cord-cutters, millennials and other non-pay-TV subscribers.

Notable to B/R Live – subscribers can acquire access on a per-game basis.

“That’s very important,” Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports, said March 27 at a press event.

Indeed, consumers will also be able to acquire “micro-transaction” access, which includes minutes of live action to a sporting event.

“When you have a two-and-a-half-hour event, some fans know they don’t have time to watch [a whole NBA game],” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “To me, it’s a logical evolution of where we’ve gone [with NBA Pass].”