NBC Sports Bay Area and Cisco Webex have started an exciting partnership to help connect fans with star athletes and local sports programming everywhere.
Aruna Ravichandran, Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Webex, sat down with NBC Sports Bay Area's Jessica Kleinschmidt for a Q&A about the goals for the partnership, optimizing fan-athlete interaction and the future of access across all platforms.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NBC Sports Bay Area (NBCSBA): We’ve definitely noticed that through platforms like Cisco Webex, we’ve had more access to athletes during the pandemic. How do you see it shifting once sports return to normal, especially as it relates to Bay Area teams?
Aruna Ravichandran (AR): A year ago, life changed for all of us, frankly we all surprised ourselves, don’t you think? And how we were all able to get through that difficult era, but all of that wouldn’t have been possible last year without collaboration technologies, like video conferencing, messages and many more. In my mind 2020 specifically, when you think about the sports industry, was all about helping everyone survive the bank to make with virtual as well as digital experiences from fans remote, as well as people who are working from home.
In the Bay Area, this was the only way to engage with fans for most of the year because of the strict stay home orders, which we have enforced all of the various different counties here in the Bay Area. Webex actually served as a lifeline to many, many of our customers as well as partners in the sporting industry as virtual experiences. But in many ways, the only option to dynamically and safely, stay connected and engage with fans. But as we now think about 2021, we believe that 2021 is going to be the year of hybrid sports.
We’re now in the phase of really writing this label perfecting the hybrid approach to deliver both at home as well as in person, especially as the world starts to recover from the pandemic.
So, even without return to normal, we do believe that many people might not be comfortable, actually, attending sporting events in person, especially when you have 100,000 people who actually come to a sporting event.
And so the future of sports will never look the same. And there is going to be a new normal, which is going to get established this year, which we call the world of hybrid sports.
So the goal from now onwards is to drive these hybrid experiences, not just in person, or with virtual events, but it’s about being able to provide both the options to your fans.
NBCSBA: Fan interaction is a big initiative of ours, as we’ve seen recently using Webex technology at the end of Warriors games, and this week with a fan announcing the Sharks starting lineup. How do you see us taking it from here with this partnership?
AR: Providing the opportunity in order to use Webex from the dynamic coverage with your finances' table stakes. As we further evolve, the world of hybrid sports for us, it’s about how can you bring more audience engagement with your fans?
So thinking about this, we have brought many, many new innovations to market when you’re hopeful that you guys will be able to leverage many of them with your fan’s engagement. One of them is about just recognition, so when I say recognition, we want to basically make sure that Webex becomes the platform in order to give you those inclusive collaboration experiences.
What do I mean by that? [It] means that whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, whether you are this loud fan basically expresses his or her opinion, or you're this quiet person who basically responds through gestures or emojis, we have given you a path, a platform in order to actually engage with your audience.
So with just a recognition, if somebody does a thumbs up or thumbs down or they clap their hands, and it’ll automatically recognize that particular gesture and relate in your meeting. So that way, everyone is given an equal voice to express themselves.
Another example is how you can engage with your fans during the game, or before the game, or after the game.
So, we recently announced our intent to acquire a company called slido. They are the board’s leader, which you think about audience engagement, and with slido, which will then soon be integrated into Webex after the acquisition is completed. You’ll now have the ability to engage with your fans. Like, during the game, you can ask a set of questions, and you can show the poll live during that particular feature. You can also do a workflow. You can ask them a question, and you can ask people to actually type the vote of hybrid sports.
It will get much more engaging and you now have an opportunity to engage with your fans much, much more than what you could have potentially done with traditional video conferencing.
NBCSBA: As someone who works on-air across all of our platforms of digital, social, and linear, how should I be taking more advantage of Webex?
AR: So, with Webex, we put people first, right? So for us, it’s all about being able to solve our purpose is to basically create and include the future for all. That is actually Cisco’s purpose. That is actually Webex's purpose.
And so when you think about that particular purpose for us, it’s about breaking down the barriers across location, geography, socio-economic level personality type so that we can connect people in a much more seamless, engaging way. So when you said that you basically operate across multiple different platforms, social, radio and linear, one of the ways you can actually leverage Webex is as you do your interviews across the various different platforms with our technology.
Now, you have the ability to break down the barriers of location and language. Because we have the innovation. We recently brought to market where, as you’re talking in English, anybody can consume the line, your conversation, in any language of their choice.
So we have the ability to automatically translate from English into 108 languages, which represents about 80 percent of the languages around the world. And so, for us, it’s again a way to basically bring the virtual and physical together, make sure that everyone feels that they have an equal seat at the table, and so that everyone has got an equal voice.
NBCSBA: What makes you most excited about your partnership with NBC Sports Bay Area?
AR: I think a multitude of things. I think, like the future of work, when you think about it, it’s going to be about hybrid work, which means, in your case, it’s hybrid sports that chapter has not been written. That playbook hasn’t been written and so together, we can actually find the chapter of how hybrid sports can be achieved in the world. And so it’s very exciting to partner with somebody like NBC Sports Bay Area in order to write that particular chapter.
NBCSBA: What's the one thing that Cisco Webex is doing that makes you so excited for the future and separates it from competitors?
AR: If you think about Webex and our premise, Webex was actually brought, we are the guys who actually define the category of video conferencing 25 years ago.
Cisco acquired Webex in 2007. Since then, the world has changed in ways we never imagined. It could have changed, and given the pandemic, it changed even more. So for us, the way we actually differentiate ourselves from our competitors in two ways: One is all about the people. It’s empowering, the people making sure that everyone is included in the conversation, regardless of whether they’re going to be working from home, they are in the office, or anywhere in between.
So, for us, it’s all about being able to solve for that inclusive collaboration experience. That’s number one. The second one is like I said, the future of work is going to be hybrid.
The playbook has not been written and we at Cisco are very biased in order to lead the world. When you think about hybrid work and it’s not just with Webex where we have a single tool, a single platform where you can actually call, message and meet with everyone as well as engage with your audience with our various different tools, which we now have without our product.
But it’s also being able to do that in a very, very secure way. We are the leaders in security for security is built and not on and given the power of our portfolio with security with collaboration.
We definitely differentiate ourselves much more than all of our competitors out there.