#Storyteller: Episode 101 with NFL Network’s Catherine Chan-Smith

We are just days away from the kickoff of the NFL season, as teams, players, and fans around the country prepare for the return of football. Catherine-Chan Smith, Senior Director of Social Integration at NFL Network, stressed that storytelling at this level is about finding balance. 

“There are times when we think, did we get if perfect? But we have to get it out there because it needs to be timely. You don’t want to miss that window,” said Chan-Smith. “Finding that balance between timeliness and getting it right and telling it right and producing it with the right imagery and the right feel, it’s all important. I think that is a skill that not everyone has but it is a skill and it’s like a muscle that you need to build. And the more you do it, the better you are at it.”

Ahead of the season opener, we sat down with Cat in this inaugural episode of #Storyteller to talk about her storytelling philosophy, background, and some of her favorite interactive storytelling moments.



On how social media has changed TV & reporting:

At the time my executive producer said, ‘you know social media is becoming a real force and access to players that we didn’ t have before.’ We no longer need to deploy satellite trucks and get crews and spend thousands of dollars just to get a sound bite, and hopefully get a soundbite. You’ve worked in news and production for a long time. You know there is no guarantee. But now players are actively engaging and posting. I remember when Joe Flacco tweeted, ‘Lets Go’. I mean it was literally the simplest tweet but it was right before a playoff game, and we looked at that and said, that’s his statement. If we had a camera, if we had a microphone in front of him, he would probably say something to that effect. At the time my boss said, why don’t we find a way to creatively integrate social media. 


On how she got into storytelling:

I watched a lot of local news television and I always found it so interesting that they would start with a certain story line during the five o’ clock, and it would just continue to evolve. When you get to the nine o’clock you get a pretty full story of what happened, good or bad, and it just seemed that evolution, the journey for that particular story was so interesting. I think it was something I inherently learned through osmosis more than anything. I don’t think there was this intent to learn about being a good storyteller, I read a lot and you just know a good story when you start to read the first few sentences and whether or not it captures your attention and how memorable it is and how it stays with you. 


On integrating social media into the linear broadcast:

Often times what we are trying to do is not to merge these two platforms but we wanna do something, which someone in our office has called ‘stealth learning’. Where the intention is creating something entertaining, but there is learning behind it without really knowing it. It’s the best kind of learning because you are really being entertained and it’s committing it to your memory. And I feel like, for people like my parents, who really aren’t on Twitter or some of our older demographic from our linear audience that isn’t on Twitter or social media for that matter, is able to see that there is a whole different space that has these conversations about what we are watching. And it might intrigue them to get an account and sign up for social media or Twitter in general. They are learning something new and they get introduced to something new in a really entertaining way.



On the launch of the NFL Network:

I had no idea what it was about. I took a meeting with my then-executive producer and the rest was history! It was really neat, I think we were the first 25 or 30 employees. There was no network. My favorite story to tell about the early days other than the fact that the people are wonderful and they still are, we didn’t launch until week nine of the 2003 season. For the first eight weeks, everyday we were just running tests. We were concerned, how do we have a legit 24/7 NFL Network and not start and launch on week one. My mentor and former executive producer said, we’re gonna be such a big deal and such a household brand at some point very soon, that no one is going to remember that we launched week nine. 

Subscribe to #Storyteller below wherever you like to listen:

#Storyteller on Spotify#Storyteller on Apple Podcast