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Just Like Coke, Media Brands Must Show The Way Forward

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When you’ve been the dominant player in your business, and one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, it’s easy to become complacent and fall in love with your own press. Who could blame you? Profits are soaring, customer satisfaction is high, and the world has an affinity for what you provide.

But what happens when the world begins to change, and your company is forced to play under a different set of rules? All of a sudden, the things you’ve done for the past century are now placed under a microscope, and failure to respond properly could have a crippling effect on your next century of productivity, if you even last that long.

This is what Coca-Cola was faced with in recent years, and their story of reinventing themselves and turning their attention to the “Way Forward” is impressive. You’ll learn by the end of this piece how it relates to the sports media world you presently operate in.

Since 1886, people have enjoyed soft drinks and recognized Coke as a global leader in the beverage business. Brand awareness and company growth have been strong, and although Pepsi has been a formidable foe, the carbonated soft drink market has belonged to the original soda giant.

So what happened that forced Coke to change its business model or risk becoming less necessary to its customers?

Society demanded it.

In 2015, soda sales declined for the 11th straight year, reaching a thirty year low according to Beverage Digest. People started becoming more health conscious and focused on their diets, often replacing soda with healthier drinks. As interest in eliminating soda grew, beverage companies found themselves at a crossroads.

Sensing that adjustments were critical, Coke revised its business strategy and focused on becoming a ‘total beverage company’. As part of the company’s new plan of attack, they’d begin offering different types of soda, and increase their offerings to dairy, coffee, juices, water, coconut water and organic tea.

The timing couldn’t have been better. As sales for soda increased slowly at 2-3%, other brands under the Coke umbrella such as Smartwater, Minute Maid, Dasani and Honest Tea, began to generate stronger results. That gave Coke the confidence to pledge further support to its new vision, and announce that the company would reduce sugar in more than 500 of its drinks in 2017, while investing additional resources in marketing low and no sugar beverages.

Although Coke isn’t out of the woods yet, transformation takes time and often comes with a few bumps and bruises. The reason I brought their story to your attention is because it relates to what many of us in the media business are facing today.

When you look at the world and how your audience uses your brand, it’s much different than what you encountered 5-10 years ago. To put it in perspective, our audio/video is what soda has been to Coke. But, just as the public began pushing back on the soft drink giant to reduce sugar and help them enjoy drinks in a healthier way, our listeners and viewers have challenged us to make their experiences better, shorter, cleaner, and cheaper across multiple platforms.

From an audio standpoint, the listener wants to enjoy our content in their car, on their phones, thru voice on-demand technology, and in shorter doses. Why are podcasts appealing? Because a person can listen to them at their convenience, and be done with an entire episode in a short period of time. They’re also not forced to sit thru exorbitant commercial breaks and they can locate the content they value most and eliminate parts of the show that have less relevance.

While that presents difficulties for a traditional model which has relied on 14-16 minutes of inventory per hour, that’s the industry’s problem to solve, not the audience’s. You don’t need to do an extensive study to discover that people value their time, and if you overload them with commercials, they will tune you out and find a different audio experience to invest their time in. There are thousands of content options available and although the listener may prefer your brand, personality and content, they won’t sit thru long stretches of irrelevant material to get it.

From a viewer’s standpoint, people are cutting the cord and pushing back on cable companies because they are fed up paying for programming that they don’t value or spend their time watching. It may have been acceptable twenty years ago to have hundreds of channels available for $100 per month, but people now prefer less choice for less money.

On an average, consumers have access to 206 television channels, yet they watch only 20 per month. This is why there has been rapid growth for services from Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, Amazon Prime, and YouTube TV. While cable companies have continued to push TV services as if they’re carbonated sodas to an audience which has told them they are actively pursuing a diet, digital media providers have offered a smaller amount of channels for a much lower monthly fee. These products aren’t perfect and still lack many of the channels we spend our time viewing, but when bills can be reduced by 50-80%, it gets the public’s attention, and eventually their business.

A huge bright spot in all of this is that the appetite for audio and video remains alive and well. People love sports audio and video and continue to seek it out, talk about it, and pay for it. The content each brand and personality creates has significant audience appeal and is the most important asset each company has at their disposal to leverage future business. The way people listen, watch, and interact may change, but gifted personalities offering unique content on subjects that captivate local and national audiences still packs one hell of a punch.

This is why I’ve been such an advocate for selling total reach over ratings. Radio and/or TV is only one part of your success story. Most dominant brands have a strong connection with their fans beyond the airwaves, and every single platform where the audience invests time with you, is an opportunity to connect them to your advertisers. Clients may request evidence before agreeing to invest in your company, but if you can deliver a consistent return on their investment, they’ll care less in the future about your market share and more about your ability to help them move product and increase sales. Whether it comes from your airwaves, the stream, a podcast, Facebook Live, TV or a social media post, all that matters is the final result.

In a perfect world, we’d still be selling soda and enjoying the benefits it provided during a less sophisticated time. But when your audience’s thirst for your product dries up, you either offer an alternative beverage or risk becoming replaceable. As Coke said it best, show people “The Way Forward”. That’s the challenge media companies must meet head on and conquer in order to stay strong in future years.

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John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

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Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.

But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.

When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.

If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.

During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.

Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.

After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.

John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.

We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.

I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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