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Will Audiences Pay For Local Sports Radio Digital Content?

Jason Barrett

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The interest in sports radio programming continues to soar across the globe. But is that appetite for sports audio content strong enough to expect local audiences to pay for it?

Executives at ESPN Cleveland 850 WKNR believe it is.

On May 1st, the radio station announced they would start charging $8.50 per month or $85.00 annually to listen to full length podcasts of the station’s top shows, minus local commercials and with the talent having the freedom to express themselves in uncensored fashion on their website and app “The Land On Demand“. WKNR offers their over the air radio programming and short-form clips from their shows on their digital platforms for free, but full-length shows had previously not been made available.

Keith Williams, ESPN Cleveland’s vice president and general manager, told Crain’s Cleveland Business that full-length podcasts are the number one thing listeners have asked WKNR to offer. But unlike the majority of brands across the country that provide that form of programming to their audiences on their websites and digital channels for free, WKNR is hoping the demand for consuming the content will be strong enough to justify additional spending.

“We know the way fans are consuming media in an on-demand world,” Williams told Crain. “They don’t have the time or resources they once had. We’re providing them what they asked for.”

In the same article with Crain, Talkers Magazine publisher Michael Harrison was a proponent of the move. He said “The biggest problem facing commercial radio is the commercials. If WKNR was charging people to listen to it on the air, then people should grumble, but what the hell do they have to grumble about? They don’t want radio stations to make a living?”

There’s some truth in Michael’s words. Commercials have become viewed as obstacles standing in the way of the listener enjoying the content. Fred Jacobs wrote about this issue recently after his TechSurvey 13 revealed that ads were the number one reason why people say they listen to less AM/FM radio. That’s a reflection on our growing impatience as a society. We want what we want and we want it now or we’re moving on to something else.

However, to suggest that people shouldn’t grumble over the radio station charging a fee to consume audio that they can hear for free over the air is looking at it strictly from the company’s point of view.

It’s not the audience’s problem if the station generates a profit. They have their own financial difficulties to deal with. Their only role in the situation is to listen to the programming. If they do that consistently, the station can then leverage that passion and commitment with their advertisers. Judging from the early feedback on iTunes and Google Play, people aren’t happy with the direction WKNR has chosen to go.

But let’s take a step back for a second and analyze this from a number of different perspectives.

First, if the listener is able to listen to one of WKNR’s shows over the radio airwaves or on the station’s stream during the time that it airs, they pay nothing for it. If they want to enjoy a small portion of a show in podcast form, that too is free. There are options for them to consume content without having to pay for it. However, if they miss a show, and want to enjoy it later on during their free time, that same content (minus the commercials) which was available over the air for free, now requires a monthly or annual fee.

Now let’s add the advertiser’s perspective.

Imagine for a second if you’re a local or national client. You’re being asked to spend your money promoting your products on WKNR’s airwaves. Those are the same airwaves that are encouraging fans to pay the radio station to hear their programs online, without your commercials in them. If that model gains traction and reduces over the air listening, how would it sit with you if you were investing in the brand’s over the air product? Wouldn’t you want a future place at the table in the digital space if it was becoming a hit with the local audience?

The reason advertisers invest in radio stations is because of their ability to help the client reach specific audiences. If that desired demographic though views the client’s over the air commercials as a detriment to their listening time, and the station wants to prevent the advertiser from being included in digital spaces, then why exactly would a client continue spending the same amount or even more of their ad budget on the radio station?

That’s a slippery slope for stations. The executive team is absolutely right to shift their programming online and eliminate roadblocks that hinder the audience’s listening experience. However, they’re also reliant on advertising dollars to continue running a business. If they piss off their key clients during a period when they’re trying to develop a potential new revenue stream, it could harm their business, especially during the short-term.

Another area that I want to examine is the value.

The Land on Demand’s key selling point is that it’s weekday shows (which you can hear for free on the radio station) are now available in full-length form without interruption. That’s not anything groundbreaking. In fact, most local sports stations already provide that. To expect that offering full-length shows without commercials, with the benefit of using adult language is going to be enough to generate significant spending seems rather peculiar.

However, WKNR did add a section titled WKNR Classics which allows the audience to hear archived shows, guests, and memorable moments. That part is cool and gives the paying consumer something they can’t get over the air. There are also plans to introduce more original content which will only be available to paying customers. That’s a wise move.

But here’s where the problem lies.

Place yourself in the shoes of the consumer for a minute, and consider what you’re up against.

For $11-$20 per month, a listener can purchase a subscription to SiriusXM and gain access to hundreds of programming options. That includes hearing music, comedy, live sporting events, and high profile talent such as Howard Stern, Chris “Mad Dog Russo, and many more.

If you want to save even more money, you can spend $8 per month to become a premium subscriber to TuneIn which gives you access to every MLB and NFL game, commercial-free music, audio books, thousands of radio stations, and millions of podcasts.

I haven’t even touched on the services available to paying consumers on television, video and online platforms. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, MLB, the NFL, the WWE Network and others, there are tons of options to consider when paying for entertainment. In each case, these companies are offering a ton of value in exchange for a minimal monthly or annual fee.

You may suggest that it’s an apples to oranges comparison because one product is focused on local sports radio and the others aren’t, but they’re all delivering entertainment while reducing an individual’s bank account. I assure you, when push comes to shove, most people will spend money on the things they need first, and then consider the available choices when deciding on whether or not to add luxuries.

But spending aside, another potential concern for WKNR is bad publicity. A decline in ratings is often a natural fear for radio companies but Good Karma Broadcasting (WKNR’s parent company) doesn’t live and die by the ratings, so that shouldn’t be an issue. However, no station or business wants to lose listeners.

That said, one item which can easily be lost in this conversation is the fact that the long-form digital offerings were previously unavailable on WKNR. It’s not as if Good Karma is forcing this on its audience. Instead, they’re supplying an additional option to the audience, which they can hear in exchange for a fee. If they don’t want to pay for it, then they’re in no different shape than they were last month.

If it ruffles the feathers of a Cleveland sports radio fan, they do have other options to consider. They can listen solely to WKNR over the radio or if they’re bothered to the point of considering a switch, they can pledge their allegiance to 92.3 The Fan. If for some reason that doesn’t suit their style, they can also turn to brands like 97.1 The Fan or 105.7 The Zone in Columbus who are also talking about Ohio sports. In fact, Bruce Hooley who hosts mornings on The Zone, used to host shows on WKNR.

If neither of those options satisfy, there are always networks and hundreds of sports stations across the country offering quality content for free, both on-air and online. The one big difference though, they’re not largely focused on Cleveland sports the way that WKNR or those other Ohio sports radio brands are.

From the local fan’s point of view, they’re going to wonder why they’re being asked to pay for something that other stations and cities don’t. For example, a Boston sports radio fan can log on to WEEI.com and gain access to all of the station’s programming, plus a number of original podcasts, including Kirk Minihane’s “Enough About Me” which ranks among the best in the format. The station also offers uncensored programs, commercial-free content, and generates over 2 million web visitors per month. The cost for that experience? Zero.

That same strategy of offering free long-form programming in the podcast space is employed by numerous radio companies who own and operate sports stations. Among them include ESPN, iHeart, Bonneville, Hubbard, Emmis, and Beasley. Cumulus doesn’t employ that strategy, and as I mentioned previously, CBS doesn’t either. Their approach is more focused on offering short-form content clips.

But this begs the question, should digital content require a fee?

Stations are dedicating a lot of hours, creativity and bandwidth to provide valuable listening experiences for their audiences, with the idea being that advertisers will offset it. But most of those dollars are coming from the over the air product, not the digital side of the business. As advertisers continue to shift their ad spending into the digital space, and listeners expect ads to be eliminated from their listening experience, it’s worth examining whether or not a subscription based on-demand strategy makes long-term sense.

The subject of digital and podcasting came up in a recent interview with Mike Francesa of WFAN. Talking to Bryan Curtis of The Ringer, the New York sports talk show host said most brands bastardize their own content by giving it away for free. While radio preaches the importance of being on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it hasn’t figured out how to make a dime off of those platforms. As a result, Francesa says radio is destroying its own business.

I can see Mike’s point. From the product end of the business, brands are doing an incredible job of building audiences and generating interest. Turning that passion and dedication though into profitability in the digital and social media world remains a daunting task.

As it applies to WKNR’s situation, one positive working in their favor is that their local competitor (92.3 The Fan) doesn’t currently offer long-form versions of their shows online. That’s a CBS strategy that exists on most of their sports radio brands websites. You can download and listen to interviews, highlights, and occasional monologues, but not full-length programs. But with WKNR announcing their new digital initiative, might that lead The Fan to make a future adjustment? It probably wouldn’t be a consideration under CBS, but with Entercom on the verge of taking over the company that’s certainly possible. Especially since they offer free full length programs in podcast form on the majority of their sports radio brands.

Throughout the years, WKNR has built a familiar brand in Cleveland. Many of their personalities have appeared on the station for a lengthy period of time, and it’s clear they’re counting on local fans having a strong enough interest in their personalities and content to help them enhance their digital business. It’d be foolish to suggest the radio station won’t attract a market for what it’s offering, but whether or not it’ll be sustainable is way too early to tell.

What should be appreciated, regardless of how things play out, is that WKNR is taking a risk. We often talk about our industry being stuck in mud and unwilling to take chances, yet the second someone does, we’re quick to pounce on them and sign their death certificate. Maybe there are some holes in the existing strategy, and the public’s reaction to the news certainly leaves little to be desired, but immediate feedback to any change is often negative, and people have demonstrated numerous times that they’ll pay for things we never expected them to. What one person believes is worth $1, someone else values at $1000.

All of that taken into account, not every risk is a wise one. To simply present shows without commercials in exchange for a fee, and turn it into a thriving revenue stream is expecting a lot. I believe that WKNR will need to add more original content to its digital channels, plus offer additional unique benefits associated with a premium experience to satisfy and grow its subscriber base. I’m sure they’re already working on that. The beauty of a project like this is that it’s in its infancy, so there’s still plenty of time for making improvements.

In life, if you want to grab the brass ring you have to have brass balls. ESPN Cleveland certainly has those. But if you push the audience further than they’re willing to go, those same brass balls can be kicked in by steel toed boots. Hopefully WKNR has invested in a sturdy athletic supporter and cup. I just hope for their sake they don’t end up needing to wear it.

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Erika Ayers and Spike Eskin Led Barstool Sports and WFAN to Success But Their Exits Raise Questions

“Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions.”

Jason Barrett

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There were two big management moves last week that have sports media folks talking. First was Erika Ayers Badan announcing her exit from Barstool Sports as the brand’s CEO. Second was the news of Spike Eskin returning to Sportsradio WIP and exiting his role as the VP of Programming for WFAN and CBS Sports Radio.

Let’s start with Erika. What she did for Barstool was spectacular. In 2016, I thought Barstool had a strong understanding of social media, unique talent and voices, podcasts that were cutting through, and a connection with younger fans that traditional outlets couldn’t deliver. They also produced events that drew a lot of public attention. But I didn’t view Barstool as a buttoned up business capable of generating hundreds of millions of dollars. Erika Nardini aka Erika Ayers Badan and Dave Portnoy deserve credit for making it one.

Erika told me at our 2020 BSM Summit that Barstool didn’t have a P&L sheet when she joined. She had to build systems, hire staff, grow the sales arm of Barstool, and help Dave Portnoy find investors. What followed were marketing deals with major brands, content partnerships with different media outlets, a massive investment from Penn National, and a changed perception of Barstool as a mainstream player. They were no longer just the cool, rebellious brand on social media and the internet that gave no f’s and generated attention. They became game changers in the sports content space.

So why leave?

If Barstool is now clear of restrictions and able to operate without investor influence, that should be enticing, right? In her farewell video Erika said that she felt she accomplished what she set out to do. I understand and appreciate that. But I can’t help but wonder if less structure and investor involvement made it less appealing to stay. She did join the brand after The Chernin Group got involved not before it.

I have no inside knowledge on this, and I’m not suggesting Barstool won’t continue growing and dominating. They likely will. It just raises questions about how the brand will manage sales, PR, critical internal and external issues, and battles with suitors when they try to lure away Barstool’s on-air and sales talent.

The business end of Barstool appears weaker today than it did a week ago. That’s more of a testament to what Erika did than a knock on anyone still there. To grow revenue the way she did the past 8 years speaks volumes about her skill as an executive. Wherever she lands next, it’s likely she’ll make a difference.

Will it be easier to do business with Barstool moving forward? Time will tell. I don’t expect they’ll make it easier for media outlets like ours to cover them. But if I’ve learned anything in eight years of following them it’s don’t ever bet against Dave Portnoy. Too often people have. Each time he’s proven them wrong. Portnoy has built a powerhouse brand, and grown the business by zigging when others zagged. But how Barstool moves forward without Erika will be of great interest to many in 2024.

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Spike Eskin will be leaving WFAN and his position as the VP of Programming for Audacy to return to WIP and co-host the afternoon show. On paper this is a great move for WIP. Spike understands Philadelphia and WIP’s audience, he lives and breathes Philly sports, and has a great rapport with the entire lineup. He’s maintained an on-air presence through his Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, and I believe that moving into a host role alongside Ike Reese and Jack Fritz will be a seamless transition for all involved. Being in his mid to late 40’s, he’s also got plenty years ahead of him to cement his spot as an on-air talent. I expect Spike, Ike and Jack to do well together.

But to exit WFAN and the top programming role at Audacy in less than three years, raises a few questions. Why is this opportunity better for Spike than the programming role he just held? Was he happy at WFAN? Were folks happy with him at WFAN? Many have opinions about WFAN’s changes the past few years. Some love the fresher approach. Others don’t. That’s what makes sports radio in New York fun, people care.

As a follower of WFAN for over thirty years, it’s a different brand than the one I grew up on. That’s not a bad thing by the way. I’m almost 50. If Spike and Chris Oliviero programmed to please the Mike and the Mad Dog crowd that’d be a mistake. Attention spans are shorter, content options are larger, digital is more important and the days of a city flocking to the radio at 1pm to hear a host’s first words are gone. Judging from the ratings, revenue, and turnout for Boomer and Gio’s last live event, the station is doing well. They’ve got a lot of talent, a stronger digital game, and they’ll continue thriving. Spike deserves credit for the brand’s progress.

But why is a hosting role and less influence over a brand better for Eskin? Spike has been a part of WIP’s afternoon show before. Though leading the show vs. being the third mic is a different animal. He also programmed the station really well. In fact, Spike did such a good job at WIP that it landed him the top programming position in sports radio. Is there a personal part to this given that his father made afternoons in Philly must-listen for 25 years? Or is it about the personal relationship he has with Ike and Jack?

And how does this work from a financial standpoint? It’s likely that Spike was paid more to lead Audacy New York than Jon Marks was to host WIP’s afternoon show. If that’s the case, and nothing changes for Eskin, and WIP just adds payroll, does it affect what Chris Oliviero can spend on Audacy New York’s next brand leader? I can’t see that happening at all. Chris is going to make sure he has what he needs to land the right leader in New York.

Finances only come up because it’s known that Audacy is going through a bankruptcy process. Adding expenses right now seems unlikely. However, to add someone with Eskin’s skill and track record at a station where he previously shined is smart business, especially when you consider that he can win as a host and programmer if needed. That’s going to naturally lead to folks asking ‘will Spike eventually host PM drive and program WIP? If so, what does that mean for current PD Rod Lakin?’ ‘What happens when talent at WIP that Spike had a hand in hiring don’t like what Lakin suggests or if WIP’s ratings decline?’

Spike told Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie that’s not on his radar and the idea of joining the afternoon show was raised by PD Rod Lakin. Some of you may read that and be surprised that Lakin would suggest it. But Rod stepped into the role that Eskin previously held. I’m sure they’ve talked plenty the past few years. If their relationship is strong that should help. I don’t know it well enough to say if it is or isn’t. This move suggests Lakin’s more concerned with strengthening WIP than worrying about himself or industry chatter.

If anyone can navigate the situation and make it work, it’s Rod Lakin. He’s calm, cool, collected, smart and doesn’t get flustered by noise and pressure. I know this because we’ve known each other for over a decade, and I introduced him to folks years ago, which led to him landing the Philly role. If you read Derek Futterman’s piece on Angelo Cataldi last month, the Philly icon shared a small example of what makes Rod a great leader.

But Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions. The flurry of texts and emails I received about this last week was insane. I’m sure it was even louder on the local level. Many will suggest that Audacy will use this as an opportunity to eventually reduce expenses and stay strong by having Eskin handle two roles. Only those involved know the answers but one thing I know is that Rod Lakin knows how to program. If he’s not supported there, he’ll have plenty of interest elsewhere.

In a perfect world, Spike excels in afternoons, Rod leads WIP to greater success, and WFAN finds a great leader to move the brand forward. But until the smoke clears, noise will fill the air in the big apple and city of brotherly love.

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Thumbs Up:

Colin Dunlap, 93.7 The Fan: While on the air last week, Dunlap received a call from a 65-year old woman named Colette. She told the Pittsburgh host that she and her husband were disabled and after undergoing 28 surgeries, she was physically struggling to clear her walkway of snow. Hearing her story moved Dunlap to react. He then called on the audience to step up and help. Shortly thereafter, one of 93.7 The Fan’s listeners, a gentleman named Tom, phoned in, and made the drive over to help out a fellow listener. That’s the power of live radio at its best, all possible by Dunlap reading and reacting to the situation perfectly.

Clay Travis, Outkick: Whether you love him or hate him, Clay delivers strong opinions and commands your attention. A perfect example was his Friday night reaction video to the demise of Sports Illustrated. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth checking out. It’s nearing one million views at the time of my writing this.

VSiN: The sports betting network based out of Las Vegas recently redesigned its website and the new look and feel of it is excellent. Clean throughout, easy to navigate, and rich of content. Nice work by Bill Adee all involved.

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Thumbs Down:

Sports Illustrated: Laying off the majority of its staff was bad enough, but to notify people by email or have them find out on social media shows a lack of class and a disgusting approach to running a business. All of those traits by the way are the exact opposite of what SI once stood for – RESPECT.

During SI’s glory days, the content was must read. But in recent years, the outlet landed in the hands of operators who valued clicks over quality. Many predicted and expected this once storied brand to crumble. Unfortunately, the naysayers were proven right.

To those affected, I’m sorry for the crummy news. Some will rebound and help other established brands. Some will launch their own platforms or exit the industry. Anyone looking to do future freelancing work is invited to email [email protected].

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BSM Summit Update:

I’m happy to share that Good Karma Brands president Steve Politziner, Edison Research co-founder and president Larry Rosin and ESPN Chicago program director Danny Zederman have been added to our lineup. We’ve also finalized two of our four awards recipients and are working on a third. I’m hoping to share those details soon along with a few other high profile additions to this year’s show. I’ll be heading to Las Vegas during Super Bowl week, which is when we reveal our BSM Top 20 of 2023, and after that I’m hoping to finalize our schedule so it can be released by the end of February.

I know everyone likes waiting until the last minute to buy tickets and reserve hotel rooms. If you want to avoid being left out though, the time to act is now. Everything you need is posted on BSMSummit.com. Our deadline for hotel room reservations is February 13th. We’ve also sent out free ticket contests by email to the advertising community and tri-state area colleges. We’ll have two more this week for executives and programmers. Be sure to check your spam folder just in case it doesn’t arrive in your inbox.

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2-Seconds to Vent:

Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, John Skipper, Nick Khan, Colin Cowherd, Paul Finebaum, Clay Travis, Craig Carton, Adam Schein, Michael Kay, and Fred Toucher all have something in common with many others across the industry. They’re accomplished professionals with plenty on their plate yet when contacted, they always respond. Most of the time, they do so quickly. That’s greatly appreciated.

If those tasked with running the largest media companies in America, and hosting shows with content, advertising, and audience commitments can find time to respond, why is it so hard for other professionals to do the same? If you don’t want to be featured on BSM, speak at a Summit, market with us or answer a question, just say ‘not interested‘. It takes two seconds. The best in the business understand the value of relationships and promotion. Unfortunately, many do not. I don’t use this platform to draw attention to these issues but sometimes I wonder, should I?

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Original Projects:

On BNM this week we’re doing five days of features on NPR professionals as part of ‘Public Radio Week‘. It’s not easy pulling it off but we’re trying some different stuff. Next week we launch ‘Where Are They Now‘ on BSM. Peter Schwartz will have the first feature next Tuesday. Coming up in February, we drop the BSM Top 20, Derek Futterman’s ‘Day Spent With‘ series which includes spending a day with professionals across different areas of the industry, and we’ll profile a number of black voices on BNM as part of the brand’s focus on Black History month. I hope you’ll check them out whenever time allows.

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Recommended Viewing:

If you’re looking for a movie to watch during the week, check out Blackberry if you haven’t already done so. The film is about the rise and fall of the Blackberry phone, and I thought it was excellent. It had a similar feel to the movie Jobs, and the series Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber. Worth your time if you’ve got two hours available to watch something different than live games or sports programming.

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If you have a question or comment you’d like addressed in a future column, please send it to [email protected]. That same email address can be used to pass along press releases, interview requests or news tips. Thanks for reading!

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Justin Craig, Chris Kinard, Mary Menna Added to 2024 BSM Summit Lineup

“What I’ve always enjoyed about the BSM Summit is that it showcases speakers from many different areas of the industry.”

Jason Barrett

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To kick off 2024, we’re announcing the additions of three more talented broadcasters to our 2024 BSM Summit. More on that shortly. The Summit takes place March 13-14 at the Ailey Theater in New York City. For tickets, hotel rooms, and additional details, visit BSMSummit.com. Those interested in sponsorship opportunities, contact Stephanie Eads. A number of items are already claimed but she can tell you what’s left. Reach her by email at [email protected] or by phone at 415-312-5553.

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Summit is that it showcases speakers from different areas of the industry. We’ve featured top talent, researchers, agents, digital leaders, podcasting experts, ratings analysts, tech builders, play by play voices, and of course, program directors and market managers. There’s many ways to succeed, and no better way to learn than to hear from folks who consistently win.

In the sports audio world, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 106.7 The Fan, and ESPN Radio are highly respected brands. The Hub and The Fan are dominant in Boston and Washington D.C.. ESPN Radio meanwhile maintains a strong position as one of the top national audio brands. All feature strong leaders, and we’re fortunate to have all of them represented in NYC.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Beasley Boston Market Manager Mary Menna to the Summit. This is her first appearance at the conference. Mary is responsible for managing The Hub’s business, currently the top revenue generating brand in all of sports radio. I’m excited to have her offer her insights on a panel with Chris Oliviero and Scott Sutherland. More details on the session, date/time closer to the show.

On the programming side, it’s great to welcome back Chris Kinard of 106.7 The Fan, and Justin Craig of ESPN Radio. Both will be involved in programming panels at the show.

CK has helped lead The Fan and Team 980 to consistent growth in the nation’s capital. He’s a forward thinking type of leader with a great feel for the current and future challenges facing the business. I’m looking forward to having him share a few lessons he’s learned with the rest of the room.

For my friend JC, he’s seen ESPN Radio evolve for the better part of two decades. Liked and respected by most, he’s valued and trusted to guide ESPN Radio’s day-to-day operations. Given the network’s change in focus, talent, and structure, he’ll have great insights to share on where national sports audio is moving.

Our speaker list now sits at twenty. It will grow much more over the next two months as we reveal other additions to the show. We’ll also be announcing our award winners, and a few other surprises. This is a fun and informative two-day event for sports media professionals. If you haven’t joined us before, I hope you’ll do so this time. Everything you need to know prior to the event will be available at BSMSummit.com.

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The Media Business Must Reset Its Message and Market Its Stars in 2024

“The only way to change perception is to remind people what makes radio/TV special, and how well it works.”

Jason Barrett

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The end of the year is upon us, and I hope you’re happy, healthy, and excited about what lies ahead in 2024. The older I get, and the more I work with different companies and people, I’m reminded that the relationships and results are what makes this all worthwhile. In my thirties, I wanted to stomp competitors into the ground, and own the space in the cities I worked in. I even did it a few times. But as happy as I was for my crew and seeing our strategy work, the more I learned it was about growing a business, and enjoying the ride with colleagues, not seeing others unemployed. If there’s only one game in town, the game itself becomes less fun. The professional benefits shrink too for those on the winning side.

It’s no secret that 2023 has been a roller coaster ride for the media industry. Take for instance this recent Forbes article. If their math is correct, more than 20,000 people lost media jobs in 2023. That can’t make you feel good about the state of our business. It doesn’t inspire confidence in advertisers to invest in us either. With 2024 approaching, there’s optimism, pessimism, and focus on what may change. The common belief is that revenues will rise due to a political year, but we can’t just look at dollars and cents when it comes to evaluating our industry. If we do, we’ll be back here in 2025 when political advertising shrinks.

I started covering sports media in 2015. News media coverage was added in 2020. During that time, radio and TV revenues haven’t risen like a Phoenix and headlines about both mediums have been mostly negative. Do a quick google search and look at how many stories focus on low stock prices, headwinds/layoffs, revenue projections missed, bankruptcy, executive’s on shaky ground, brands losing their identity and purpose, AM radio becoming extinct, etc.. This is what investors and advertisers see every day. It creates a negative perception of our business. You’d see it that way too if you were in their shoes.

Now combine that with the way media sells the next big thing. Meta told us virtual reality was the future but bailed on that idea in favor of artificial intelligence. Spotify dove into podcasting with its foot on the gas but is now driving under the speed limit. Elon Musk bought X to be the everything app yet can’t inspire confidence in the advertising community.

Radio’s issues are more self inflicted. Groups have been saddled with so much debt that even a good year in local markets gets ignored due to larger corporate problems. Judging from what gets printed you’d think no radio station grew revenue this year, which is false. TV isn’t immune either. All too often the focus is on viewers aging or watching less, and young people streaming yet the biggest point gets missed – people are still watching content, most of it produced by the TV industry. They just do it in different ways.

I’m sure there are exceptions but those I know who work in radio, TV, podcasting or social media do so for the access, content, creativity and fun. If you do the job well enough and long enough, the pay can be pretty good too. Most don’t enter the business to discuss plans to boost a stock, raise quarterly revenue or frame a press release to soften the blow when laying people off.

Our industry is attractive because we create programming that excites viewers/listeners and is led by people who are passionate about the content featured on their brands. When that content is supported by data that shows people enjoy it, it attracts advertisers. If those paying clients invest in a brand, and it increases sales, that creates a healthy business. This isn’t rocket science, folks.

My hope for 2024 is that the media industry puts greater focus on resetting its messaging and marketing its stars. Podcasting and streaming get discussed with high enthusiasm. Marketers are made to feel that they are growing spaces they have to be in. Radio and TV, which are both larger, and have delivered results for decades, are seen as less attractive. But they shouldn’t be. We’ve allowed that to happen. The only way to change it is to remind people what makes radio/TV special, and how well it works. It starts with marketing the right people and message. Otherwise perception becomes reality.

Too often I see narratives shaped for advertisers and investors instead of the public. If you want the business world’s money and attention, don’t bore them with business headlines. Create a party with your stars, attract a passionate audience, and generate results. Do that consistently and watch how fast the money follows. Given how our industry has been portrayed the past decade, we’re not inspiring many with hype about revenue projections, profitability, and staff reductions.

An Important Year For Barrett Media

We enter 2024 with a lot of promise. Dave Greene was recently announced as our new Chief Media Officer. I also revealed a few additions, and shared that I’d write a weekly column and host a podcast in April. But we’re not done. We’re adding two more columnists, who I’m very excited about.

Mark Kreidler joins BSM to write a weekly column on Wednesday’s. Mark is an award winning author who previously wrote for ESPN, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Sacramento Bee. He has also worked in radio for 95.7 The Game, Sactown Sports 1140, and ESPN 1320.

Dave Williams is also joining us to write a weekly column each Friday on BNM. Dave has spent over four decades in news/talk working for top brands such as WBAP/KLIF in Dallas, KNX in Los Angeles, and KFBK in Sacramento. He announced his retirement from radio in early November.

Cementing our position and value as a media outlet is a priority. We root for the industry, support it, and try to educate, celebrate, inform, and challenge those inside of it. But with that comes a responsibility to offer opinions and cover the news. We prioritize 4 key things on our websites: features on industry people, expert opinions from columnists, daily news about brands/people changes or performance, and industry reactions. The occasional 5th area of focus is original projects like the BSM Top 20.

Our editors and news writers watch, listen and read daily. If it’s said on the air or social, it may end up on our sites. You’ll agree with some, and disagree with others, but it’s no different than how athletes react to hosts talking about sports. The difference is we highlight discussions about media brands, people, and the industry not local teams.

If you see something you don’t like, Garrett and Dave manage our websites. Both are accessible – [email protected] or [email protected]. Just understand that if brands make decisions, results are bad or public comments are offered, we are going to cover it.

We’ve spent 8 years building two respected brands and working hard to attract industry professionals. With two websites, newsletters, social media brands, and conferences, I feel good about our progress. The web traffic, social media impressions, and newsletter data shows that we’re on the right track.

Consulting clients and executing top notch events remain my top priority but growing our marketing partnerships is vital too. Stephanie Eads has worked hard on this and we are excited to welcome Ramsey Solutions, JJ Surma Voiceovers, Harker Bos Group, Doug Stephan’s Good Day Networks, and the Motor Racing Network as 2024 partners. We’re also thrilled to extend relationships with our friends at Point to Point Marketing, Backbone, Steve Stone Voiceovers, Core Image Studio, Jim Cutler, and Premiere Networks. If you’d like to work with us too, contact Stephanie by email at [email protected].

To continue building BSM and BNM, we are launching two new newsletters next week. BSM will deliver the 8@8 weekdays at 8am, and the Press Pass at 5pm. BNM will distribute the Rundown weekday mornings at 9am, and the Wrap Up at 6pm. Our afternoon editions will feature a different content approach so I look forward to your feedback on it. To sign up for BSM’s newsletters, click here. For BNM, go here.

Sticking with BNM, we will have a special announcement on Tuesday January 2nd at 9am. I’ll be announcing the dates, host city, and venue that day for our 2024 BNM Summit. Our 2023 event in Nashville was excellent but I think this next one could be even bigger and better. The Rundown and BNM’s website and social media accounts will relay the details. Also, BNM is launching a special series the week of January 22-26. Public Radio Week will feature NPR folks all week long.

Before I wrap up the column, I want to address a few BSM items. First, the BSM Top 20 of 2023 drops February 5-9 and February 12. Voting opens next week (January 2nd) and emails will go out to all PDs and executives invited to participate in the process. We’ll also have two new original projects in January starting with Social Studies written by Alex Reynolds on Wednesday January 3rd. Peter Schwartz’s monthly feature Where Are They Now debuts Tuesday January 30th.

We have other things in motion for February including a cool project titled “A Day Spent With.” Derek Futterman will run point on that series. I’ll share more in my next column on January 8th.

Last but not least, the 2024 BSM Summit takes place March 13-14, 2024 in New York City. We’ve already announced a number of people and I’ll have another announcement next week. If you plan to attend, don’t wait until the last minute to buy a ticket and reserve your room. Go to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our holiday sale. It expires Sunday December 31st.

I want to thank you for continuing to read our work, following our brands, attending our events, and considering the different ideas and opinions offered by our writers. Covering this business is complex. It has its fair share of warts but it also provides a ton of value, massive creativity, incredible content, and a path full of untapped potential. More importantly, it’s full of quality people. I look forward to watching each of you build stronger businesses in 2024, and helping those who I’m fortunate to work with.

Cheers to 2024!

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