NBC turned some heads at the end of last week with the announcement that by year’s end, NBCSN will be just a memory. The company is putting major emphasis on adding more sports content, including live events, to its young streaming service Peacock. Heads turned again at the beginning of this week when it was announced that the streamer reached a billion dollar deal to be take over the WWE Network.
What does movement like this mean for sports radio? It means the future is digital. You don’t need me to tell you that though. That idea has been hammered into every programmer and broadcaster’s head for over a decade.
One thing that has become clear as ESPN3 has given way to ESPN+ and DAZN and Peacock has come on the scene is that every company wants more content options than anyone viewer can ever hope to get through. What can sports radio learn from that?
I asked a programmer and a host their views on the best way to present podcasts to listeners. Do we give them just the gold to make it more appealing for download? Do we put up everything in a variety of ways? What model do we follow – radio or streaming?
Jeff Rickard of 93.5 and 107.5 the Fan in Indianapolis is a fan of giving listeners everything. To him, that means posting shows in their entirety, although he will put the spotlight on individual segments when warranted.
“If there’s a really great segment, we’ll feature it on its own, but for the most part if there’s something you really want to hear you can find that segment and that day on the website,” the programmer told me.
Joe Ovies, host of The OG on Raleigh’s 99.9 the Fan, feels differently. He is adamant that stations get more response by offering listeners shorter, best of podcasts for each show.
“For starters, most podcasts are way too long in duration,” he says. “If we understand most of your listeners aren’t listening to every hour of your show, chances are they also don’t have the time to listen to every hour of the show in podcast form.”
I tend to agree more with Jeff’s approach more than Joe’s. Why are we trying to be in the business of telling listeners what they want to hear when there is no reason we can’t post entire shows? ESPN+ isn’t making judgements on what you should want to watch. That is why you can find a variety of Division III football games on the platform on Satrudays in the fall.
Joe Ovies and I have known each other for a long time. One thing I know for sure about him is that his opinions are backed up. He is an advocate for best-of podcasts because he doesn’t think radio should be giving everything away on a platform that doesn’t incentivize listeners to come to the show when it is on live.
“The pull of live radio is the spontaneity of whatever might happen in real time. By all means, give the listeners a bite-sized portion of what they might have missed on the show, but you still want them to come back for the main course on the radio. There’s a reason why podcasters make a big deal out of a ‘live podcast recording’. It’s what we do every day!”
It’s an interesting argument. I can’t say I totally disagree with it, but I do wonder if that is clinging to an antiquated or soon-to-be antiquated idea. Do we need listeners to come to the live show?
Certainly it is ideal, but as more stations figure out how to package their various ratings and downloads into a single number, is live radio unequivocally the most important part of the conversation anymore?
Dan Dakich, the mid day host at Rickard’s station is tremendously popular with his audience. The PD says he knows listeners consume that show all kinds of ways and he wants to make it easy for them to continue to do so.
“There are enough people that want to listen to Dan’s show in its entirety that will get mad if we don’t post the second hour. Now, I realize that is probably the minoroity of people, but in this day and age when you have the ability to turn it around so quickly and so effortlessly, why not? Why not put it all up there? I just don’t see it, in today’s world, as that big a deal of not being able to do that.”
Ovies is a believer in podcasts and digital content. He hosts podcasts about running and beer. He hosts digital video series for 99.9 the Fan and sister television station WRAL. He knows what good digital content is and what it isn’t.
To Joe, best-of podcasts aren’t about what the listeners miss. It is about trimming the fat and giving them more of what they want.
“Use the good radio habits of getting right to the story and opinion to combat what I find the worst aspects of podcasts, such as meandering intros and uninteresting tangents,” he says. “Get in, get out, don’t waste my time.”
I think the strategy of most companies in the streaming entertainment future is pretty easy to understand. More content options are better. Is everyone rushing to Disney+ to stream Dinosaurs? No, but it is there, so if you ever feel like you need to relive the adventures of the Sinclair family, you know where to turn.
Maybe it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison with podcasts. But I’m not sure it is exactly apples-to-oranges either.
I might disagree with Ovies on a grand scale, but his point about cutting out set up and housekeeping is valid. Less time doesn’t necessarily have to mean less content.
Still, I’d rather not be constrained by the rules of PPM in a world where they don’t matter. We need to adjust our thinking to fit the on-demand world of media. To me, that means letting the listener have access and make them responsible for deciding how to consume it.
Athletes Are Making Their Money In Content
“Jordan’s example has led to the next generations’ emergence in entertainment, media, and sports. It is an emergence that is beyond in some ways what Jordan has accomplished.”
In many ways, the voice of athletes started its exponential growth with the introduction of social media, where every human being has access to a personal broadcast channel to express themselves, their passions, stories, and ideas. The athlete as an artist immediately expanded from highlight reel to Hollywood film and television reel as a content producer. However, it was The Players’ Tribune, founded by Derek Jeter in 2014, that jumpstarted the athlete-driven voice of content, first in writing, and later in video, polls, and podcasts.
Michael Jordan was the first international athlete that made millions in sponsorship money—selling his name or attaching his name to products for the purpose of endorsing them for a profit. He also starred in the Warner Bros. live-action/animated film Space Jam. Jordan turned those partnerships into ownership of an NBA basketball team and a partner and focus of one of the most iconic athletic brands in the world, Jordan/Jumpman (Nike). More recently, Jordan was the focus of the Emmy award-winning The Last Dance docuseries about the NBA Chicago Bulls six championships and more specifically the sixth and final trophy for Air Jordan his Bulls team. He also co-owns a NASCAR team with Joe Gibbs.
Jordan’s example has led to the next generations’ emergence in entertainment, media, and sports. It is an emergence that is beyond in some ways what Jordan has accomplished. However, that is the point—the mentee should always outperform the mentor with proper, training, guidance, and a little luck too. Where many athletes have pursued broadcasting work as color analysts during and after their professional careers in sports, Jordan did not pursue these avenues or seek to open a television or film production studio to develop entertainment, media, and sports content.
The direct-to-consumer approach of Hollywood and sports networks through streaming platforms, combined with the introduction of athlete voices through social media and podcasts has led to more opportunities. Los Angeles Laker LeBron James launched his SpringHill Company in 2020 not long after joining showtime in Tinseltown. SpringHill is a content studio that develops and looks to other studios for major production and distribution. LeBron has the sponsorship advertising prowess, but can also add documentaries and feature film content to his resume.
Kevin Durant launched a podcast titled “The Boardroom” through his company, Thirty-Five Ventures. With YouTube on par with Netflix in revenue (minus the paywall), it provides another direct-to-consumer platform for everyone and more opportunities. Steph Curry launched Unanimous Media in 2018 as a content and production studio, originally in partnership with Sony Entertainment, now the studio is partnered with Comcast owned NBCUniversal in the $10 million dollar range.
The media has deemed the Curry deal a first, which is noteworthy, but so is the faith and family focus of Curry’s programming that will span many brands in the NBCUniversal entertainment family. Curry will join the NBC broadcast for the Ryder Cup as an analyst and host and interview guests for an educational series, which does not include film projects and the second $200 million dollar basketball contract Curry signed in 2021. Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Dwayne Wade have been involved with film projects of their own. Tim Tebow is a nationwide celebrity and motivational speaker, not to mention a world-renown athlete and person with a big heart towards faith and philanthropy.
Peyton and Eli Manning also have their own broadcast for Monday Night Football. Peyton also starred in the very successful “Peyton’s Places” that will have season two launched soon on ESPN+. Both are produced by Peyton’s Omaha Productions.
Speaking of Disney brands, the company’s 30 for 30 is still one of the main catalysts for highlighting the struggles and triumphs of athletes. Hard Knocks, Ballers, and Jerry Maguire also gave insight into the world of sports beyond the field, statistics, and championships.
The growth of entertainment, media, and sports has been and continues to be exponential. Some additional areas to watch include development of series and docuseries in baseball, hockey, soccer, and in other popular, but not the big five sports in America (e.g., lacrosse, cricket, etc.). With women’s sports receiving more attention on television, there are tremendous opportunities for growth in entertainment production particularly in women’s soccer.
To date, NBA players have dominated the entertainment, media, and sports landscape for Hollywood production. However, to each their own, because some stars love developing content, others love speaking about content, and still others love to own content (particularly in the form of brands and franchises) (see Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter). Indeed, the era of athlete as Hollywood producer is upon us.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
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