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Its Time For A Barack Obama-Cast

It’s an unconventional way to draw people to the polls and different from the media strategies Obama has used in the past.

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A revolution is happening in sports broadcasting. Alternative broadcasts are taking over our television sets. C.C. Sabathia has an alt-cast. The Gronks just started one of their own. Peyton Manning hosts one and produces three others. A-Rod has one that juices up every couple of weeks as well (bad joke, right?).

These alternative broadcasts give us an insight into personalities, athletes, and celebrities that is even more in-depth and raw than what we see on social media. Most of these broadcasts don’t rate well (besides the Manningcast during MNF which averages 1.58 million viewers) and there hasn’t been a single alt-cast that has come close to beating the ratings of a main, straight-down-the-line broadcast. But they don’t rate terribly either. They bring in more younger viewers than a typical broadcast and they add humor and context to the general sports conversation.

We just found out last week during a UFC alt-cast featuring the Gronks that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski almost played together with the Oakland Raiders in a trade being orchestrated randomly by UFC leader Dana White. Revelations like this fill the sports talk ecosystem with things to discuss and keep consumers addicted to the games they love. It’s a win-win for everyone.

It seems like alternative broadcasts are a new thing but they’re at least 16 years old. ESPN was the originator of the concept back in 2006. The Worldwide Leader broadcasted a UNC/Duke game with a camera angle above the rim on ESPN2 and the real-time reactions of Cameron Crazies on ESPNU. Turner jumped on board in 2014 by providing an alt-cast for the Final Four featuring local announcers. Since then, the alternatives continue to climb through the roof.

Over the past couple of years, RSN’s have jumped into the mix giving fans a gambling version of their local teams’ action. Amazon has also been providing alternative casts of Thursday Night Football for years. They recently made waves signing YouTube sensations Dude Perfect to a deal for 6 TNF games this year. Just this week, the tech platform and F1 agreed to produce an alt-cast during and after races that will feature Will Arnett, Michelle Beadle and The Kid Mero on their audio app known as Amp.

There has been a major escalation in the type of talent willing to host or be a guest on alternative broadcasts. Now is the time to elevate it even further. We need an Obama-cast! That’s some hope and change I can believe in.

Hear me out. The NBA is holding a national day of civic engagement on the day before Election Night later this year. All 30 teams will play in games that will feature messages and signage encouraging fans to vote in the midterm elections. In an attempt to make their efforts more successful, the league will not play any games on November 8th and many arenas will turn into polling stations for a day.

President Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama have made increasing voter participation one of the key agendas they want to promote post-Presidency. There’s no better way to get the message out than to do it in front of a live television audience in the unique format an alternative broadcast provides – especially on the night before Election Night. 

No one is going to watch an interview with President Obama on CNN or another news network urging folks to get out. But they would watch if Obama is joined by some of his celebrity friends and fellow ex-Presidents telling cool stories about life, sports, and everything in between. It’s an unconventional way to draw people to the polls and different from the media strategies Obama has used in the past. During past midterm elections, Obama was known to call into radio shows, participate in YouTube interviews or speak with new media outlets like HuffPo, BuzzFeed, and Vox. Hosting an NBA watch party on live TV draws a whole new audience the ex-President may not have been able to reach otherwise.

President Obama isn’t afraid to come out of his comfort zone to spread a message while out of office. His production company has already produced hits for Netflix and his podcast with Bruce Springsteen was so critically acclaimed that it sparked a book spinoff and an appearance on CBS Sunday Morning. He’s also been a frequent user of social media and weighs in on major political stories once in a while. An alternative broadcast would be the best non-partisan way to simply urge people to vote in a relaxed format that doesn’t have to be so serious. During the telecast, folks could also find out basic information about how and where to vote and how the NBA is helping with those efforts.

Obama is a noted Bulls fan, a minority owner of NBA’s African league, and he’s been a frequent advisor and friend to many NBA players. He has a deep knowledge of the game and could bring on guests who share his passion for basketball and civic engagement. Conversations during the show wouldn’t have to be focused solely on voting but a social media campaign could happen while the alt broadcast is taking place that encouraged viewers to tweet @BarackObama if they were committing themselves to vote the next day.

With Obama involved, viewers from all parts of the country would be intrigued. According to YouGov, Obama is the most popular ex-President alive with 36 percent deeming him very favorable and 18 percent saying he’s somewhat favorable.  If the NBA is afraid to alienate one half of the country, bring on some of Obama’s friends from the other side of the aisle who also have a passion for getting out the vote. President Bush and John Boehner come to mind as two sports lovers who also want Americans to practice their civic duty and share rapport with Obama.

To maximize this effort, the heads at Disney, Turner, and the NBA should try to get the alt-cast to as many people as possible. TNT could take the lead in airing the main broadcast while TBS and NBA TV broadcast Obama’s alt-cast. HLN has also aired sports simulcasts in the past and could be another destination to find Obama’s broadcast. ESPN will have the Ravens vs. Saints in Monday Night Football action that night and ESPN2 could ironically be broadcasting the Manningcast that night (we don’t have a Manningcast 2022 schedule out yet) so they wouldn’t be able to participate. While the reach of ABC would be cool to have and it won’t be airing MNF that week, broadcasting an NBA game while ESPN is airing Disney’s marquee sports product might look weird and ruffle some feathers. ESPN and NFL executives are finally on the same page as we’ve seen through their latest rights deal. There’s no need to cause any kind of discord with the folks who run the country’s most watched television programming. With all that being said though, ESPNU and ESPNEWS are available. 

There is a precedent for Disney, the NBA, and Turner to partner up for an event as major as this. NBA Summer League games feature a mix of both networks’ graphics and production crews. They also teamed up in February for the NBA’s All-Star Weekend HBCU Classic. The game blended ESPN and Turner personalities including Stephanie Ready and Stephen A. Smith into one telecast and was simulcasted on ESPN2 and TNT.

There is a stigma by some in middle America against the NBA and its players for delving too deep into social issues which could affect the perception some have of this potential telecast. Any politician participating in a non-partisan activity is also going to raise eyebrows from whatever political side he or she doesn’t represent. A potential Obama broadcast would draw major ire from the Clay Travis’ of the world and might make the A block of “Fox and Friends” or “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” With all due respect, WHO CARES!?!

Voter turnout in the United States is below average compared to other mostly high-income countries, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Countries like Belgium, South Korea, Australia, Germany, and France have far higher voter participation. If a gimmicky, fun game broadcast featuring a favorable ex-President helps get hundreds of thousands of people to vote in an election that doesn’t feature a Presidential contest then the world has won because more voices have been heard. The NBA and President Obama should be the change they want to see in this world and make it happen. (Worst case scenario – if this doesn’t go down and the Mannings have a telecast, maybe he can appear there.)

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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