Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: Kyodo news

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by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media watchers. This week features a lot of industry talk and very little social justice talk. (Sorry/you're welcome). I don't pretend to be in the industry. However, I do talk to people who are. What you read here are my own observations as a viewer/reader/listener mixed with those of people working inside the machine. If something you read here sounds wildly off, corrections are always appreciated. Contact links are above. 

 

Suggested Soundtrack: Southside – Moby

 

Note: WordPress/Gmail spam and DNS issues are all fixed. We will be testing out some new moderation tools in the next few weeks, so comments may appear a little more slowly. Thanks for your patience.

 

Industry Talk #1 – Ad Revenue

 

Question: Where did all the advertising money go?

 

In this piece over at j-source they dig into the recent financial disclosure by Postmedia. Here are some details of note:

 

“This is the first full year the 170-plus Sun Media publications that Postmedia bought from Quebecor in 2015 are included in the financial reports […] Print ad revenue was down 19 per cent, circulation revenue down eight per cent, digital revenue — once touted as the company’s future — down 2.2 per cent. […] In 2011, Postmedia’s first year of running the newspapers bought from near-bankrupt Canwest, it had $900 million in revenue. In five years, revenue from those newspapers has fallen to $580 million — about 35 per cent. And there is no bottom in sight.”

 

The article nicely highlights three distinct revenue sources and notes they have all decreased in the last year. The first one — subscriber losses — makes sense. No one wants to pay for generic content anymore and generic content was the bread and butter of traditional newspapers.

 

The second one — print advertising losses – makes sense as well. As readership decreases, advertisers will want reductions in the rates they pay since fewer eyeballs will see their wares. We saw this with Rogers offering give-backs to advertisers after HNIC ratings fell in the first two years of the new deal.

 

But if the internet is the cause of print advertising losses then it would stand to reason that most of that money should be moving over to digital since that is where people now get their news …. right? Advertisers are keen to reach audiences and if the audience has shifted to getting their news online then there should be loads of cash rolling around in digital news.

 

Not so. Digital advertising revenue is also decreasing. Postmedia's digital revenue is down despite the fact that they just acquired a The Sun chain and presumably gained a large economy of scale. Something doesn’t make total sense here.

 

Part of the answer could be that people aren't reading news as much as they did back in the print days. (I can see how many of you click on the links here and there is some truth to this hypothesis). However this answer is not very satisfying. With internet usage at all time highs in both younger and older demos there are way more clicks to be had than ever before. There are also way more readers than back in the days when you needed a subscription to read a paper's offerings.

 

Perhaps advertising in its own recession and therefore less able to pay for digital ads? That's possible. The more likely scenario is that advertisers don't see much value in buying ads in traditional digital media space and are spending the bulk of their dollars elsewhere, e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter. My question is why is that? The Star, The Sun, The Globe … these are established heritage brands with generations of built up perceived value. Why are these places bad bets for advertisers?

 

Over to you: How did all that value evaporate in the transition from print to digital?

 

Industry Talk #2 – Business Models

 

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I wrote last time about the different approaches to monetizing sports journalism that are already present in in the marketplace.

 

Option 1 = Ad supported + paid premium content + limited free content

 

 

Option 2 = Not ad supported + subscription

 

 

There's also option 3 = ad supported + free. That's the model employed by both Sportsnet and TSN on their websites.

 

 

Both provide a bounty of content from audio to video to columns to the scores from last night. Neither offers a premium subscription service. As an aside, it will be interesting to watch if Sportsnet shifts in that direction with the impending end of Sportsnet Magazine. They will have a surfeit of writers on an already crowded website. More of that in a future column. 

 

The topic I'd like to discuss is this: which model generates the best content for the audience? 

 

Let's start with selling subscriptions to viewers vs selling clicks to advertisers. Right now it is one or the other for the most part. The Globe wants us to buy a subscription and begrudgingly provides access to some free generic content + Mirtle/Cathal/Brady/etc., but not the top shelf business of sports stuff. On the other hand Sportsnet and TSN want clicks and will do whatever it takes to drive traffic into their ecosystems. 

 

I think the clicks vs subs models are not mutually exclusive. Obviously no one thinks click-bait is a good thing. Garbage like top "10 hottest sports wives" and "you won't believe what …" stories are a scourge upon our digital home. However that doesn't mean that selling clicks automatically means content producers need to publish garbage. 

 

Clicking is a habit. Every morning I do a bunch of clicking over my morning coffee. That's hundreds of clicks every week. I would be very happy to have that lead to profit for someone or other if this means journalists get to keep their jobs. Right now, I need to bounce around to read everything I want. If someone figured out how to aggregate all that in one place I would gladly pay for that service. I am suggesting something like Netflix for sports writing. Get the above outlets to put all of their free and premium content there and then offer a subscription to access the whole package in a simple and easy to navigate app/website. You can even offer a cheaper version that is supported by ads. 

 

This is why I am rooting for The Athletic to take off. If it succeeds then it will be a proof of concept that people will subscribe to known writers in an outlet that eschews the traditional model of trying to cover everything in one place. The Athletic doesn't cover the Argos or TFC (edit: it appears they started covering TFC very recently and have not updated the logos on their front page yet) and they don't have any generalists. Further, it's a new brand that is not a paper and not a sports network (SN/TSN). If they can survive in the marketplace then it might precipitate a further shake-up in the industry.

 

Speaking for myself I am happy to pay for sports journalism but then I want access to all of it. I am not happy to pay just to get up to speed on the sports news that everyone is carrying. The current marketplace doesn't really offer anything for consumers like me. Each outlet that charges is trying to get me to buy into them rather than the competition. The likely result of that is that I will buy from none of them. The first company that gets them all on board to be part of one distribution network will do well with my wallet.

 

Over to you: would you pay for one subscription to rule them all?

 

Industry Talk #3 – The Basics

 

Question: Why is it so hard for major outlets to run fully functional websites?

 

As we all bemoan the death of traditional journalism it is striking how many of these same outlets botch the basics of their digital presence. We have complained at length about the cancer that is TSN's podcast feed. If it's not trying to download Argos pregame shows from 2013 then episodes are showing up 24 hours after a show ends. We have also discussed the abomination that is their jumbled mess of a website. 

 

TSN is not alone in struggling to appear professional. Continuing on with The Athletic, here is how they advertise themselves in their Chicago twitter bio: 

 

“Great writers, original reporting, smart analysis, and world-class technology.”

 

With the Cubs winning the World Series thousands of baseball fans will be craving sports content and will probably come across The Athletic. I bounced around both of their sites and still have no idea what they have in mind by world-class technology? Sounds like an ad for Chevy trucks.

 

 

If this is going to be a cornerstone of your marketing and a lure to get people to pay money for a subscription then it would be a good idea to have a clear message somewhere on the website. 

 

The problems go beyond confusing messaging about their "world-class" technology. If you click on the Twitter link off their webpage this is what happens:

 

 

 

This kind of error is understandable at the draft stage but they have been in business for months now. How does this not get caught by basic quality control? The same problem plagues the rest of the industry. I wrote months ago about how The Sun lists Steve Simmons' defunct blog off his bio page. Let's see if they have taken the few seconds it would take to fix that:

 

 

Nope:

 

 

Hilariously, The Star has exactly the same set up with their lead columnist Damien Cox:

 

 

 

You tell me — what is the chicken and what is the egg here:

 

1) lots of layoffs and lots of people working for minimum wage with few prospects to move up in the industry 

 

2) functional incompetence on the basics like working links and podcast feeds

 

It's hard to know from the outside whether this is due to negligence or haplessness but either way the results are not good. No wonder advertisers are not falling over themselves to heap digital dollars on these sites.

 

Over to you: is this an industry worth saving?

 

Quick Hits

 

BCE Q3 results were released this week. Star Touch looks dead in the water. Also of note: the media division highlights reference the dominance of CTV and Discovery channel, CraveTV success, etc. … nothing about TSN. Literally nothing in the entire press release. For comparison, the Q2 release mentioned TSN 5 times.

 

CFL ratings are up with the Edmonton team leading the way across the nation. That's good news for the league and for TSN. Arash Madani has been covering this story all season for Sportsnet.

 

Cord cutting spiked massively in November in the US and the networks are trying to discredit the source of the numbers. This is what happens when the ratings are done by a neutral 3rd party. Much better to have the ratings done in house.

 

The U-VA Rolling Stone rape story has led to a defamation conviction. This is a huge development for both the broader issues of campus sexual assault and "sensationalist" journalism. More on this later.

 

An Ontario youth baseball team is trying to replace their racist logo and needs help. Update: we did it!

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • The Athletic is doing podcasts. I quite enjoyed their first Leafs one hosted by David Alter and Josh Kloke. Check out Episode 2 here.

 

  • Fair or foul: media taking selfies with celebrities?

 

 

  • Paul Godfrey has led Postmedia/National Post to 15 straight losing quarters while earning a massive salary. He was just renewed until 2020 based on the need for continuity.

 

 

  • Dean Blundell is back in the news for his famous homophobic remarks about gay men enjoying prison rape (which, as he clarifies, were just done for the money and were therefore not offensive). 

 

  • Damien Cox has been writing up a storm for the Star since the layoffs were announced, with pieces on TFC, Leafs, and the NFL. This is a good use of his talents.

 

  • Heartfelt words from Doug Smith on the loss of some of his younger colleagues.

 

  • Janet Jackson's nipple prompted a half million dollar fine (thrown out on appeal) and a change in the FCC's laws about decency. I wonder what Theo Epstein's on-air "I'm like … FUCK YOU!" will do:

 

 

  • Steve Simmons is #1 with Sun readers:

 

 

  • TSN1050 at some point adopted the slogan "raise your sports IQ" for Naylor&Landsberg. Is that a shot at the competition in the morning? 

 

  • Speaking of TSN1050's morning show: this week I learned that Dave Feschuk was a huge N.W.A. fan growing up.

 

  • Still with TSN1050: I have not been paying attention. Can someone tell me what goes on from 1-4 these days?

 

  • Finally, TSN1050 seems like a fun place to work. The boss has a great sense of humour:

 

 

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For a complete list of my past columns click on the "mike in boston" tag below.

Thanks for reading and commenting. 

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

 
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