Seen & Heard – Mailbag Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Good morning sports media fans. I’m still chasing a few things so this will be a quick post to get you through the weekend. We are testing out a “profile” option for regular commenters. You can sign up at the bottom of this post or after the comment section. This will keep track of your posts, and allow you to add info about yourself. Anonymous posting is, of course, still an option.


Mailbag Questions


I sometimes get questions by email and DM about the industry (keep sending them!). Since I’m just an observer and don’t claim to have any expertise I put some of these questions to people in the industry to inform my own opinions. As you might suspect two things are true: 1) sports media people have very strong opinions about just about everything related to sports media, and 2) there is a large variation in people’s strong opinions about sports media. (I’ll add a #3: Most people start their replies to me with “Let me tell you how things really work …”)


Here are some recent questions and some tentative answers. Vote in the polls below each question. I have hidden the results and will unhide them once a significant number of votes have been cast. Poll results are now visible. If you are in sports media then by viewing the results you are consenting to sharing comparable info about your network or show with me.


Q: It seems that, despite the changes to Rogers’ hockey coverage, a lot of people still prefer TSN. Is that true?


I don’t have strong feelings about this one. I share the impression that TSN is more respected by the average fan. My guess is that is just spillover from the fact that they had a significant head-start in bringing 24/7 sports TV to Canada, and most of those hours were spent on hockey. The FAN has the same advantage on the radio side. TSN’s heritage advantage will fade with time. There is an entire generation that has grown up with both SN and TSN on basic cable, and the current generation will associate playoff hockey with Sportsnet exclusively.


Another thing to consider is that Sportsnet loaded up on personalities that come across as surly. Guys like Kypreos, Doug MacLean, Damien Cox, Glen Healy, are not exactly the warmest characters on TV or on twitter. I’m sure some of them are lovely offline, but that’s not what most of the audience sees.


Another factor is comfort and familiarity. Sportsnet has tried to put their stamp on everything, and some of those stamps have been off-putting. The multi-million dollar airport hangar studio they built at CBC when they won the monopoly on national rights is a good example of that. The current studio — which is a perfectly normal size — feels tiny by comparison to what came before.


Then of course there is the problem of who owns Sportsnet. Rogers has a poor reputation among Canadians. That is not the fault of anyone who works for Sportsnet, and it’s not as if TSN’s owner is a bastion of customer service success. (Full disclosure: I caught Bell ripping off an elderly relative of mine to the tune of thousands of dollars over the last several years. Customer service told me that unless the customer calls to complain they don’t remedy billing errors. Nice policy!)


That’s my analysis of the perception of SN’s hockey coverage versus TSN’s. I don’t think it’s a terribly compelling explanation for TSN’s supposed superior status. My guess is that over the next decade the difference will largely become a matter of aesthetic taste and personality preference.


Over to you: If you think TSN is better at hockey, why do you think that?



Q: What do you think about all the “extra” podcasts that are available from TSN and Sportsnet?


This is a really interesting question within the industry. First let’s clarify the distinction implicit in this question. There are two different kinds of podcasts: those that appeared on-air and those that didn’t. The former is the traditional model of podcasting. You run your regular radio programming, and then edit out the commercials + sports and traffic updates (unless you’re the FAN morning show) and post that to your xml feed. The other model is newer: you create programming that never appears on air and is instead sent directly to people’s devices or available for streaming on your website.


On the one hand, podcasts are extremely cheap to produce, host, and distribute. One can create something that sounds reasonably professional with very basic equipment. (It’s also easy to convince oneself something sounds professional when it doesn’t, but that’s another issue.) As such, it’s pretty costless to flood the market with as much content as your staff is willing to create. Eager young people will of course volounteer their time for a chance to build their personal brand. Win-win-win.


On the other hand, there are only so many hours in the day and for every episode of The Bobcast you listen to, you’re not listening to Overdrive, either live or on podcast. The zero-sum risk is obvious: some of these newer podcasts might be cannibalizing traditional listenership, which pushes people towards radio … and commercials.


Another way to ask the question is whether “non-aired” podcasts add to your radio brand or detract from it. My guess is that this is a wash. But even if they do detract from the radio brand, they might enhance the overall network brand. I asked Richard Deitsch this question earlier this year and his view is that there is no tension between the two.


I lean in the other direction. Sports radio is a very staid medium: it’s basically been the same format my whole life. Podcasts that were never meant to be broadcast over conventional airwaves break that mould in subtle and not so subtle ways. There are no commercial breaks for one thing. Interviews and debates can go on as long as needed. Further, podcasts mostly get rid of cross-promotional “in-house” guests. Then there is the advantage of being able to get into very specialized topics, like advanced statistical metrics or historical comparisons. The listener can always skip ahead on a podcast, whereas a radio show is designed (in part) to get the listener from one commercial break to the next.


Personally, if I have an hour to kill, a non-radio podcast has significant appeal over yesterday’s call-in segments or insider commentary. At the end of the day consumers can mix and match to suit their tastes. That’s a good thing. My devices have a mix of both kinds right now, but I’ll probably delete most of the radio podcasts without ever listening to them. I find it’s pretty easy to get behind by a day or two and by that point most of the conventional podcasts have lost their currency.


Last point: anecdotally, I have heard from some people with radio shows that they are not thrilled with the promotion that non-radio podcasts receive. I don’t know how widespread that opinion is.


Over to you: how have non-radio podcasts affected your listening habits?



Q: Mike Wilner seems to have ratcheted up his act this season. Is there an explanation for that?


I take a lot of criticism for being very negative here. That’s a fair point, and it’s one that has changed my writing habits. One reply I often give is that in the time since I started writing for TSM, lots of very bad things have happened in the industry. Hence, a lot of the topics I cover are pretty negative in nature. Nevertheless, I have made the decision that most of the time there’s not much value in adding to the negativity by writing about topics where I have nothing nice to say. This is what leads me to the Wilner question.


I grew up on Jays Talk with Scott Ferguson. Scott was great at the job of taking post-game calls. In addition to having a very smooth radio voice, he had the ability to find something productive to say in response to even the least informed questions. Arguably he was too nice to some of the drunks and children who called in. But the general tone of the show was “we all like watching the Jays, let’s talk about the game we just watched.”


The Mike Wilner era of Jays Talk is akin to watching Jerry Springer for me. The guests on the show are either there to make a scene or too stupid to know that the show is fake, and I end up feeling sorry for them. Unlike Jerry Springer, Mike delights in shredding his callers. No one comes across the way he does unintentionally.


The one constant of that show is that the calls have been consistently terrible. Part of the explanation for that is, I think, a self-selection bias. If you wanted intelligent Jays discussion would you listen to Wilner? Would you call in? Mike has a several years long track record of being unable to generate that kind of discourse. You can blame the audience if you want, but the end result for me is the same. I acknowledge that there is something entertaining in watching monkeys fling poo at each other. It’s just not for me.


For what it is worth, some of Mike’s colleagues speak well of him. He’s not one of the people in the industry about whom no one has anything nice to say.


I think there is a real missed opportunity here by TSN1050 (… if only I had a dollar for every time I wrote that sentence …) I would run a Jays post-game show starting tomorrow. With the new guy Scott Mitchell and Scott MacArthur, plus the other baseball types hanging around TSN they could easily put together a JaysTalk alternative that would provide 2 hours of original programming for the next 120 days. TSN1050 is not exactly overflowing with local content in the evenings, and this would help with that issue.


In short, I have no idea whether Wilner is more or less of anything this year. I don’t listen.



That’s it for today. Vote in the polls, drop a comment below, and then get on your bike and enjoy the sunshine.



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

photo credit: metronews

About the Author