Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

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

 

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Option 2 = Not ad supported + subscription

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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:

 

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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:

 

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Nope:

 

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

 

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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)

 

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 23
  • comment-avatar
    Paul G. 7 months

    Great read. Thank you.

  • comment-avatar
    GreyCountyMike 7 months

    Just a quick thumbs-up to CHCH-TV for broadcasting today's OUA football semifinal between McMaster and Laurier from Waterloo. Good to again hear and see Mark Lee and Sheri Forde – two quality Canadian sports broadcasters.

  • comment-avatar
    Jonathan Giggs 7 months

    Thanks for the reminder:  http://www.chch.com/live/

  • comment-avatar
    Brent 7 months

    Re: Advertising. I get the sense that social media (ie facebook) is making things infinitely difficult for traditional media companies. In house marketing teams are the norm and social media’s reliable targeting metrics make it easier to see ROI. Putting an ad in a newspaper means you’re guessing and hoping your demographic is going to see it. You’re all but guaranteed your ad will be seen on a simple, single column layout where people are wholly engaged in the content; not so on a site like Sportsnet where ads are more window dressing and not so much part of your experience. My 2 cents.

  • comment-avatar
    Mark R 7 months

    Mike Hogan's been on the 1-4 slot for the most part, and he's been covering it well. I wonder if they get Scott MacArthur to fill in that time. I think they should.

  • comment-avatar
    mario 7 months

    Thanks for a great read and all of your hard work. Not sure when  all of this will end as far as the ever changing marry go round in the media landscape, just that a lot of very good people will loose their jobs.

     

  • comment-avatar
    Filbert 7 months

    Kinda funny how The Star tells you to follow Damo on twitter but then his account is protected (in case he accidentally asks for more selfies).

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Jones 7 months

    Let me first say print is dead. And it pains me to no end. The spiral started long ago and the end is not yet in sight for the declines. There is no magic here. Reader declines lead to ad dollars leaving which leads to content cuts and more reader declines. Rinse and repeat. I left the G&M subscriber base after 30 years for this very reason. The paper had long lost the price/value equation. I won’t pay for the online content because it’s no better than the print version. Even if it is at a better price point. I can get my news from many other sources. Sure there are some features I would like to read that I can’t due to the G&M paywall but the frequency is not high enough to warrant the expenditure.

    On the issue of cross platform content aggregation I think it’s a nice idea, albeit totally impractical. If you’re selling a product at a loss you can’t make it up on volume. This idea and the Athletic both suffer from the same problem. You need top flight talent and you need lots of it. You need lots of content development. You need interesting stories and deep opinion. If you could find all of that, and in my opinion you can’t, it would cost a lot. Too much in fact. Unless you can get a huge subscriber base. Good luck. You’re now trying to turn around a boat in waters with a massive current.

    Sorry to be so negative on this topic. But like the oft asked “how do they fix the Argos” question I don’t think anyone has the answer. Which means there may just not be one. Further to the numbers from Post Media the Wall Street Journal ran a story on Thursday about impending cuts to their paper. Four sections will now be 2 or 3 depending on the day. Six dedicated NY pages will be 2. Revenue is down 12% this quarter year over year. Global print spending will decline a projected 8.7% this year. The New York Time had a 19% decline is Q3 print ad revenue. Gannet saw a 15% decline. It’s grim and the best pubs in the world can’t figure it out apparently. And on a final note my online subscription to the WSJ used to be $23 a month. They now want $45. While I will be loathe to cancel it I fully expect mid November when the new cuts take effect I will be sliding that renew button in iTunes off. Wither print media. I miss it at my core.

  • comment-avatar
    Paul 7 months

    First of all…. TFC!! What a great playoff run it has been! 

    Now, do you think TFC will get some much deserved media attention in the prime time shows? The morning shows and drive shows specifically?  It is incredibly frustrating that these shows literally avoid the discussion because they don't have the knowledge base to have a conversation. With that being said, if TFC was actually discussed on a daily or even bi-daily basis, do you think that would  help drive up viewership?  Cox tried to incite a discussion last Monday and Mccown just shut it down. I know he isn't a soccer guy but is the fan not doing a disservice to their listeners by not discussing the topic at all?

    The last playoff game TV audience was comparable to the Raptors season opener and it wasn't even shown across the TSN network and was put up against a Leafs game and Sunday Night Football. Yet TFC is intentionally not discussed. I know Toronto Media is just a bunch of dinosaurs who are afraid to arrive in 2016  but they really need to change. I don't expect TFC to garner the same media attention as the Leafs and Jays but at least an acknowledgement and perhaps a conversation with an expert is warranted after a historical playoff victory. The papers and even the general news programs in the city give TFC their due but funny that the sports programs don't. 

    I just wonder: how much of an affect can radio/TV coverage of a team have on TV viewership? 

  • comment-avatar
    Rick in Barrie 7 months

    Ad-revenue  – I'd say advertisers have been tightening their belts…and while the initial thought is that they'd move the $$'s from print to on-line advertising…I think they are seeing the numbers as well. Ultimately they are finding better platforms and homes for their shrinking advertising budgets than newspapers (print or online). 

    Business model – Option 3 (free+ad supported) is still my go to. Too often now the material is weak and writing unworthy of my hard earned $$. Speaking of which, I wonder how many potential customers The Athletic turns away with items like the broken Twitter link. Nothing drives me nuts like a poorly maintained website. There is no excuse for it and in such a competitive environment – it is little things like that which can sink ventures. 

    The Basics – To continue with this…there is no excuse. I'm not sure what each of these organizations have (buget/staff wise) for their on-line vehicles but they are sub-par to say the least. If the budgets & staff are present…no excuses…heads should roll. Whether it is training or skilled staff…there is a massive shortfall and the industry as a whole is doing nothing to correct these all too often issues. 

     

  • comment-avatar
    Drumanchor 7 months

    Very sad, indeed. A great take on it, too. Cheers.

     

  • comment-avatar
    Steve 7 months

    I'm not sure where I stand on business models for sports writing. I never visit the TSN or SN sites as I don't find any of their writers or content that interesting, and even if I did, I have an ad-blocker so their ads are irrelevant to me. I'm somewhat shocked neither site have tried to bring in a paid model similar to ESPN Insider for their big columnists.

    I would also be skeptical on the subscription only model as I would want to see what kind of content is being offered before I hand over my cash.

    I think the Globe & Mail model is good where certain aspects are free and some behind a paywall. That said, I don't pay for their content as most of it seems business related and my interest in that is minimal.

    I also wouldn't support a full paywall on generic sites like The Star/Sun or TSN/SN as I wouldn't want to pay to have to read half their stories which are wire copy and freely available elsewhere.

  • comment-avatar
    yaz 7 months

    Fresh news about a Leafs trade is equivalent to a piece of meat being thrown to a pack of starving wolves: we want to feed and feed quickly. Remember Friedman’s Tweet trying to beat Dreger to the Babcock-to-Leafs punch? ‘babcock to Tor’. That’s what we want, an abbreviated, poorly punctuated Twitter fart – that’s news. We don’t want to go down to the corner store the morning after the trade, pick up The Star and read a 1500 word piece by know-it-all preacher Bruce Arthur. By the time we read that, the story is over and we’re on to the next social media mushroom cloud.

    That said, when a story breaks, I enter the subject matter as a search on Twitter and click on various reporters’ stories as they come out – some 2500 words, some 750 words, some 250, but I seek them and they could be from anywhere. Why would I pay for a subscription when I can get instant information? All I can say is that it is tough to pump a brand in that environment. It is difficult to maintain a brand let alone try to build one in that context.

    I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that likely 90% of the most valued demo has a smart phone in their hand for more than half of each weekday. How a newspaper turns that reality into sustained and increasing profitability would be the equivalent of building a better mouse trap, much like Uber did to the Taxi industry. 

  • comment-avatar
    Dré 7 months

    The problem with the papers is the people. Look at the leadership at the Star. Look at the leadership at The Post/Sun. These are people trying to get one last squeeze at the golden goose before it stops producing.

     

    Same problem with the writers. Rosie, Cathal, Wente, Warmington and the rest. These are bad writers exploiting the fact that some people will never cancel their subscription. Talk about mailing it in. Even the younger generation has the same contempt for the audience. Honestly, after seeing Bruce Arthur on Twitter who would be motivated to buy a Star subscription? Media has always been an elitist industry and the big fish will get fat while the industry crumbles around them.

  • comment-avatar

    Some good news this morning: The Star reversed course and gave Laura Armstrong her job back. I wonder if this is related to Brendan Kennedy moving out of the sports department to real news. 

     

    https://twitter.com/lauraarmy/status/796004097463816196

  • comment-avatar
    MontFromLondonOnt 7 months

    I don't know if this is the place for this but I had to turn off McCown and PTS – I sure don't tune in to him to hear a bunch of whining about political matters – And I sure don't want to hear that overpaid trough feeding arrogant pompous clown Mansbridge on my favourite sports show – And McCown had the nerve to say something like 'we don't do this often deal with it' – Well I dealt with it and tuned him out – I didn't stick around long enough to find out who the butt kissing co-host was and I don't care – Very very disappointed in PTS today – As a disclaimer I won two jugs of beer and $60.00 betting on a Trump victory – I didn't care either way who won I just happen to pick the correct pony – C'mon Bob get off your high horse – Nobody cares about your politics – A sad day for PTS

  • comment-avatar
    Darcy 7 months

    You hear that sound guys? That's the sound of Bruce Arthur's head exploding.

  • comment-avatar

    Going to have to agree here as well. If Grantland (not technically a content aggregator)  failed with ESPN behind it, and no paywall, then I don't see the Athletic being able to pull it off, even on a smaller scale. The overhead would be insanely high, and as Steve said, you'd be paddling upstream.

  • comment-avatar
    Pete 6 months

    The results to me don't matter much because I think both candidates were awful.  But Arthur was one of the first people I thought of from Trump's shocking victory.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing Arthur and his pompous, moral authoritarian ass going in complete meltdown mode.

  • comment-avatar
    Big G 6 months

    The fan is going the way of most mainstream media outlets, stir up social/political  controversy(regardless of the genre) to attract viewers. The mainstream is now being perceived as the 21st century national inquirer, . Just hard to believe or take at face value anything these guys say, especially when media companies these days are dropping like flies and fighting for survival.

  • comment-avatar

    By a factor of 3 to 1 the Doug Smith blog about the Star firings (one of which has since been rescinded) was the most clicked link in this column. The Blundell homophobic remarks was in 2nd place. 

  • comment-avatar
    Big G 6 months

    No attempt here to drive a political convo here but I wonder Is Tor star a subsidiary of one of the U.S print media giants i.e New York times. I know the star is very much left leaning but Trump always seems to be front and Centre. on a Toronto based newspaper, It almost appears for some reason that they want to convince Torontonians that Trump is the boogie man(which I don't care either way)even though we clearly don't have a say . Should the star not be dedicating their front page to one of our own many problems right here at home? Oh I don;t know maybe the housing issue, Jobs, Education just to name a few. Quite bizarre for a Toronto based newspaper that does not have a vested interest in the U.S. At least non that I am aware of.

  • comment-avatar
    Darcy 6 months

    They hold Conservative politicians to a much different standard than Liberal politicians. Rob Ford, and Stephen Harper were front page news everyday when they were in power. Regardless of the fact if there was an actual story on them or not.