Jerry Seinfeld had a terrific joke about the news: somehow there was always enough for the daily newspaper. Never more, never less.
Well, the internet blew that up by magnitudes. It turns out we–as a society/community–can crank out tons of words on anything. But is it all “news”? Maybe? Probably not.
Take my newsletter. I put out one column each week on the business of entertainment. And somehow there is always enough news to fill it. I can’t just skip a week, even if there’s no major news. This week I don’t have a huge story that I can say, “This matters”. Which left me scrambling a bit. But the NFL is back, along with a fun test at ESPN, so let’s talk about that…
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The Most Important Story of the Week – ESPN Previews the Future of Announcing?
You want to know what has to be the worst slot in sports programming? The SportsCenter that airs on ESPN News on Monday nights in the fall. Seriously, who tunes into a SportsCenter rerun over the actual NFL? (Even worse: whatever is on FS1 at the same time?)
Having realized this, ESPN finally added a second broadcast of their Monday Night Football (MNF) coverage, putting former NFL quarterback brothers, Peyton and Eli Manning, on a separate feed. In the past, ESPN has only debuted these “megacasts” for college football playoff games. (Meanwhile, they’ve struggled to find the right hosts for MNF since Mike Tirico decamped to NBC.)
Frankly, this is a brilliant use of channel real estate and a preview of what could happen for future sports broadcasting. In a world not limited by channels, sports broadcasting can take a few more risks.
If I ran TNT, I’d immediately copy this. They have West and East coast feeds for both TNT and TBS. Why not offer multiple broadcast options for the NBA too? Or March Madness? If the other option is a rerun of another MCU film or The Big Bang Theory, why not try a second broadcast? If I’m the NBA/TNT, I’d try to hire the Ringer to do a second broadcast with Bill Simmons on Thursdays. At least as a test.
The key is to keep costs in control. As long as you can cover the production costs for the second show–and the Manning’s are hosted via Zoom, which keeps costs even lower–this makes sense. The NBA has a whole facility in Atlanta, so they could easily support multiple broadcasts.
As sports turn to streaming, this change should be even easier. With DAZN or ESPN+, there isn’t the limitation of channels; you can program as many streams as you want. Meaning you could offer live fantasy football analysis, local announcers or celebrities to boost interest. Sure, the gambling hyperbole smells a lot like a bubble–see a great analysis here–but why not have a gambling focused broadcast? If ViacomCBS can put NFL games on Nickelodeon, anything can work!
Is this the most important story out there? The Christopher Nolan news is buzzier, there was an awards show last night and people are still chatting about the Paramount reshuffling. (I wrote about Paramount last week.) But frankly, the future of live sports may look a lot more like Youtube or Twitch than ESPN, and that’s potentially fascinating. ESPN’s test with the Manning bros is just a start, but if it works, it could be quite the start.
Update To An Old Story – HBO Max Offers Half-Priced Subscriptions for Six Months to Lure Amazon Customers
A few weeks back I celebrated HBO Max leaving Amazon’s Channels business. That’s Amazon business where they (and others like Apple/Roku) sell subscriptions for other streamers. The major streamers–think Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max–don’t like other companies selling their subscriptions for them, since they lose anywhere from 15% to 30% of the monthly fee and can’t control the user experience.
The proof is in the pricing. It’s so much better to have customers subscribing directly that HBO Max will let customers pay 50% price for the first six months. That means they’ll lose up to $45 on a $90 bill just to not have to give Amazon their cut. If they assume folks will stay for two years, then it makes sense for HBO Max to offer this discount. That’s the power of cutting out the middleman.
Other Contenders for Most Important Story
Substack Moves Into Content…Comic Books
For all their power at the box office, the comic books industry is tiny. Top selling books routinely sell just 10,000 units any given week. And while the whole industry is worth a deep dive some other time–the tradeoffs between digital and physical, local bookstores that are community centers, creator rights, the Big Two consolidated companies–Substack’s decision to enter the field intrigues me. Specifically, Substack let loose that they have a $30 million war chest to attract top creators.
Of course, the question is, will it work? Unlike newsletters–where some top writers can crank out high-quality content daily–good comics can take months of work. So will folks subscribe to creators and wait a month in between? We’ll see.
As for studios, I expect them to leap all over whatever content is produced. Sweet Tooth–a DC Vertigo book–is a hit for Netflix, so they’ll keep coming back to the comics well.
Disneyland Upsells The Entire Experience
If you own Disneyland and desperately need to pay for streaming adventures–like the Walt Disney Company does–you want to raise prices as high as possible while keeping the park full. But your customers hate it when you do that. There are already too many families who think it is wayyyyy too expensive.
What to do? What to do?
Raise prices but don’t tell anyone. Take the FastPass system. Started a long time ago, it allowed customers to skip large portions of the line for a popular ride to come back later. A few years back, Disney tried to move this physical system online. And customers do love it: Disney has said the system really does decrease time spent waiting. (Or the perception of time spent waiting.)
The news from a few weeks ago is that Disneyland will start charging to use the FastPass system, as they’d already started charging to use FastPass digitally. In other words, since FastPass is essentially a must have part of the experience, everyone’s tickets just got $20 more expensive. Even worse, some rides will have additional fees to use the renamed “lightning lane”. Dynamic pricing has come to Disneyland.
So the theme parks will keep minting money for Disney, as long as folks don’t get too upset.
M&A Updates – Fox bought TMZ…Which Feels Right?
NuFox (everything Disney didn’t buy) purchased TMZ from AT&T/Warner Media for $50 million. This is probably a win-win: AT&T is still paying down debt and Fox gets a buzzy property that ties into their live/cheap TV mandate. Since TMZ doesn’t fit in HBO Max’s brand, this works. Frankly it also just feels right: Fox and TMZ belong together.
Covid-19 Update – Whither the Convention?
By now, a lot of people thought that with vaccines life would return to normal-ish. Meaning you could hold things like conventions and trade shows, because everyone would be vaccinated. Alas, not everyone is vaccinated in America, and companies/governments have been slow to mandate them, so some industry trade shows are in limbo. The latest examples is NAB, a trade show for broadcasters, that has had big companies like Sony and Canon pull out.
On the other hand, the billionaires at Davos have committed to their big gathering. I’m watching to see what happens with CES in January.
Overall, I’m still sanguine on this. In the long run, cities will increasingly set rules, like Los Angeles just did, mandating vaccinations or negative tests before going to sporting events, concerts, theme parks or bars/clubs. This should get folks used to the new requirements (or encourage vaccinations). And maybe convince some vaccinated folks that the vaccines work really, really well and they can return to life as normal.
Lots of News with No News – Oh, the Emmys…
Yes, TV held a big awards show and (without looking) the ratings were probably down. And the streamers got lots of awards while the broadcast channels did not. But do these results impact entertainment business strategy? Not really.
Still, you want some Emmy snark on a Monday? Here’s a great friend of the site, Richard Rushfield, providing all you need to know.
Other Things to Listen or Read
One aspect of the digital revolution is company’s have a lot more data and can run a lot more tests and experiments on their products, marketing, user experience and strategy. So are they any good at it? We assume, “Yes”, because Big Tech is frankly Huge Ginormous Tech so they must have got something right.
Just be careful.
Science is hard. Like really hard. That’s why the fields ranging from psychology to economics to medicine are experiencing a “retraction crisis”. A few weeks back, Buzzfee covered a huge retraction in psychology of Dan Ariely’s work on honesty.
Academia has way more checks and bottlenecks than most companies. And they still get it wrong. If your company uses data–and it does–odds are it has as many mini-controversies/bad data science/rigger conclusions as academia. Probably more since you don’t have peer review in say a PowerPoint slide.