UPDATE: I just had a long chat with my friend Chuck Sapienza, Director of Programming for ESPN980. He outlined the situation and this is my take:
ESPN980 is trying to pay the bills. Media is fragmenting and getting a larger share, in order to charge more for ads, is very important.
Online listening, to put it mildly, doesn’t pay the bills. So the station is attempting to make a move that will help generate revenue that will keep the programs on-air.
The problem isn’t with the station – it’s with the radio industry as a whole which has, to this point, given VERY little value to the online audience. And advertisers like buying ads in local markets. Sorry, Internet Listeners, you don’t count nearly as much as a listener in the station’s local market. It sucks and it’s unfair…but there is no real alternative.
So instead of trashing the station and Chuck, let’s use this space to come up with solutions. What’s your suggestion?
I spent a massive chunk of my career working in the sports and entertainment PR world before shifting into purely digital over the last few years.
What few people know is that upon college graduation, I weighed two job offers: one with a PR company and one with the entity that is now ESPN980 in Washington, DC.
Sports radio was – and still is – a passion of mine…just not something I want to do for a living. I’ve got boxes full of tapes from my college broadcasting career, if you’re interested!
And over my sports PR career, I loved working with the folks at SportsTalk 980, which was purchased by Red Zebra Broadcasting and rebranded as ESPN980 a few years back. Absolutely loved it.
Now, it pains me to see them delaying their podcasts by 24 hours, as discussed by Dan Steinberg’s Washington Post Sports Bog. As stated above, they HAVE to try something different.
The station’s director of programming, Chuck Sapienza (whom I’ve worked with and talked to countless times and really, really, really like and still do after our conversation today), cited the need to keep the focus on their core product – radio. The radio station supports the podcasts, so everything should be done to protect it.
It appears to be a money decision, as anything that could increase live radio listening is a positive and anything that reduces live radio listening is a negative. This is because radio stations set their billing rates by Arbitron ratings, that don’t count podcasts. Yes. This is the heart of the matter.
That makes sense.
However, this is where the
station industry needs to evolve.
We are in a media age where people want infotainment (and if sports radio isn’t infotainment, I don’t know what is) on-demand. We want what we want when we want it, not a moment sooner or a moment later. Let’s also remember that in the digital age, radio has gone from hyper-local to global. Content rules all.
The station’s line-up features the nationally-popular Tony Kornheiser. And people want to listen to Tony.
Thankfully, technology makes these demands completely realistic.
What the station appears to be doing is attempting to turn back time to a point where you HAD to listen to the radio live. True. Because the podcasts, and ads generated from podcasts, aren’t paying the bills.
But those days are over.
People’s listening habits have irrevocably changed.
Delaying podcasts of popular shows won’t increase the audience. People listen to podcasts to time-shift. They are at work, meetings, appointments, vacations, whatever and CAN’T listen live. Or people outside the media market tune-in because they just like your programming. Downloading a podcast allows them to consume the programming you want them to consume at a time when they can consume it.
One would hope that a media outlet would find a way to capitalize on this advancement.
ESPN980 The radio industry, sadly, is just shunning it.
Here are just a few ways that a radio station could take advantage of podcasting:
- Sell more expensive ads on the web page where the podcasts can be downloaded.
Have exclusive online-only ads. Thanks to federal guidelines, this doesn’t seem too feasible.
- Sell naming rights for the podcast. (“The Joe Smith Podcast Presented by [Brand X]“)
- Set-up audio pre-rolls before popular podcasts begin. See above.
- Create a podcast-only branded segment heard at the end of the show.
My basic point is this: We are not going to get any LESS digital. Radio stations will need to diversify their “core product” in order to survive.
ESPN980 the radio industry seems to be thinking backwards instead of forwards.