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Learning From Celebrity Big Brother’s Mistakes

“I’ve never seen an episode of any season of Big Brother, but using the trailer alone, I can pick out three lessons that radio needs to learn from this show.”

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Like anyone that watched the AFC Championship Game this weekend, I was bombarded with ads for a reality show called Celebrity Big Brother. It’s just like the regular version of Big Brother, only now CBS has stocked the house with people you might have maybe heard of.

There’s one ad in particular that stood out to me. It lists all of the residents of the Big Brother and ends with some line like “and don’t forget the most famous house guest of all” as the camera zooms in on the back of a blonde man’s head. The man turns around and it’s Kato Kaelin and he says something like “remember me?” or “I’m back” or…you know what, it really doesn’t matter what he said.

Image result for kato kaelin 2019

Using a guy that was made famous for a day by a trial that happened almost 25 years ago as a selling point is hilariously out of touch. The more frustrating thing though is that it reminded me of something radio does far too often.

Now, let me be clear. I haven’t seen an episode of this season of Big Brother. I’ve never seen an episode of any season of Big Brother, but using the trailer alone, I can pick out three lessons that radio needs to learn from this show.

1. QUIT RECYCLING HOSTS

Recently I wrote about how the make up of your market is always changing. Old names aren’t always going to resonate with a town, but for some reason, whenever there is an opening on air, a lot of programmers’ first thought is someone that used to be on the competition’s airwaves.

I’ve seen Kato Kaelin tell his story. Anthony Scaramucci is in the Big Brother house this season too. I’ve heard him tell his story. There is nothing so intriguing about either of those guys that make me feel like I need to hear it again.

Image result for anthony scaramucci

Before recycling local radio talent, a programmer needs to ask himself two big questions. The first is “why is this person available?”. Was he/she not a ratings winner? Is he/she a notorious pain in the ass to work with? If the person you are considering hiring was let go by a competitor, you need to find out why. You need to find out if their story is worth hearing again.

Sure, sometimes talented people are let go for budget reasons. Sometimes notorious pains in asses can be successful and available for the right price. Make sure the reason is something that makes your target worth the risk. Market familiarity shouldn’t trump all else when making a hire.

Next, ask yourself if the talent in question can do a relevant show in 2019. Sometimes stations want to skew younger. As a result older, well-established hosts can get blown out. That creates an opportunity for the competition to pick up someone with a following.

On paper, that’s great. Look at it this way though. A relevant host never gets too old. If an older talent is the victim of a PD that wants to “skew younger,” it means that the talent isn’t engaging his audience in a meaningful way these days.

2. MAYBE A FORMER COACH OR PLAYER ISN’T THAT BIG OF A DEAL

It’s not uncommon for sports radio stations to make deals with former players and coaches of the home team to come on each week and give their thoughts on the most recent news or game. WFNZ in Charlotte has a weekly segment with Steve Smith Sr. to talk about the Carolina Panthers. WDAE in Tampa does the same with Anthony Becht. Those guys are well respected, and well informed. They are worth a listener’s time.

Image result for steve smith panthers

My wife is 39 years old. She was in her early teens when Blossom was on TV. As I was researching the celebrities in the Big Brother house I discovered that Joey Lawrence, who was a teen heartthrob in his Blossom days was going to be a resident.

I told her that. She told me that she was in love with Joey Lawrence as a kid. I asked if that meant we were going to have to watch Big Brother and she responded “Why? I can look at the internet to see if he is still hot if I am ever wondering.”

Sometimes, admit it, we grab a name for the sake of having a name. It makes listeners say “Oh yeah, him!”. Maybe it makes them tune in. Maybe it doesn’t. Getting them to tune in is only half the job though. The ex-jock/coach also has to have enough personality to get the listeners to stay.

Joey Lawrence’s name made my wife go “oh yeah, him.” It wasn’t enough to move her to do anything else.

As a programmer, you have to listen for two things when it comes to big name guests. Are they entertaining and, does your audience see this expert’s knowledge and experience as unimpeachable?

No matter how big the name, it is only worth having an ex-jock or coach on with regularity if they are delivering on those two things. They have to do more than give listeners a history lesson on the sport and the team. A good guest is only good because he has strong opinions and makes the audience feel like listening to what he has to say is a good use of their time.

3. IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING RELEVANT?

The final thought I was left with after my deep dive into the world of Celebrity Big Brother was that I am not sure how relevant the show is anymore. The Bachelor does the week to week elimination stuff better. The Masked Singer is doing the “celebrities embarrassing themselves” thing better. Why do we need this show?

I have tremendous respect for Hubbard Broadcasting and the approach they took in rebranding ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis. That station was in need of a facelift, and the powers that be were smart enough to know that an AM station without any of the 4 major league play-by-play contracts was facing an uphill climb.

When the station rebranded as Skor North, the goal wasn’t to try and match what a competitor on FM that had the Vikings, Timberwolves, and Wild was doing. Hubbard decided that they would take the focus off of solely being an on air product. Skor North puts as much emphasis on podcasts, video, and writing as it does on any of its shows. That way it isn’t just one thing. Skor North has a very clear point of differentiation from its competition, and makes itself necessary for Minnesota sports fans by giving them original content everywhere.

The other part of being relevant is in the perception of your brand. The perception of CBS among most people my age is that nothing the network does (outside of sports and maybe the Grammys) is meant for us. Watch the NFL, SEC Football or the NCAA Tournament on the network, and what do you see during commercials?

There’s an ad for NCIS. There’s another one for Mom. The network has remakes of Hawaii Five-O and Magnum, PI, and shows named after every branch of law enforcement you’ve ever heard of.

In short, your dad loves CBS. CBS loves your dad. They don’t really need you.

Does your brand have broad appeal? Are your hosts considered honest when it comes to their criticism of the local teams? Does what they do inspire passion even in people that disagree with them?

Or is your brand seen as nothing but homers? Do your hosts refer to the local teams with the words “we” and “our” and steer clear of ever doing anything that might ruffle feathers? You may be quick to tell me that the latter approach has won you fans in the front offices of every local team, but I promise you no one in the market considers those kinds of shows “must listen” radio.

Big Brother became irrelevant, and it seemingly happened without CBS or the producers even realizing it. The “washed-up celebrities embarrassing themselves” model of reality TV has been done to death, and CBS isn’t offering much of a reason for you to want to see it done again.

I can’t promise that I am giving you a blueprint to stave off irrelevance here. All I can tell you is that when I look at Celebrity Big Brother, it isn’t a mystery how the game passed it by.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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