Tom & Giselle. A-Rod & J-Lo. Jay-Z & Beyonce.
There are certain tandems that roll right off the tongue when you think power couples. A combination of two forces that are greater than the sum of their parts. Every industry seems to have their gold standard couple – and in the voice over world it’s Jim and Dawn Cutler. Although, if you ask Jim, he doesn’t exactly hold up his end of the bargain.
“Dawn is more than 50% of what we do for everyone. I am not worthy to touch the hem of her garment.”
“I think George and Amal Clooney are a wicked awesome power couple,” adds Dawn. “We’re just a couple of working stiffs.”
Jim met Dawn back at WDHD in Boston and the two set off together to conquer the field with their own separate career paths. Their resumes are daunting; ESPN, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, HBO, Nickelodeon, with each of their voices floating around radio stations in every major market coast to coast. They’re titans of the industry – but nothing about their demeanor resembles anything other than humility. Their approachable nature is clear from their self produced vlog on their website.
One of the more recent videos details a personal accident most people would keep private. The 14 minute YouTube clip is called “The Day I Almost Died,” and the title is not misleading. Jim and Dawn recount the day Jim fell off a ladder, shattering his body in the process. Rather than recoil and recover, the power couple did what power couples do best – they persevered. Leaning on Dawn’s strength, Jim was back to work 6 days after first responders weren’t sure he was going to live.
“The mantra from my clients was ‘your voice AIN’T broken so read this stuff.’”
Jim and Dawn opened up about how they got to the top of their profession, and more importantly, how they intend to stay there.
JACK FERRIS: What was it that set you along your unique career path?
JIM CUTLER: I was on track to be an Astronomer/Astrophysicist. I made a huge mistake when I was a kid. I walked with my Dad up to the planetarium controller-guy to tell him I wanted to be an astronomer. He harangued us for 30 minutes how there were ZERO jobs and I was an idiot to want that and how since he had failed I surely would fail. We drove home and I was literally crushed by that nerd and decided to do something else. That conversation taught me to never discourage anyone. It changed my path. I’m a serious hobbiest still.
DAWN CUTLER: My entire career has been a series of lucky accidents. I landed my first job in radio by winning a coin toss. Not an exaggeration. I was with a startup New England Business regional newspaper. It was just clueless me and one other kid doing literally everything. We got an invite to a Chamber of Commerce lunch and tossed a coin to see who would go. I won and randomly sat next to a news station manager at the lunch which turned out to be a life changing connection. Number 2 happened a few weeks later. I was learning commercial copy writing in production when the Imaging Director pulled me into the studio to read a local mall spot on the fly. The female talent from another station who normally did them for the market was on vacay and the current spot had to be re-tracked with immediate changes. I told no one and prayed no one I knew would hear it. (They did.)
JF: Dawn, I imagine it was a bit of a male dominated industry when you were first getting your feet wet. Did that deter you at all?
DC: It still is overall in terms for the number of signature / primary voice opportunities for men as opposed to women. It’s improved by leaps and bounds from what it was. It didn’t deter me at all. It actually compelled me to keep going. I read my share of mall spots but once I was able to make the leap to promo and imaging work was when things started to change.
JF: What was the landscape of the industry like when you first got on the scene? What jobs were you happy to book when you first started?
JC: There were about 5 people who voiced everything on TV. I was lucky to get anything. In Boston I’d get cast at a studio where 5 other actors would each have one little single word each to read. But my part of the commercial would be to read 30 lines in ten seconds which is impossible. The other actors who had one word each would say, “Well he isn’t very good.” I’d be thinking “great, I couldn’t get the single word part could I? Now it will be another six months before I’m cast again in something.” Lots of frustrating stuff like that.
On TV, I wanted to sound less like the “announcers” of the time. I was looking to the future. As a kid you hope to do things differently than the status quo. When I started in the biz the old guys looked down on me for not doing that affected read. Luckily the biz quickly changed to more of my style. If it hadn’t I would have been out and done.
JF: Over the last decade, what shifts have you seen in the industry and how has the work changed?
JC: Microsoft says the attention span is now 6 seconds. I think that’s right. That’s why Google has the inescapable 6 second ads that you can’t skip, etc. Television gets this and promos and imaging has become very short. At the ESPN TV newsmagazine show E:60 we used to have this fantastic theme song and opening credit sequence with the reporters walking up from the Subway, and coming to the board room. No time for that anymore, we go right to content. It’s the age of “Skip Intro”. Which is also a fantastic DJ name.
As for voice work changing? The future of voice work is Youtube style – regular guy. The “radio guy” style sticks out like a sore thumb on Youtube. It’s totally moving that way and I like it.
JF: Do you prefer radio work or television?
DC: Both equally. I love the variety. Radio is format specific and in TV I might be doing news, comedy, drama all in one day.
JF: What advantages do younger, aspiring voice professionals have today that you’re envious of? What are the disadvantages?
JC: Equipment is dirt cheap. Mic and a laptop. The only disadvantage is there are Ten-Trillion trees growing in all of North America. Go to any one of those trees and shake it, and 200 voice people will drop out. My mailman has a mic and a laptop and is on “Voices 1-2-3”. Glad I’m not starting now. BUT, if you want it there is no reason not to go for it.
JF: Advice you’d give to a younger voice professional?
DC: I get this question a ton. Almost every day. My experience isn’t going to resemble anyone else’s foray into the biz. (See my response to question #1 ….I mean, what are the chances of anyone stumbling down that path?)
It isn’t “in a world” or any of that other cliché stuff. Yet almost everybody thinks it is because of that movie. If you really want to do it, jump in however you can but don’t quit your day job for a very, very long time.
JF: What excites you about the unknown future of media? What scares you?
JC: I love it. Broadcast radio will definitely be in the mix. But look at what I think is coming soon online: You know that your Amazon home page is different from my Amazon homepage. We all have a page that’s unique to what we bought in the past and what Big Data says they think we want. We’ll that’s easy to do. Once they have the data about you they are just serving you photos of these things. That’s jpeg files and links, right? Well audio files are just as easy to send.
What if Big Data tells the sports network that YOU, and JUST YOU like the Yankees, the Chiefs, Real Madrid and golf? Your stream from the sports radio network would feed you 50% of the new stuff the host is talking about, and the other 50% would be content about Yankees, Chiefs, golf and Real Madrid football. It’s just wav files, just like Amazon serves you jpegs and links of the things they know you want.
DC: We are where we are because we embrace change. Looking forward to embracing more. I say to the industry about new things: “Bring it!”
Jack Ferris writes feature stories for BSM and serves as an update anchor for iHeart Radio in San Francisco and as a freelance contributor for the PAC-12 Network. Previously he has worked as a sports anchor for KXLY-TV in Spokane and as the co-host of the Don West Show on KPQ in Central Washington. You can find him on Twitter @JFerris714 or reach him by email at FerrisJack54@gmail.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.