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The Struggle To Retain Advertising Dollars

“There’s no way to sugarcoat this—many radio and TV stations are witnessing unprecedented revenue losses.”

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“I have bad dreams every night. I’m not sleeping nearly as much. I’m getting three-and-a-half, four hours sleep.”

Just six weeks ago, business was as good as it’s been in Tim Fletcher’s 20 years as a local radio sports talk show host and small business owner. Like a lot of broadcasters, Fletcher buys part of a station’s airtime, then sells that airtime to advertisers. That’s how he and others like him make their living.

“With March Madness, we had already made plans with a couple of sponsors about some special events and live remotes with our shows. We were getting ready to jump into baseball season as well. We do a thing called the “Little League Report”. We had just gotten a sponsor for that. It was going to tie Moms, Dads, and younger kids into sports talk radio.”

But then came the coronavirus (COVID-19), stay-at-home orders, and the closing of non-essential businesses.

“We had 34 sponsors heading into March. On April 1st, we were down to 13.”

Fletcher buys—and is responsible for selling—four hours which are home to “The Tim Fletcher Show” on KWKH-AM 1130 “The Tiger” in Shreveport, Louisiana. But that’s not all. He also buys and sells time for three other shows. In addition, Fletcher pays seven employees, including show hosts and a board operator.

“The world’s crumbling around me, and I’ve got to figure out a way to hold it together,” Fletcher said. “Whether it’s duct tape or free ads—whatever it is, we’ve got to do something. It’s highly depressing. We’re scrambling.”

So are most, if not all, media outlets.

“Unfortunately, the coronavirus’ impact on broadcast advertising has been severe,” Gordon Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this—many radio and TV stations are witnessing unprecedented revenue losses, all based on the fact that many local businesses have simply closed their doors. If businesses are open, many aren’t advertising.”

It’s ironic that broadcast revenue is down, while viewership/listenership is up. People—many of them staying home—are satisfying their appetite for coronavirus news.

“Broadcast network evening news programs have seen a huge spike in viewership,” Smith said. “More than 30 million people are watching those news shows each night, which is way up. I’ve read that local TV station viewership is up 20%. I’ve also heard that radio station listening—especially News/Talk station listening—has been very high.”

Still, the less money a business takes in, the less it has to spend.

Chris McJunkins is the Managing Partner for seven restaurants in two states. He has been a believer—and participant—in traditional advertising. However, when eateries were told by state government to close dining rooms (they can offer take-out), McJunkins immediately knew what he had to do.

“Cut. Start cutting costs,” McJunkins said. “Start cutting salaries and employees. Start cutting everything possible to get through to the other side.”

High up on McJunkins’ list of cuts was advertising.

“It’s an expense you wrestle with a little bit, because you think we need to advertise to let people know what we are doing from a “To-Go” standpoint. At the same time, it’s very expensive. So, we just cut it all and went with social media—Facebook, Instagram, things like that.”

There is the possibility that once restaurants and other businesses re-open, owners may re-evaluate the way they spend advertising dollars. That re-evaluation may not be good for television and radio stations.

“With everybody being able to use social media the way they are doing, they might take a look at that and say, ‘This Facebook thing is basically free, and we seem to get our message out’”, McJunkins explained. “In our case, every time we do a special, people are calling up and asking about it. So, we know people are looking at (our social media posts), sharing it, and liking it.”

Local station sales managers are seeing first-hand the ugly advertising picture drawn by the coronavirus.

“There are some verticals that are not marketing at all,” said the sales manager of a media cluster who wants to remain anonymous. “Some big chunks of money have been taken off the table due to businesses being closed.”

In order to save as many ad dollars as possible, sales managers and account representatives have had to try and convince owners to stay the course but change the message.

“Previously, locally-owned restaurants were saying ‘Hey, this is our weekly special, these are our hours, we can’t wait to see you and feed your family,’” the sales manager said. “Now, it’s ‘We’re proud to say we’ve kept our employees, you can text or call us, we will bring your food and your order to your car, and these are the safety measures we’ve put in place.’”

As long as sports talk show hosts can afford to by their airtime, their show must go on. Without games, hosts have been forced to get creative when it comes to content. In keeping with the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Fletcher has used a tournament-style format to have contests such as Best Comedian, Best Sports Movie, and Best Cereal.

It’s a strategy that has resonated with listeners.

“Our Facebook LIVE numbers are double, triple, quadruple what they were five or six weeks ago,” Fletcher said. “We’re getting more instant reaction on our polls we’re posting on Twitter. Our text line is blowing up. We’re getting three figures every day of unique texts coming in during our show. We’ve connected in a way where we still give the sports news of the day—typically in the early part of the show—then we turn it over to these tournaments. It’s just been a blast.”

But despite the fun, Fletcher—and others in his position across the country—long for the day when it’s business—and advertising—as usual.

“Our business is cyclical. This is just a cycle that we didn’t foresee coming. I have a feeling that while we’re pedaling uphill, at some point, we’re going to be able to coast again and things will be back on the right path.”

Tony Taglavore is the owner of Sweet Lou Media, an advertising agency in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is also a freelance sportscaster. He can be reached on Twitter @TVRadioMan.

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 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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