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Brace For The Attack of the Docuseries

“With ESPN announcing a forthcoming Tom Brady docuseries, Jay Mariotti says there will be a relentless succession of sports vanity projects, with “The Last Dance’’ mastering the blueprint of how an iconic athlete can shape how he’s remembered forevermore.”

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I knew it. This was as inevitable as Lori Loughlin in an orange jumpsuit. Michael Jordan barely had stopped smirking and forehead-scrunching in the final money scene of “The Last Dance’’ — watching the video where Jerry Reinsdorf says Jerry Krause would have built another title team had Jordan not retired — when the news arrived from ESPN headquarters.

Tom Brady, the untold story!

Look, I love a compelling, life-interrupting documentary series as much as the other 5.6 million people who tuned in each of the past five Sundays. In fact, I’ve gravitated to the art form myself while living in Los Angeles, where the sales pitch, bankroll and Beverly Hills lunch quotient better be as good as the script. But as I ponder ESPN’s Lance Armstrong doc the next two Sundays, ESPN’s Bruce Lee doc the following Sunday and ESPN’s Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa doc the Sunday after that — along with the dozens of docs running in regular rotation on various media channels and streams — I’m worried I might need to call a doc if ESPN and other broadcast groups dilute a booming concept with doc overkill.

It’s no surprise that the Brady production, due for release next year, borrows directly from the massively successful Jordan opus. This is the formulaic sequel in what will be a relentless succession of sports vanity projects, with “The Last Dance’’ mastering the blueprint of how an iconic athlete can shape how he’s remembered forevermore. Like Jordan, Team Brady will control all content — never, ever was he involved in deflating footballs, OK? — while ESPN, now clearly immersed in manufacturing and buffing iconic legacies rather than covering them professionally, will provide the wide-berth platforms with expectations of a profit bonanza. Brady and his hand-picked director, Gotham Chopra, will use their nine episodes — the series is titled “The Man in the Arena: Tom Brady’’ — to tell his life story exactly how he wants it conveyed, just as Jordan did. He’ll use his company, 199 Productions (did you know he was the 199th pick in the draft?), to protect the Brady narrative against any truthful interludes by evil journalistic types, just as Jordan did with his Jump 23 initiative and two business confidantes as executive producers.

And Brady will anticipate the same record ratings, critical acclaim and popularity bounce of Jordan, who in one month reaffirmed his place as the greatest basketball player ever and the all-time sports showman, endorser and celebrity.

Tom Brady announces he's leaving New England, opens door for NY Jets

“Through the series, we’re defining the key moments and challenges that were seemingly insurmountable, but through hard work and perseverance, became career-defining triumphs, in both victory and defeat,” said Brady, who will tell the stories of his nine Super Bowl runs, six triumphant and three not.

So who’s going to give Brady the cruel lowdown? I will: His enterprise has as much chance of matching “The Last Dance,’’ or even approaching its impact, as the laundry list of pathetic victims taken down by Jordan throughout his series. There certainly are similarities in their stories — both are maniacally driven to vanquish doubters … both were linked with old-school authority figures who interfered with their demands for creative autonomy … both were thrust into systems … both won six championships … and both abandoned dynasties out of principle. But Tom Brady is not beloved, as the face of a scandal-smeared New England monolith loathed by much of America.

Michael Jordan is admired, beloved internationally, 6-0 in the NBA Finals and somehow immune to scandalous fallout. “Teflon,’’ says his agent, David Falk. His TV spectacle rocked the planet thanks to a confluence of factors, not the least of which was a global pandemic that left us in solitary confinement with our devices, big screens and junk food. Having covered the Bulls extravaganza as a Chicago columnist, I knew this nostalgic burst would mesmerize millennials and Gen Zers who knew of the Jordan name and maybe bought the Jordan shoes but never had experienced Jordan the basketball miracle. I wrote a column before the docu-series aired, hoping “The Last Dance’’ would be remembered for more than the usual retro rehash — Jordan’s obsessive appetite to conquer flash and blood — and that it would cover all elements of the most exhilarating and elaborate sports story ever told. See how many of my boxes were checked during the 10 episodes:

ESPN Sees Double Digit Viewership Increases for “The Last Dance ...

Competitive rage. Global overload. Gambling. Murder. In-house treachery. A pop-culture explosion. Celebrity fawning. Corporate exploitation. Political aloofness. Sneaker frenzy. A mysterious baseball interlude. And characters as diverse as ‘90s life itself: a brooding sidekick, a free-love coach, a feather-boa-wearing freak show, a grumpy general manager who poisoned the joy instead of embracing it, and an insufferable owner who was stingy with well-deserved financial rewards and couldn’t wait to launch his own dynasty, which since has become a travesty.

Indeed, all of those topics were touched upon by director Jason Hehir, many expertly. But others were purposely downplayed, such as a gambling problem that Jordan was allowed to dismiss as “a hobby’’ and political indifference that Jordan justified thusly: “I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player.’’ In a journalistic vein, then, “The Last Dance’’ cannot be viewed as a definitive work or Oscar-worthy film in any sense, as noted documentarian Ken Burns told the Wall Street Journal. On the likelihood of Jordan pouring over every nanosecond of the production before approving it, the way he shook down any player who remotely dissed him, Burns said: “If you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made, it means that certain aspects that you don’t necessarily want in aren’t going to be in, period. And that’s not the way you do good journalism, and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business. … I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going.’’

Too late for that. The Airness is out of the balloon, and fans starved for coronavirus escapism loved it. Every touchy topic was tilted Jordan’s way — he didn’t have gambling problems, anyone who connected his father’s murder to gambling was vile, Krause was an inept clown even though he’s no longer with us, Reinsdorf refused to fix the rampant dysfunction, and Jordan naturally was joking when he said “Republicans buy sneakers, too.’’ As for the critics who’ve called him a tyrant — I introduced the word in a Jordan context in the ‘90s —  “The Last Dance’’ enabled him to come off like a heroic war general when, fighting off tears, he defended his bullying, berating and punching tactics, which wouldn’t work in the 21st century without teammates quitting and management trading him.

“I mean, winning has a price. And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they don’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates came after me. They didn’t endure all the things that I endured,’’ Jordan said. “Once you join the team, you live at a certain standard that I play the game, and I wasn’t going to take anything less. Now, if that means I have to go in there and get in your (expletive) a little bit, then I did that.

“You ask all my teammates, the one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t (expletive) do. When people see this they’re going to say, `Well he wasn’t really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant. Oh-oh.’ Well that’s you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win and be a part of that, as well. Look I don’t have to do this (film). I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I play the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.”

Agree or disagree with his leadership philosophies, or Hehir’s obedient reluctance to further examine the controversies, it still was priceless theater. Just as riveting: how Jordan continues to harbor grudges decades later, even though he has beaten down all challenges and accomplished almost everything imaginable in sports and life, including his current standing as World Sneaker King. “The Last Dance’’ was advertised as a celebration of Jordan and the Bulls. But even his trusted partner in championship crime, Scottie Pippen, is bitter because of his portrayal — including Jordan’s needless reference to Pippen’s reputation-damaging migraine headache in the early ‘90s. And ex-teammate Horace Grant called out Jordan as a liar for saying Grant was a primary leak for “The Jordan Rules,’’ a book that condemned Jordan. “A downright, outright, (complete) lie,’’ said Grant, who could have mentioned that Phil Jackson and Reinsdorf were presumed to be bigger leaks given their friendship with author Sam Smith, who currently is paid by Reinsdorf as a reporter for Bulls.com. All the while, Jordan sits alone in his chair, a cigar in one hand and a mixed drink in the other, still tortured all these years later.

I cannot imagine the Brady documentary producing even a fraction of such drama. He isn’t nearly as complicated or outspoken as Jordan, and while he did let loose with Howard Stern a few weeks back, Brady is likely to take higher roads even when discussing conflicts with Bill Belichick. Chances are, “The Man in the Arena’’ also will be an infomercial for his health and wellness brand, TB12, which Brady already has exploited in his new NFL home, Tampa Bay, by filing for two trademarks: “Tompa Bay’’ and “Tampa Brady’’ (both sharing his initials TB). The other day, Brady seemed to tap into the public’s pandemic fears by releasing a new supplement that included references to “immune-boosting nutrients’’ and “immune system recovery.’’ Dr. Tom is sounding more like a quack every day, and I’d rather eat two-year-old Spam than Brady’s avocado ice cream.

Did LeBron James' Production Company Play a Part in Lakers Deal?

We all know what’s coming next. LeBron James, who came to Hollywood to make movies, already must be plotting his docu-series rebuttal to Jordan, who did not include James in his docu-series. Kevin Durant, armed with a production company, will want a docu-series that allows him to tear apart Draymond Green and all things Golden State and Oklahoma City. Chris Paul will have his company gloss over his playoff failures in his docu-series. Aaron Rodgers will wait for the Packers to trade him to dump on them in his docu-series. Odell Beckham Jr. will want his docu-series. Antonio Brown will want his docu-series. Conor McGregor will want his docu-series. Trump will want his docu-series. Anthony Fauci will want his docu-series, and so will the Fauci bobblehead doll.

No one should forget the lessons of TV history. For every all-the-rage show, there is a spinoff that bombs out.

“Friends’’ had “Joey.’’

“Hill Street Blues’’ had “Beverly Hills Buntz.’’

And “Happy Days’’ had “Joanie Loves Chachi.’’

ESPN executive Connor Schell says the company is “thinking about how to evolve the genre and new ways to tell these stories and new hooks. And the access to Tom Brady is unique.”

Please don’t think too much. Because if I see a docu-series on Lenny Dykstra, I’m going to be drinking whatever Jordan is drinking.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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BSM Writers

Does Tom Brady’s Salary Make Sense For FOX In a Changing Media World?

“The risk here doesn’t have to do with Brady specifically, but rather the business of televising football games in general.”

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FOX is playing it too safe when it comes to adding Tom Brady.

That’s going to sound weird given the size of Brady’s broadcasting contract. Even if that deal isn’t worth as much as initially reported, it’s a hell of a lot of loot, especially considering Brady has remained steadfastly uninteresting for a solid 20 years now.

Let’s not pretend that is a detriment in the eyes of a television network, however. There’s a long line of famous athletes companies like FOX have happily paid millions without ever requiring them to be much more than consistently inoffensive and occasionally insightful. Yes, Brady is getting more money than those previous guys, but he’s also the most successful quarterback in NFL history.

The risk here doesn’t have to do with Brady specifically, but rather the business of televising football games in general. More specifically, the fact that the business of televising football games is changing, and while it may not be changing quite as rapidly as the rest of the sports-media industry, but it is changing. There’s an increasing number of choices available to viewers not only in the games that can be watched, but how they are consumed. Everything in the industry points to an increasingly fragmented audience and yet by signing Brady to be in the broadcast booth once he retires, FOX is paying a premium for a single component in a tried-and-true broadcasting formula will be more successful. 

Think of Brady’s hiring as a bet FOX made. A 10-year commitment in which it is doubling down on the status quo at a time of obvious change. FOX saw ESPN introduce the ManningCast last year, and instead of seeing the potential for a network to build different types of products, FOX decided, “Nah, we don’t want to do anything different or new.” Don’t let the price tag fool you. FOX went out and bought a really famous former player to put in a traditional broadcast booth to hope that the center holds..

Maybe it will. Maybe Brady is that interesting or he’s that famous and his presence is powerful enough to defy the trends within the industry. I’m not naive enough to think that value depends on the quality of someone’s content. The memoir of a former U.S. president will fetch a multi-million-dollar advance not because of the literary quality, but because of the size of the potential audience. It’s the same rationale behind FOX’s addition of Brady.

But don’t mistake an expensive addition from an innovative one. The ManningCast was an actual innovation. A totally different way of televising a football game, and while not everyone liked it, some people absolutely loved it. It’s not going to replace the regular Monday Night Football format, but it wasn’t supposed to. It’s an alternative or more likely a complement and ESPN was sufficiently encouraged to extend the ManningCast through 2024. It’s a different product. Another option it is offering its customers. You can choose to watch to the traditional broadcast format with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth or you can watch the Mannings or you can toggle between both. What’s FOX’s option for those audience members who prefer something like the ManningCast to the traditional broadcast?

It’s not just ESPN, either. Amazon offered viewers a choice of broadcasters, too, from a female announcing tandem of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kramer beginning in 2018 to the Scouts Feed with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks in 2020.

So now, not only do viewers have an increasingly wide array of choices on which NFL games they can watch — thanks to Sunday Ticket — they in some instances have a choice of the announcing crew for that given game. Amid this economic environment, FOX not only decided that it was best to invest in a single product, but it decided to make that investment in a guy who had never done this particular job before nor shown much in the way of an aptitude for it.

Again, maybe Brady is the guy to pull it off. He’s certainly famous enough. His seven Super Bowl victories are unmatched and span two franchises, and while he’s denied most attempts to be anything approaching interesting in public over the past 20 years, perhaps that is changing. His increasingly amusing Twitter posts over the past 2 years could be a hint of the humor he’s going to bring to the broadcast booth. That Tampa Tom is his true personality, which remained under a gag order from the Sith Lord Bill Belichick, and now Brady will suddenly become football’s equivalent of Charles Barkley.

But that’s a hell of a needle to thread for anyone, even someone as famous as Brady, and it’s a really high bar for someone with no broadcasting experience. The upside for FOX is that its traditional approach holds. The downside, however, is that it is not only spending more money on a product with a declining market, but it is ignoring obvious trends within the industry as it does so.

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