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All-Time Great Moment, All-Time Low Ratings

If the World Series brought back the pulsating thrill of a great finish, it also reflected a new reality: People are watching sports in significantly fewer numbers as America braces for a long, virus-bullish winter.

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Suddenly, for the first time in eons, the rest of the damned world didn’t matter. Anyone who cares about sports once again was feeling a pounding heart, a racing pulse, an urge to air-plane around the outfield with someone named Brett Phillips, a need to scold Dave Roberts for yet another October evening of dastardly dugout decisions.     

Rays Walk Off for 8-7 Win Over Dodgers to Even World Series – NBC Boston

A pandemic? A presidential election from hell? Democracy’s demise? The end of the world as we know it? Get that stuff out of here. Who could care about anything but a frenetic, daffy and utterly fantastic ending to a baseball game in a mostly empty mega-studio in Texas? A bloop, a bobble, an airball of a swiped tag, a flying baserunner given new life after a stumble and tumble, a star-crossed reliever who didn’t back up home plate … all magnified because a miracle team from St. Petersburg, Fla., which still hasn’t explained how it got here, was out-Hollywood-ing the Dodgers with cinematic beauty while nullifying mystique, payroll, metropolis size and a locked-and-loaded roster.     

Regardless of how this World Series concludes — and the Dodgers can’t possibly upchuck again, can they, with a 3-2 lead and the unhittable Walker Buehler waiting in Game 7? — we’ll recall the insane Game 4 sequence as a 2020 gift, an urgently needed and duly appreciated reminder of how sports can enrich lives with one spontaneous thrill from nowhere. To think the hero was a seldom-used Tampa Bay outfielder, without a hit since Sept. 25, whose wife and mother-in-law left Globe Life Field two innings earlier because they were cold. Maybe it’s just as well, for the guy was delirious. “Almost passed out,” said Phillips, who needed an IV after his venture into baseball lore. “I didn’t realize I was dehydrated. My resting heart rate was over 140 just lying there. They had to cover my eyes with a towel because I had a pounding migraine.”     

“I’m about to live 15 years shorter,” the Rays’ Brandon Lowe said. “My God, I think I lost 10 years on that last play.” For all of us who witnessed it, the time investment might have been worthwhile.     

Yet how many of “us” were actually living the moment, watching the events unfold in an “unperfect storm,” as Roberts imperfectly called it? If this was a litmus test of sport’s resilience, the avalanche of emotion was darkened by another reality hit: Ratings continued to be the worst in World Series history, with Nielsen confirming the all-time classic as the lowest-rated game on record. We can’t assume, as career sports aficionados, that the rest of the world is similarly jazzed. “World Series Gobbled Up By ABC’s `Shark Tank’ and CBS’ `Big Brother,’” blasted the Deadline.com headline after the previous game — a 21st-century prison sentence that baseball can’t escape no matter how memorable and great a game might be. We might think the Randy Arozarena drama was all anyone could talk about, that his slip, recovery and slide into home should be framed forevermore by a remake of the “Macarena” tune.     

In truth, it was a “niche” 2020 moment.     

And until further notice — such as, a responsibly approved and widely accessible COVID-19 vaccine — sports programming will remain in the bin of niche programming, a free-fall never thought possible through decades of massive growth. As it is, sports isn’t certain to return in full scale next year as the coronavirus roars on, with leagues unclear if they want to foot the massive costs of daily testing. If the ratings also are nose-diving, is it any wonder the commissioners aren’t committing to seasons yet?     

To be clear, this isn’t a death spiral — not yet. As long as gamblers have money to lose and states open sportsbooks as Bad Beats crack houses, people will watch games in this country — or at least until North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, called a “thug” by Joe Biden, relieves America of its misery with the push of a nuke button that not even Dennis Rodman can stop. Yet a cold pandemic verity can’t be denied, either: Significantly fewer people care about sports now than ever before in my decades on Planet Earth. Anyone with ears, eyes and a common-sense equilibrium knows it, no matter how many optimism-slanted ratings experts are trotted out by ESPN, Fox Sports and The Athletic sports site — all with vested interests in painting pretty viewership pictures that aren’t real.     

The leagues and broadcast networks are playing it cool, using safe and convenient phrases such as “aberration” and “extraordinary times” while pointing out that millions are peeled to cable news channels. But if these officials are being honest with themselves, they are very nervous about the future. What if the coronavirus, still raging with a perilous winter ahead, is still with us in a year or two? What if a Biden victory next week leads to “a depression like you’ve never seen,” to quote President Trump? Why would people come rushing back to sports — cable or streaming — when they have careers to protect, kids to educate, family members to keep alive, mortgages and bills to pay? If people are preoccupied with their own existential worries, such as sleeping at night, why would sports ratings magically spike to previous robust levels or anywhere near?     

To enjoy the luxury of sports, millions of Americans need more than disposable income. They need disposable time and disposable energy that has been robbed by 2020. So let’s keep dialogue about the stunning ratings declines simple and unbiased. In a country of 330.5 million human beings, anywhere between 6 million and 9 million watched the first four games of a Fall Classic featuring a famed team from the Los Angeles mega-market — again, the smallest audiences ever for a once-venerated spectacle and a 40 percent decrease from last year’s troubling lows. An NBA Finals that saw LeBron James win a title — again, in the L.A. market — was watched by an average of 7.4 million, a 67 percent drop from two years ago. You say Clayton Kershaw saved the Dodgers and maybe his postseason legacy in Game 5? You say Roberts tried his best to fiddle around again, much to Joe Buck’s dismay, before coming up big with Blake Treinen as the closer and not Kenley Jansen? That’s cool, but was anyone watching one night after The Brett Phillips Finish couldn’t beat Adele and “Saturday Night Live”?    

SNL season 46, episode 4 recap: Adele hosts with musical guest H.E.R. |  EW.com

“This team is super-special,” Kershaw said. “And there’s no better explanation than what happened (in Game 4), and then the text messages after, with the group of guys in the players’ texts saying, `You know what? it’s a best-of-three series, we’re going to get it done.’ We came back with a new perspective.”     

Only the NFL kingdom, with its heavy gambling emphasis and big-screen magnetism, has avoided huge declines. College football, with the Big Ten resuming last weekend and the Pac-12 returning next month, may or may not boost sluggish numbers. The Stanley Cup Finals sunk 62 percent. The U.S. Open golf major was down 55 percent. The U.S. Open tennis major was down 50 percent. The Kentucky Derby was down 49 percent. Again, the leagues and networks spin madly, pointing out many of those events were played far outside their usual calendar frames and how they’ve collided in October and September, forcing viewers to choose.     

Fact is, the numbers haven’t just dipped. They’ve cratered. And unless these powerful moguls have crystal balls that can see the future, there’s a chance things will get worse — maybe much worse — before they get better in sports. If you don’t believe me, consider a widely referenced Marist Poll that revealed another alarming number — 46 percent of those who consider themselves sports fans say they’re devoting less time to sports broadcasts than before the pandemic. They cited sensible reasons: COVID-19 prevents them from attending games in stadiums and arenas, gathering with friends and like-minded fans in bars or living rooms and enjoying the conviviality of community. They cited political reasons, too: Some don’t like how NBA, NFL and MLB players have protesting racial inequality and police brutality.     

But the biggest factor, obviously, is the absence of normalcy. If America is entering its most vulnerable period yet for the coronavirus, and hospitals again are facing crisis-level shortages of beds, staff and treatment drugs, isn’t any self-immersion into sports disproportionate to the real world? Especially when we don’t know week to week how many NFL and college players — or position groups — are testing positive for the virus? Isn’t it a major development how Cam Newton, now a turnover machine, hasn’t been the same for the 2-4 Patriots since he contracted COVID? And that the Raiders, who haven’t followed protocols, are slipping at 3-3?      

The leagues and networks continue to downplay the virus. The NFL “punished” the protocol-busting Tennessee Titans with a mere bank-account hiccup, a $350,000 fine that hurts much less than bogus threats of game forfeitures and docked draft picks. And it’s a sign of the times when Wisconsin freshman Graham Mertz throws five touchdown passes in his college debut, then tests positive for the virus, meaning, if confirmed, he’ll have to sit a minimum of 21 says. All that said, sports still wants you to think fans are agog over the reunion of Tom Brady and troublemaker-in-waiting Antonio Brown (and, yes, Brady the social worker had Brown talk to Tony Robbins). Or how Jerry Jones blew it again with the hiring of Mike McCarthy, who is openly fighting with Cowboys players and asking why they didn’t retaliate after a cheap shot to fill-in quarterback Andy Dalton. Or how the Steelers are 6-0 and the emerging AFC favorites. Or how, in college football, Indiana beat Penn State for its first statement victory in years, leading coach Tom Allen to crowd-dive into his players. Or how pink-suited Dabo Swinney defended slow-starting Clemson from the evil media with a defensive tone: “I just want to make sure I’m at the right press conference here. We did win the game, I think.” Sure, some people in America still care about basic sports topics.     

Indiana 36, Penn State 35: What Twitter Had to Say - Black Shoe Diaries

Many others do not. And won’t for a long time.     

Lost in the mad rush to resume events in 2020 are the gathering clouds of 2021. Just because seasons finished and champions were crowned doesn’t mean the same will happen next year. There is no guarantee, for instance, that MLB will have a season if only a smattering of humanity is allowed in most ballparks, as seen this month down yonder in Arlington. The sport lost almost $3 billion in cash in an abbreviated season, and the owners would prefer to pull the plug than lose twice that amount next year.     

“We’re thinking long and hard about our entire situation next year,” commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN. “With respect to 2021, it depends on (fans in attendance). We can play. We can collect our broadcast revenue, but for the game to be healthy, we need fans in the ballpark.”    

But in California, home of five MLB franchises, Gov. Gavin Newsom will continue to limit large gatherings at stadiums even if regions show marked improvements in COVID data. At only 20 percent capacity, would it be worth MLB’s bother to begin another season? “I think we’re looking for 2022 to start to feel normal again, while we work through this in 2021,” Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly said.     

The NBA, meanwhile, is assuming fans won’t be inside arenas anytime soon and wants to launch a 72-game season in time for Christmas. If that is unrealistic — eight weeks away, really? — so is the concept of placing five teams in each of six Bubbles. Haven’t James and other prominent players ruled out such restrictive environments? The NHL, which wants to start Jan. 1, has yet to post a schedule.    

Sports plows on, of course, because gamblers are wagering in record numbers at legal sportsbooks — an estimated $2.5 billion in September, $748 million in New Jersey alone. This explains why FOX SUPER 6 promos are becoming as commonplace as Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz acting like frat bros and why ESPN has a Las Vegas studio. But gambling, while potentially lucrative for the leagues and media companies, also fits the very definition of sport’s new pandemic reality.     

Niche.     

Sports betting ruling: What it means for gamblers

As in, ditch.     

As in, stuck there until further notice.

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

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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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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