We have written a lot here lately about podcasts and how radio stations can make the most of their digital products. What can you do to build an identity online that is about more than just replays of your on air product? How do you stand out in a VERY crowded space?
I will tell you something that dawned on me a couple of weeks ago and was crystalized for me over the weekend. You want to stand out in the podcasting space? Quit interviewing people. Every podcast is “an in-depth conversation” with someone that you’ve already heard an in-depth conversation with on a dozen other platforms.
Radio groups should always look at a podcast as a chance to do something that they could never put on the air. That could mean letting talented, compelling talkers have an unencumbered conversation that begins with the NFL Draft and ends up becoming about something entirely different like adopting a child. That could mean a deeply researched story with interviews and ambient sound to set the mood.
Turn on sports radio and you will usually hear an interview. Taking someone and giving them thirty minutes to talk about the home team’s coaching search instead of just ten minutes isn’t really anything new or different.
My wife and I have been building a little home gym in our basement. This weekend, I started putting together some equipment – a bench, a dumbbell rack, and a heavy bag stand. It took me about three hours on Saturday. During that time, I listened (or at least planned to listen) to three podcasts that really hammered this thought home for me.
First, after pushing it to the back of the cue over and over again, I finally started Grant Wahl’s American Prodigy: Freddy Adu. My soccer fandom is mostly just getting very patriotic every four years for the men’s and women’s World Cups and then forgetting the sport exists until the next World Cup outside of my son occasionally embarrassing me at FIFA on the Switch.
The podcast really gripped me though. It wasn’t so much a story about soccer that I was listening to. It was the human interest piece. How did this can’t miss prospect miss? How, at 31, do you live a normal life when most people hear your name and think about the hype around you when you were just 16? Those answers combined with interviews with people that played with Freddy or worked with some of his sponsors that could speak to how much hope was pinned on a teenager and how much business was done around him made American Prodigy hard to turn off.
I also listened to two episodes of The Right Time with Bomani Jones. Bo and I have been friends for a long time and I will always support anything he does. It helps that he is one of the most talented and interesting talkers in our business for sure, but honestly it is one of the three sports podcasts I listen to every week.
Bomani’s Tuesday podcast is him and his producer Gabe talking about the news of the day, telling personal stories, and taking listener phone calls about the designated topic. It is always fun. Thursdays, Bo brings in a guest. If it is an old friend like comedian Roy Wood Jr. or Slate’s Joel Anderson, they will do a lot of the same kind of storytelling. If it is a sports or rap legend though, Bo will usually do a good, in-depth interview.
Again, I want to reiterate that I love Bo, both as a talent and as a friend, but the fact is I get bored with the Thursday podcast real fast. Compared to the other two shows I had listened to while tightening screws with an Allen wrench, the podcast interview just did nothing for me.
Whenever a talent asks me for advice about a radio show I always start by reminding them that listeners are coming to the show because they value the talent. You don’t turn on Adam Schein everyday because you hope he’ll have a great guest. If you turn on Adam Schein everyday, it is because you like what it is that Adam Schein does. It doesn’t mean you don’t value the guest list. It means that you aren’t even thinking about the guest list if you don’t have any investment in the person leading the show.
Look, Bill Simmons, Ryen Russillo, Peter King, and Dan Le Batard are all really good at what they do. They have built loyal followings by being good interviewers, and that is fine. Their success is no less valid because of the style of show their podcast is.
I will point out though that all four of those hosts are on digital-specific platforms. They are not trying to think about how to create a podcast that is something unique compared to their other audio products. For radio stations, that is something that is always worth asking.
When your listeners think about sports talk or interviews, their minds usually go straight to radio. It’s how they are used to consuming you everyday. For most listeners, radio is where they have been going to get that content for most of their lives. If you want them to make the extra effort of going online, finding a podcast, subscribing to that podcast, and then listening to it each week, you have to give them something worth their time that exists only on that podcast.
We are talking about an extremely crowded market. Even the biggest names in digital audio are trying to find content every week. With so many of those shows relying on guests, how many of those episodes do you think are the exact same thing? Even if we narrow the field down to just the professionally produced and engineered shows, I bet the answer is still probably a lot.
Interview podcasts can be entertaining, but for that to be true, the interviewer him/herself has to be entertaining. Entertaining people can do so much more than just ask questions. Frankly, I wonder if just asking questions is a waste of their talents.
Here’s the truth about interview podcasts. They are easy to turn off. They don’t have a built in reason for listeners to keep coming back. In fact, it is so much easier for listeners to give up on interview podcasts because there is no through line, no guarantee of quality from episode to episode.
On radio, our success is built on developing a relationship with our listeners. Their loyalty comes from the confidence that you will provide the kind of content they are interested in. Building on that confidence in a way that listeners trust they can rely on you to entertain them with content that they aren’t used to coming to you for is a sign of true loyalty. Focus on the kind of digital content that does that instead of the digital content that is everywhere because it is the easiest to produce.
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.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 75
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.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts 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.
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.
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.