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P2s: The Secret To Ratings Growth You Need To Embrace

“They like sports, but maybe don’t love them. Maybe they do love sports, they just don’t make it the center of their lives the way many of our P1s are known to do. All they want when they are in the car or at their desk is an escape.”

Demetri Ravanos

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If I learned anything this year at the BSM Summit, it is that this industry is full of smart people. Sure, sports radio has to rethink some things in order to forge a path forward with younger listeners and we are going through some big changes in terms of how and where we serve our audience, but there were a lot more ideas than shoulder shrugs in New York last week.

There were two topics I heard discussed a lot. One was Nielsen ratings. They aren’t perfect obviously. There was plenty of talk about what they should reflect, what they do reflect, and how we get that extra meter.

The other was our core audience. “Super serving our P1s” is a buzz phrase across the industry. The format doesn’t matter. Everyone is trying to give their super fans a product they will stand on the street corner and evangelize.

Maybe now is the time to stop thinking so much about P1s. Does it make sense to expect ratings to grow if we keep playing to the same audience?

Do we pay enough attention to P2s? If a station wants to climb in the ratings, it doesn’t have to abandon the P1s it has spent so much time building. It just has to figure out how to get those P2s to come back one more time and stay for five more minutes. I asked programmers on both coasts how they think about their P2s and what their strategy is for serving them content.

Jeff Austin doesn’t see a need to change topics or even mix in elements of “guy talk” and other non-sports subjects. His hosts at 1080 The Fan in Portland are certainly allowed to, but Jeff is focused more on answering some basic questions about how they cover the biggest local and national games, teams, and players.

“Are we doing too much X’s and O’s talk? Not enough? Are our update anchors engaging in too much ‘inside baseball,’ like using first names-only in sports stories about athletes and coaches?” he says. “Our basic approach in Portland is to reflect the perspective of sports fans in our market, which means we have to be about more than X’s and O’s. I think it gives us a built-in advantage for recruiting P2s, who may be casual sports fans, and turning them into P1s. Sports may be the entry point, but we want to be a great listen, not just a great sports listen.”

Philadelphia is a sports crazy city. Chuck Damico even programs a station named for that passion – 97.5 The Fanatic. He told me that he has a very clear idea of who is P2s are. They are people that like the Eagles. They just aren’t going to lose sleep over a Jalen Hurts interception.

“Our P2’s are sports ‘fans’ not sports ‘fanatics,'” he told me after apologizing for the pun. “Their primary interests could be anything really – music, hobbies, time with friends and family, etc.  They’re not complicated, they’re regular, real people and they are the majority of the market.”

How do you appeal to regular people in a sports radio culture built by the most insane amongst us? Chuck says that no matter the topic, you have to cast a wide net.

“We have to be trusted, welcoming experts without being too narrow or alienating to anyone so that hopefully those casual fans choose to come back more often and for longer occasions.”

One thing that seems obvious, in terms of how we attract P2s, is to make sure they get what they are searching for when they come to us. Scott Shapiro of FOX Sports Radio talks to his talent about going “deeper not wider” with their topics. It’s his way of saying find more, unique angles on the biggest stories instead of trying to fill twelve segments with twelve unique stories.

Ironically, the goal of following this model is to widen your appeal rather than make the devotion of the fans you already have deeper.

Every time a P2 listener comes to your station, they are looking for entertainment. Sometimes it is just about what catches their ear. It can be a discussion of Calvin Ridley’s ridiculous suspension. It can be the new song from Doja Cat. They genuinely do not care. Other times, a P2 is coming to you on a mission. Russell Wilson is going to be traded to the Broncos and a listener in Seattle wants to know if this is the start of a full-on rebuild for the Seahawks or the Players Association rejects another proposal from the owners and a listener in Atlanta wants to know just how much longer he has to wait to see the Braves get their World Series rings.

Whatever the listener’s motivation, the second he or she sees what in their mind is “the sports station” on their tuner, they have an expectation. We better deliver. We can do that better with big stories and big names than something you were thinking about on the way in this morning.

Jeff told me that he doesn’t necessarily agree. When he is thinking about his P2s, he has two thoughts. First, how can I turn them into P1s and second, how can I get them to come back one more time than they usually do. The answer to both is to make them feel at home no matter what conversation they are hearing from their speakers.

“Our hosts are good at driving longer listening by sharing their everyday lives and their passion for sports and popular culture,” he says. “The connection they make through on-point topics and insight creates tune-in occasions. It gives you the best chance to recruit the listeners who will drive ratings and are more likely to consume your content across multiple platforms. They spread the word about your shows, show up at station events and interact with your advertisers. They become part of the club.”

Chuck Damico still serves as the Assistant PD of legendary rock station 93.3 WMMR in Philadelphia in addition to leading the Fanatic. He points to Preston and Steve, that station’s morning show. They have decades of success under their belt and he hopes his sports talk hosts can recognize why that is the case.

“There’s no magic secret to their success – they are genuinely likeable people, doing highly relatable content in a fun and entertaining way. There’s a little more to it than that, but the overall concept is simple.  And if you can do that enough, you can turn occasional listeners into dedicated fans.”

Our format’s P2s aren’t a mystery or some complex riddle to be solved. They like sports, but maybe don’t love them. Maybe they do love sports, they just don’t make it the center of their lives the way many of our P1s are known to do. All they want when they are in the car or at their desk is an escape.

Prioritize connection and entertainment and you will scratch that itch for them. In some cases, you’ll do it enough to turn them from a P1 into a P2. In others, you will give them reason to stay with you a little longer or to check in one more time. Either way, it expands your reach and just maybe grows your ratings.

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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