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Kaylee Hartung Has Studied The Greats

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Hartung.  “I think when the ball gets kicked off at Arrowhead (Stadium), it will all become very real.”

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Kaylee Hartung was enjoying her job as a sideline reporter for ESPN, but five years ago, with a desire to grow as a reporter, she left to join CNN as a news reporter and two years later moved on to an opportunity with ABC News. 

She was no longer reporting on what she was seeing and hearing on the sidelines or talking with players and coaches after big wins. It’s not that sports isn’t real life, but Hartung was now covering events going on in the world that were truly all about life and death.

“I just spent five years in a lot of scenarios showing up on the worst days of people’s lives and that’s the job in news so often,” said Hartung. “I was in Parkland, Florida in the hours after that mass shooting. I’ve been at more natural disasters than I can count from hurricanes to wildfires where people have lost everything, not just their homes but loved ones as well.”

“It’s a job I didn’t take lightly and a job that I have so much respect for.  But now, I’m just so thrilled to get back to celebrating the best days in people’s lives.” 

Hartung is back in the sports world as the sideline reporter for Amazon Prime Video’s coverage of Thursday Night Football which kicks off this Thursday when the Chiefs host the Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium (8:15 PM Eastern).  Kaylee is part of a crew that includes legendary NFL play-by-play voice Al Michaels and analyst Kirk Herbstreit who is ESPN’s top college football analyst.  

She’s been on football sidelines many times before, but now Hartung is ecstatic to be part of an NFL national broadcast team.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Hartung.  “I think when the ball gets kicked off at Arrowhead (Stadium), it will all become very real. When you talk about the people involved and the opportunity that this is, I just feel so lucky to be part of the team.”

Amazon and the NFL reached agreement on an 11-year, $11 billion deal for the first ever all-digital package in league history. This season, Amazon will air 15 games from week two until week 16. At the end of the day, they are going to be football telecasts, but with a streaming deal comes new opportunities to keep the viewers interested and engaged.

Kind of like an NFL telecast 2.0 with a lot of the old mixed with a little bit of new including being able to keep an eye on other aspects of the game including fantasy football.

“It’s an incredibly exciting thing to be a part of…to help build something new,” said Hartung.  “Everyone involved with this feels that way. That excitement is very real from Al and Kirk to everyone on the crew. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to broadcasting a football game. What I think we’re going to do on the whole is change the expectations of NFL fans for the entire viewing experience.”

The 36-year-old Hartung was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and earned a degree in journalism and politics from Washington and Lee University in 2007. She began her broadcasting career with CBS News as an assistant to legendary newsman Bob Schieffer and had her first taste of reporting from the sidelines in 2010 for CBS College Sports.

“It’s one of those jobs where until you do it, somebody has to give you a chance to let you do it,” said Hartung. “Until you do it, you don’t know how good you’re going to be at it and you don’t know how to work out the kinks.”

It was prior to that first sideline opportunity when producer Steve Scheer gave Kaylee some valuable advice and that was to study then NBC Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya as much as possible.

And that’s what she has done.

Once Kaylee secured the TNF job with Prime Video, she asked producer Fred Gaudelli for as much tape of Tafoya as possible. 

“I’ve watched her Emmy reel submissions from her last five seasons,” said Hartung. “I’ve watched her entire season compilation of every report she did from the past couple of seasons. That’s how highly I think of her.” 

Another veteran sideline reporter that Hartung has been inspired by is Melissa Stark who has replaced Tafoya this season on Sunday Night Football. Stark was the sideline reporter for ABC’s Monday Night Football for three seasons but left in 2003 to join NBC News and Sports.  After some time at NFL Network, she has returned to NBC and is once again on the sidelines for NFL games.

And now Hartung is set to work the same people that Stark has worked with.

“I’m so glad she’s back,” said Hartung. “She was the first woman who made me think that I wanted to do and that was when I was in high school. It wasn’t until this year that I met her and we were texting before and after the (49ers/Texans pre-season) game. I think the world of her and now to get to work with guys on her original crew is not lost on me.”

The objectives, skillsets, and techniques can vary from sideline reporter to sideline reporter and that always leads to a burning question…what is the role of the sideline reporter?

As far as Hartung is concerned, it’s all about catering to the viewer and giving them the best possible information.

“The challenge that I try to give myself with every game is that no matter how hard I prepare, I will never know as much about these teams as their most tried and true fans,” said Hartung.  “My task on the sidelines is to ensure that from my vantage point, that I can tell them something they didn’t know or something that interests them…to make sure that I’m enhancing that viewing experience.”  

Kaylee Hartung is no stranger to the big moment. After five years of covering some of the biggest news stories for CNN and ABC, she’s back where she wants to be on the sidelines for football games, but this time it’s the NFL.

For many, it could be an “oh wow” moment, but for Hartung it will be soaking in a marquee moment for her and something she has been building towards for a long time.

“I’m worried that my head is going to explode at Arrowhead Stadium before the ball even gets kicked off,” said Hartung. “I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions that come along with that.  I learned how to be on TV in college football stadiums across the country.  I think I’m better at my job and conveying the motion when there are 60,000 screaming lunatics around me.”

And they’ll certainly be screaming in Kansas City on Thursday night.

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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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