Thanks Ma.tt M.

Scrolling through my Ow.ly iPhone app (that’s a mouthful) this morning I came across a simple blog post from Ma.tt Mullenweg, WordPress’s founder and a hearty blogger.  Matt’s post inspired me to check out my dormant blog, and much to my surprise it’s been in hibernation for nearly two full years!  How can that be when my mind is constantly churning on so many fascinating, read-worthy topics?

Well, reading Matt’s post was very helpful.  His simple advice struck a chord.  Too often blogging becomes hard because people make it too challenging.  We over think it.  Like a hitter in baseball, it’s often best to just quit thinking a “see ball…hit ball”.  As Matt suggests in his post, it’s best to simply write for two people, the first being “…your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing”, and the second being “…a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write”.

Great advice.  I think I can handle the first person here, and it will be good to throw stuff out in the Internet’s ether with no motive or desired outcome beyond the one Matt highlights.  That being some good old fashioned thinking distillation.  As for that “other person” I might write for, I guess I’ll have to pick that one out per post — based I suppose on the subject.  I’ll let anyone who stumbles upon my ramblings try to figure out who I might be writing for.  Heck, it might be you one day!

Here’s to coming back to blog in 2014.  Now I really should find a designer to help me with that pedestrian look & feel.

Is Original Web Video Programming the Next Wave?

Everybody’s doing it — investing in original web video that is.  John Paul Titlow’s RWW piece highlighting Hulu’s announcement that they’re going to be spending $500MM in “new content initiatives” points out the next potential front for new content models and economics to take center stage.

Now I’m not here to sound the death knell of traditional television — but the ability to inexpensively bring cameras, people and scripts together in a room, studio or out to the field to produce content that is interesting, funny, targeted and timely is indisputable.

I experienced this first hand during my time in LA at Fox Sports Interactive as we scaled an original programming operation relatively far from the Fox lot.  Those were still very much “walk before you run” days, and the evolution has continued as more of the traditional TV folks have leaned in to see what the “digital guys” are up to.  And now at Bleacher Report, video has increasingly become part of our DNA and is an extension of our next gen digital publishing platform.

Video certainly opens up the creative opportunities to a meritocracy of ideas and talent.  The barriers of entry are no longer access to studio infrastructure and big time budgets.  Throw in mobile distribution and the opportunities are endless in terms of the corpus of original video that can be created for consumers across thousands and thousands of topic interests.  And it can all be done for far less than $500MM.

2012 Trends: Sports Sponsorship Meets Digital Media and Entertainment

This may be jumping the gun a bit – typically these annual prediction pieces come out in that slow week between Christmas and New Years – but I figure it’s good to get these out now so you can do more important things that week (like eat a lot of unhealthy food!).

So here goes, three predictions, actually more like “trends”, that will thematically connect the worlds of sports sponsorship with digital media – entertainment.

Pent-up Demand Unleashed in 2012

Let’s face it, 2011 has been a bit of a drag in the sports world.  Two lockouts, no great positive news stories to keep us enthralled (where’s Brett Favre when we really need him?), and enough global debt crisis black clouds to scare off even the most optimistic media buyer.

So just playing the law of averages means that 2012 will be a big year.  Labor peace pervades the NFL, NBA and even MLB.  Marketers can actually now build long-range marketing plans around the properties that they are investing.  In the case of the NFL the TV deals are going to run for the next 10 years – imagine how many ad impressions Tim Tebow might get over that span?

Layer on top of this the fact that 2012 is an Olympics year and that Tiger Woods won a tournament in late 2011 (imagine what happens to golf if he wins a Major next year?), and the macro outlook for sports sponsorship and advertising spend looks very positive in the coming year.

Leaping to Emerging Digital Platforms

On the digital front, marketers will turn their focus to where sports fans are going – and that means mobile and social platforms.  With another big holiday season of new smartphone and tablet purchases, more fans will be accessing sports content and entertainment through these smaller screens so sponsors will be smart to figure out how to embed their brands and messages into those experiences.

From a social media perspective, Facebook and Twitter will continue to explore ways to connect top tier content publishers with brand advertisers.  Part of this will take place on those dominate social platforms directly, but a big part of the experience will come through the smart integration of social elements within the publisher’s digital media experience.

Of course the perfect storm here for marketers will be the opportunity to partner with content publishers and properties around experiences that combine the social and mobile consumer experience.  Expect to see a major shift towards innovation around this theme in 2012.

Sports and Entertainment – Lines Continue to Blur

Ok, we’ve been talking about the confluence of the sports and entertainment worlds for years – how long ago did ESPN Hollywood launch – and sunset?  But we know how much entertainment stars love to hang out at sporting events and be around athletes, and in turn, athletes all want to be entertainment stars (e.g. case in point, Shaq’s latest ad promoting the NBA on Turner).

But 2012 truly feels like the year this sports-meets-entertainment theme really takes off.  Part of it will driven by the two trends above:  labor peace means athletes will have their public stages for a full year without distraction and no group has embraced social media more than the athlete cohort.  We should not overlook other data points that infer an inflection point here — thank you Kardashian sisters for helping to really define “NBA Entertainment” and thank you to the WWE for pushing for your own TV channel.

Why does the acceleration of this sports-meets-entertainment trend matter for sports sponsors?  Well, many advertisers have smartly caught on to the fact that by connecting with this theme they can keep a 24×7 narrative going with fans that doesn’t have to end when the game ends.  For example, it’s great for Visa to be associated with what happens on NFL fields, but it’s even better if they can figure out how to stay in front of fans through an association with athletes and teams when they’re off the field or court – which will increasingly take place in that arena we’ve traditionally considered an “entertainment” setting.  Consider the lines officially blurred in 2012.

So there you have it.  Three trends to wrap your head around if you’re sitting anywhere on the spectrum between sports sponsor and publisher/property.  Happy sports new year to everyone!

Today’s Wild Ride in College Sports — Long Term Good News for Fans and Brands

No sports business category seems to be in a state of change (some might say turmoil) than college sports — specifically at the Division I-A level.  Just this weekend Pittsburgh and Syracuse formally bolted from the Big East to join the ACC, and the rumors persist that the recently expanded Pac-12 may bulge further — this time by adding the powerful quartet of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

And while big time schools continue the game of conference musical chairs, the activity swirling around periphery of college athletics continues to amaze.  On one hand mighty programs like the University of Miami and the University of Oregon are under investigation for dealings with a now imprisoned booster and a questionable recruiting service respectively.

Yikes!  Why would any sane marketer associate their brand with college sports right now?  Well, here are a few reasons to consider:

Capturing the Next Wave of Consumers

Brand marketers know that the next wave of consumers that they want to reach — that digital savvy, social media influencer type, is on campus right now — shuttling from an Econ 101 study group to the tailgate before the big game.  The tailgate party and in stadium experience delivers thousands of targeted impressions to 17-22 year olds in an environment that is more engaging than just about any other window of a student’s day.  Talk about being able to create some real brand affinity.

College Sports Spans a Broad Demographic

No matter what conference the University of Texas plays in next year, a good chunk of the state of Texas — plus thousands of displaced UT alums — will tune in to all their football and basket ball games, plus consume thousands of hours of media dedicated to the Longhorns, whether it be via national coverage on ESPN, local coverage from the Longhorn Network, or the hundreds of stories that will be written about the crew in burnt orange day in and day out.  Unlike the targeted student demo on campus, however, the beauty of college athletics is that it appeals to men and women, young and old.  Heck, even my wife (a Cal alum) pays attention to the Bears now and again, something that doesn’t happen with her with respect to local pro sports teams.

Brands Love Going Hyper Local

Sports in general is a hyper local phenomenon, but college sports holds an edge to pro sports when it comes to really connecting with fans at the local level.  When was the last time a college sports football program packed up in the middle of the night and moved to another town?  How frequently does a player get traded to another school?  (Ok, sometimes they do leave school early to go to the Pros, but there again it’s the Pro sport fans chide, not the poor old college team that lost their All-American).  In fact, one of the reasons MillerCoors invested in a 23-school “integrated marketing program” as reported by the Sports Business Journal earlier this month, is the opportunity for the beer company to enable their local distributors and retailers to create a deeper connection with local fans.

Media Rights Going Across All Platforms

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the dynamic state of college athletics is the fact that media rights are being revalued and in turn enabling more and more college sports product to make it’s way to fans.  The Longhorn Network is an extreme, but good example.  Now those UT fans can get more than college football and baseball, they will get access to UT’s stellar swimming, baseball and track teams.  Likewise, the Pac-12 will eventually rollout several regional cable networks as well as their own digital platform which will collectively put hundreds of hours of live and on demand sports content on TVs, computer screens, iPads, and smartphones.

And who benefits big time from the broader reach of college sports media besides the fans and schools?  Brand marketers of course.  MillerCoors, State Farm, UPS, and the ever growing list of college sports sponsors all get more touch points to connect with the fan bases they value — whether they be students on campus, alums living out of state or local residents following the team’s every move.

So embrace the wild ride that is college sports right now and trust me, on the other side of today’s hectic pace will be a landscape that is good for fans and brands.  Now about that BCS set up?

New Partnership Paradigms — The Wave of the Digital Future

The story of how the Pac-12 (boy that’s still hard for me to say as a long time Pac-10 fan) negotiated their recent television media rights deal provides good insight into how traditional partnership models can melt away in changing times.  As the story goes, Comcast was on the verge of locking up the TV rights to Pac-12 events – primarily football and men’s basketball – until long-time competitors Fox and ESPN joined forces on a bid to share the deal which ultimately snatched it back from the jaws of defeat.

Hey, if the TV guys who are used to “winner takes all” negotiations can figure out a way to partner up on deals – imagine what the digital world could look like rolling forward as content producers, distributors and sponsors figure out changing roles and business models on the fly.   Consider what kinds of working relationships we might see given the shifting landscapes.

Content Producers and Distributors

This is the relationship you’d expect to be the most secure.  You know, distributor pays content producer for content, and then monetizes it by bringing in sponsors and/or charging fans directly.

But what happens in a world with rapidly shifting and expanding distribution outlets?  Think of Google/Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Hulu and the tens of millions of smartphones and tablets consumers carry around all as content consumption devices – or distribution.   Combine this plethora of digital distribution with the ever declining cost of content creation – a camera and a talking head, a blog post, and even a “professionally produced” show all cost a fraction of what they cost to produce yesterday let alone a year ago.

So the content producer and distributor dynamic is changing.  Content creators can go direct to consumer (and hope someone can find them on the Web or via the App Store) or, more likely, they can wade into this expanding sea of distribution that awaits their creations and let their content creations flow through as many distribution outlets as make sense.

And in a lot of cases, content producers will attempt to also become distributors – the University of Texas can make video content available directly to fans through their own website – and likewise, distributors will become content producers – Netflix and Hulu moving in to “originals” production are but two examples here.

Distributors and Sponsors

Here is another traditional working relationship that is under re-construction.  Digital distribution doesn’t mean a walled garden network that owns audience in the way three television networks used to dominate the airwaves.

Distribution still matters for sponsors, it will just be defined differently and more fluidly.  Channels like Search powered by Google’s ongoing improvements in delivering high quality content to users, and Social powered by Facebook’s and Twitter’s respective focus on turning their audiences more efficiently towards content will be increasingly relevant to sponsors.  And Mobile will no doubt be the consumption platform that dominates the future – the combination of Search and Social on Mobile opens up a whole new distribution playing field for sponsors.

Savvy advertisers will embrace these changes in the context of their traditional distributor partnerships.  It won’t be sufficient to park a sponsorship exclusively on a single distribution outlet to reach a desired audience.   Pepsi, for example, will need to reach NFL fans where those fans can be aggregated and engaged across several distribution outlets.  Sponsors who can efficiently map their brand messages across a diverse set of distribution opportunities will find that their ROIs respond accordingly.

Content Producers and Sponsors

Of the three unique relationships in the content-distribution-sponsorship chain, the dynamic between content producers and sponsors may be the one that we see transition the most as digital media continues to evolve.  New and meaningful distribution outlets give content producers and sponsors more options to partner directly to create powerful experiences.

Some might call this the next wave of “advertorial” or “branded content”.  Whatever term gets coined, the opportunities will continue to expand for brands to define the audiences they want to connect with and then partner with content producers to create experiences that don’t feel forced and fake.

A key aspect here will be sponsors and content producers having a smart perspective on distribution on distribution.  For example, Chevy could come up with the greatest creative concept in concert with a content producer, but running the content solely on Chevy.com and/or a single media website will significantly limit the potential for Chevy to engage all the potential fans who might be impacted by the campaign.

Ultimately, great content concepts, smart distribution and innovative sponsorship groups will all be part of the mix going forward.  Just expect that the ways they have historically worked together will evolve almost as fast and the digital media landscape is moving.

The Giants on Showtime: A Theme More Teams Should Endorse

The San Francisco Giants 2010 World Series victory over the Texas Rangers was more than 50 years in the making, yet it took less than 50 days after the last out was recorded to announce a television series documenting the team during the 2011 season.  “Oh no!” Giants fans cried, this would be exactly what the team didn’t need in the new season — the distraction of production crews and cameras in the clubhouse.  One local sports radio host went so far as to quip that the show should be titled “Third Place” — because that’s where he figured the team would finish in the standings given the strife the show would cause.
Last week a sneak preview of the Showtime series “The Franchise:  A Season With The San Francisco Giants”ran on Showtime (the series officially debuts later this summer), and by all appearances the Giants should survive the crew from MLB Productions who is producing the show.  While this certainly isnt’ the first time a show has chronicled a pro sports team (recent versions have covered the Chicago White Sox and the New York Jets), and it remains to be seen whether this latest experiment has any meaningful impact on the club, this appears to be not only a brilliant move by the Giants and MLB, but I’d urge more teams to invest in showcasing their players and teams in this way for at least four key reasons.
1. Great for Fans
Perhaps MLB and the Giants thought this show might have legs after they witnessed the unbelievable turn out at the Giants World Series parade.  Throngs of delirious fans lined the streets of San Francisco cheering and hoping to get a close up glimpse of the motley crew of overachievers who brought a trophy to the City by the Bay.  Fans crave behind the scenese insights about the personalities of the guys on their teams.  Who are the clowns?  Who really makes the team tick?  What are these guys like in the clubhouse and what are they like when they’re in street clothes?  Every team should be investing in creating some type of ongoing video programming that brings this access to their fans — not always as elaborate as a Showtime series, but something more than the snippets that show up in team’s local TV magazine show.

2. Great for Teams

While the majority of what a team is paying for in player salaries shows up between the white lines, in today’s rapidly expanding sports-meets-entertainment content world, clubs need to do as much as they can to leverage their player assets outside those white lines.  Sure a winning team trumps all, but when you can’t guarantee a World Series winner, you can at least control how you package and present your players as brand extensions.  In fact, taking the time to connect the personalities of the players to the local fans may be the best hedge against a mediocre or even losing season.  If fans know a lot more about the characters in the drama, they’re likely to show up for more episodes.

3. Great for Players

We live in a world dominated by entertainment brands — especially personalities that enjoy fleeting moments in lights.  Athletes are no exception to this phenomenon.  Careers on average are quite short and investing the time to showcase their personalities can create lasting impressions on fans and advertisers that will pay off after a player’s on field career has ended.  Whether you’re a character like Brian Wilson setting yourself up for any number of post-baseball career opportunities given your eclectic personality, or a guy like Cody Ross who can parlay the visibility of a show like this in to more endorsements and recognition that otherwise wouldn’t materialize, there’s plenty of upside for the personal brands of the athlete.

4. Great for Sponsors

Sports has always led the way in terms of creative integrations between brand advertisers and the “content” of sports.  Whether signage on walls, sidelines or even on the playing surfaces themselves, or the visual brand associations of a virtual first down marker or a “presented by” halftime show, sports advertising constantly blurs the boundaries between editorial and advertising.  For sponsors, being able to embed their brands — either through association with these athlete video stories or better yet as deeper product placements – highlights what should be a next wave of sports sponsorship.  Heck, if you’re going to have players “endorse” your product, doing it in the context of a docu-drama or reality show will carry a lot more import with consumers than
having a guy painfully reading from a prompter in a TV ad.

So here’s to a next phase in sports programming that becomes much more personal for fans, teams, players and sponsors — and that of course doesn’t drop the Giants out of the play-off hunt along the way.