Radio is a business. I know it’s our passion, our love, our siren song and our muse, but it’s also a business, which is why ESPN did the right thing in jettisoning Colin Cowherd. It’s not what they would have always done. However, when media companies know a talent is a “short timer,” they are much less risk adverse. What’s in it for ESPN to protect Cowherd now when they know he’s out-the-door and off to the competition in 30 days? Nothing, but a damaged relationship with MLB, MLBPA and every Dominican everywhere.
I was Colin’s manager for a spell. Blogs and fan sites weren’t well respected back then and Cowherd directed his listeners to flood several sites with the intention of shutting it down. It was petty retribution for a stories that criticized The Herd for stealing angles without attribution. The backlash was severe from internal and external fans of these sites and sites like them. Cowherd offered a Mia culpa, learned a tough lesson and it was behind us. He had full support of the network, because he was new and seen as future star. Without the promise of what may come, there’s no real reason for ESPN to shield him now.
As a former manager and colleague it disheartens me to see Cowherd and ESPN part ways so abruptly and on bad terms. He did great work. He made most fans forget Kornheiser ever had a show on ESPN Radio, which seemed an impossible feat when he started. And he is a great talent. Love him or hate him he stirs something inside you which is the goal of any talk personality
Disclaimer: This column is my educated opinion based on past dealings and experiences with FIFA, ESPN and other rights deals. It’s meant to inform how these decisions are made and not meant to be a reporting of facts as they happened in this specific situation.
There has been quite a bit of chatter in the sports radio community about whether or not the play-by-play of the Women’s World Cup, specifically the U.S. team games, should have been made available over radio.
During Tuesday’s #SRCHAT (Sports Radio Chat on Twitter) guys seemed flummoxed as to why.
— Mark Zinno (@MarkZinno) July 8, 2015
A3: Yes. Especially in the markets that already broadcast MLS games. Big miss here. #srchat
— The Sports Den (@SportsDenShow) July 8, 2015
First off, let’s let this soak in. Sports radio pros are clamoring for WOMEN’S SOCCER!! This is a great break-through (or would have been in 1993) and an encouraging sign of things to come (until they forget about it.)
The hype and bluster around this is our fault. Sports radio’s interest in this game is surface, passive, and band-wagonny. It’s jiggery-pokery. It’s pure apple sauce.
I can tell you in 2010 getting stations to carry the men’s World Cup was a struggle. So much so, ESPN let most markets cherry pick the U.S. men’s game.
And that’s the problem.
ESPN or any media company who is distributing play-by-play (Compass, Westwood One, Learfield, etc.) have to broker a rights agreement for the whole tournament regardless of how far Team U.S.A. advances. Sometimes this means big money, guaranteed clearances, and promotional considerations. And were talking about making a deal with FIFA, so you can imagine the rights agreement read like a rider for the Motley Crüe tour.
So the business model looks something like this:
Media Company “A” buys rights to the FIFA World Cup for $1 million (totally made up number).
There are 52 games over 30 days. FIFA wants a guarantee that at least 20 games will be broadcast nationwide. It wants clearance in the Top 50 markets for all 20 games. And it wants “X” minutes of promotion on radio and TV over the course of the tournament.
That means Media Company “A” has to get commitments from affiliates in the Top 50 markets and in order to recoup the investment for rights fees sell advertising into the games with the promise of at least 20 games in the Top 50 markets. Team USA only appeared in 7 games this time around and they won the whole thing, so at least 13 games are featuring teams from someplace else.
Media Company “A” must clear $50,000 per game after production costs just to break even. But, this is business. Nobody brokers a deal to break even.
And here’s the rub for radio stations. If Team USA gets bounced in an early round they are still committed to airing the games. With pre- and post-game shows and the match it’s at least a two-hour commitment for each game. Not many stations will surrender 40 hours worth of spot loads and programming for the hope that Team USA catches fire. If stations back out of the commitment midway (aside from facing contractual legal issues itself), Media Company “A” violates its agreement with FIFA and likely loses all revenue from advertisers.
Which begs the question not would you carry the Women’s World Cup Final featuring team USA, but would you carry a women’s World Cup qualifier featuring teams from Uruguay and Germany during afternoon drive? Of course you wouldn’t.
Too much risk, not enough reward; that’s why no one distributed the Women’s World Cup on radio.
Beats1 is on the air!
I’m underwhelmed thus far and I blame Steve Jobs. He taught me to expect the unexpected. He created products that at first blush seemingly made no sense (an iPad? I have an iPhone. Why do I want something bigger?), but were nearly instantaneous culture changing innovations. He created a brand expectation that sadly Apple can no longer live up to.
In my mind I was really hoping Beats1 was going to be revolutionary, be a paradigm shift for radio, inspire a new generation of broadcasters and push the industry back on it’s heels a bit. I imagined that they would figure out a way to integrate a song an hour from everyone’s personal iTunes collection weaving it seamlessly into the fabric of the radio station making it a truly personalized experience. I envisioned a XAPP Media type vocal recognition program which would allow you to say out loud, “buy this song” and it would instantly download to your iTunes account. I counted on Apple to create the fully integrated, connected, social savvy, second screen radio has been struggling to create. My expectations were too high.
Instead, so far, the bigger impact of Beats1 is for rising artists who get a global spin and ideally, for them, an instant international fan base. (Also, Pandora founder Tim Westergren’s dream. AUDIO)
As it impacts radio, Beats1 seems more of a blast of the past than a quantum leap into the future:
Shouting city names over records.. Radio does this.
Live reads. Radio does this.
Pre-Recorded outdated promos. Radio’s got those in droves!
DJs that talk too much. Radio’s got ‘em.
DJs in multiple locations. Yep..
Dead Air. Sure.
Celebrity DJs. Requests. Listen call-ins. Social media engagement. Radio does all that too.
What exactly is the innovation here?
It’s week one, so we’ll give them time to get settled and check back in next month or so. Meantime, if you hear something truly unique let me know.
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After talking at length with researcher Richard Harker (hear the interview here), watching this 25 minute video on the science of watermarking audio, reading blogs and articles and then comparing it all to my personal experiences with PPM data, I believe the issues with PPM are nearing DEFCON1 for our industry.
Some things all radio broadcasters should know about PPM
The PPM tones are encoded and masked by other audio. If there is no audio on your radio station, there is no PPM encoding. If you are a spoken word radio station every time the host stops talking, takes a breath or a dramatic pause – the PPM tone stops encoding.
The PPM tones encode at certain frequencies (1 to 3 kilohertz), much higher frequencies than a typical male radio announcer, meaning higher pitched voices and music actually be decoded more consistently.
There has been no test results, at least released to the radio industry, how loud the radio station must be playing or how close to the radio the PPM device needs to be in order for the masked tone to be recognized and decoded. Though it is noteworthy that background radio station formats, like smooth jazz, have suffered greatly in the PPM era.
Audio watermarking technology can be wobbly leaving gaps (some small, some giant) in decoding and unknown amounts of unreported listening.
PPM encoding on internet streams is even less reliable. Just like a .jpg or .mp3 is compressed to make smaller files, your internet stream is compressed too, which means there is even less audio to mask the tone behind.
Because of these factors, some radio stations may only be encoding 50% of the time or sometimes even less and receiving greatly reduced credit in listening compared to what is actually happening.
Radio should be mad as hell. This is costing people jobs, livelihoods, and impacting radio families across the country. Programmers, myself included, have made “strategic” adjustments to shows, personalities, and formatics based on inaccurate PPM data.
If I’m Premiere Radio or really any big radio company I’m lawyering up. With the hit talk radio has taken in recent years (see: Rush) could it be that the audience likes it fine, but PPM doesn’t?
Fight back. The Voltair seems to be a worthy investment for some stations. It essentially makes your watermarked audio easier for the PPM to recognize and decode.
Also, and this goes against my better judgement, if you’re News/Talk or Sports I would seriously consider adding a music bed or crowd noise at all times so the encoding never stops.