We interrupt your regularly scheduled Suns playoff cov...er...off season banter, to take a look behind the curtain at the business and philosophical side of sports media in a web 2.0 world
Like most great things in life, sports media 2.0 is the proverbial three-legged stool. Content. Distribution. Business Model (aka how to make $).
At the intersection of those three legs is a robust and rambunctious world of discussion, analysis, hysteria and quite frequently very good coverage of the teams we love all delivered in novel ways using a model that makes money. Here's how it works.
The biggest mistake I see people make when they look at new media is to assume it's all about the web or that Facebook and Twitter are really what matters. Those things are important just as the printing press and the 12 year old with a paper route were to the newspaper business but once everyone has the same basic tools of the trade the shininess wears off.
It is natural to think that you can gain an edge by being better at the new gadget but those advantages are always short-lived. In the end it's what you do and not how you do it that matters. That's not to say that distribution doesn't shape content.
TV, radio and cable were all shaped by their technologies and in some cases defined by it. The same holds true for online media. We take advantage of unlimited space and the ability to incorporate multiple formats (audio, video, images, bullet points) to publish our content. In the end though all those fancy tools are just another version of the same old thing. Distribution.
Sports media 2.0 is about moving beyond the stage where the medium is the message and into the place where the message is the message. That's not to say that organically online sites aren't better at using the tools then the "old" media but that gap will close quickly. Good newspapers, radio stations and TV networks are getting better at using their toys and the rest will quickly follow.
Good tools are needed to do any job well and the technology geeks will always push the limits to create space among the different offerings. We've reached the point now though where the difference isn't who's hammer is better. With everyone swinging the same basic mallet it comes down to the skill of the individual craftsman.
When it comes to technology, great bells and whistles is nice but good enough works.
The collection and assembly of facts into a story is a dying business. It's not that there's no need for that service. Facts and history are very important. The problem for those that live in that space is that they are a commodity. They are readily and widely available for the low low cost of free.
Look around at all the places you can go to get a box score or a recap of game that tells you the basics of what happened. Sure, some do it better then others but the potential to add value to the audience through the simple act of reporting history is fundamentally limited. Are you a long time beat writer that travels with the team and has years worth of relationships and knowledge? Great. If not, forgetaboutit.
Yes, it is sad for those that earn a living there but it is not like other segments of the economy haven't felt similar pressure. Everyone from the underwear sewing guy to the the Java Script programmer is looking over his shoulder. For traditional media types this is understandably sad news. For the rest of the working world it is old news.
Sports media is no different then the rest of our highly globalized knowledge economy. Value is added through creativity, analysis, original thought, opinion and yes, sometimes even irreverent humor.
We should never forget that sports IS entertainment. Treating it's coverage like it was a summit on global warming takes journalistic integrity a bit too far and frankly can be insulting to fans that understand the difference between a fact and an opinion.
The real fail lies in those that think they can enter this new media space without new media content. If all you are doing is assembling the same information but using Twitter to get it out to people you will find yourself hard pressed to build a loyal audience.
What value are you giving your readers that they can't find anywhere else?
Here's the dirty little secret about all these web sites you visit on the internet. They are businesses trying to make money. They don't exist solely for our enjoyment and they aren't in the charity business. Unless they are in fact charities but you will know that because the first thing they do is ask for your money.
Funny how that works. The charities are up front about it. The rest of us try and pretend that we're not trying to get paid. That's not to say that the people that run these sites don't also love what they do. They do. But just like when you hear a commercial on your free radio or you hear an ad on your free podcast you accept that when you come to a web site such as this that someone is going to try and sell you something. It is a common commercial transaction and frankly you probably barely notice it anymore. In the words of Alvin Gentry, "it is what it is".
That's the basics. Where it gets interesting is when you get to two main factors that make up any business. How you make money and how you spend money. Unless you have fancy Wall Street accountants and something called "mark to market", the difference between the two is your profit.
For traditional (old) media the plan was simple. Gather and provide information for the widest possible audience so that you can sell more ads for anything from old man socks to baby shoes. The result for those media outlets is they have to prioritize everything they cover. You know what they say about someone that makes everything a priority? Nothing is a priority. That's why despite all their resources they simply can't cover anything with any depth. No time. No attention span for their wide wide audience.
We've seen them segment into "sports" and "comedy" which is nice but what if you are a fan of lacrosse or some other niche form of comedic sports?
The general wisdom has been that you can't segment too far down into niche-world because the audiences aren't big enough to support the ad revenue needed to make enough money to cover the costs. In other words, not enough eyeballs equals not enough profit. Unless you have those fancy Wall Street accountants who can make anything look profitable.
Enter the new world of the online sports media 2.0 network where costs are shared over a large number of sites and small audiences are served at a very low cost. This allows tremendous value to be offered to advertisers looking to reach a localized or highly targeted population.
If I were a mortgage broker in 2005 and I wanted to peddle sub-prime loans to relatively educated and affluent sports fans I had a couple of options. I could spend a whole bunch of money on a local radio or TV ad. I could spend lot of money on a local print ad. Or I could spend a little money on a penny saver ad and reach lots of people that I didn't care to reach.
With the advent of the sports media 2.0 network, I can spend a little money and reach just the people I am looking for. Get the picture?
Targeted advertising at a much lower price. You don't have to be an "Ice to Eskimos" sales wiz to explain the value proposition there.
What makes it possible is the shared overhead of the network. If I wanted to start a really cool site about water polo, I need to shell out all the money and time to get the distribution great (or at least good enough). Plus I need to spend time and money on the content creation side. I would then have to spend even more time and more money trying to attract people to read about Katelin McCahill. The more time and money I have to spend the more I have to charge advertisers.
With the network, all those costs are shared so each additional site costs marginally less then the last one. That's a fancy way of saying the 100th site is cheaper then the 10th site because...well who cares why, it just is.
It's a brave new world out here on the cutting edge of sports media 2.0. The model is solid but completely unproven on a large scale but I can tell you that I wouldn't be spending the time I do on this if I didn't believe that it can work.
Then again....there's this