Its with great trepidation that I write this piece in which I'll point to the many deficiencies of ESPN's newest foray into Sports 2.0, The Sweet Spot Network, Rob Neyer's brain child consisting of about 20 MLB blogs. I have voiced my concern to ESPN on this front and feel strongly enough to air my grievances publicly. I'll get into specifics in a bit, but first I''ll share some thoughts on the network from one of its own members who voiced their own displeasure of the network to me in an email.
"I've been clamping my tongue at how much of a joke their SweetSpot network is. They just want to be able to say they have a network and get the traffic credit from the already built in traffic. They don't try to send traffic our ways, they don't pay -- even on a rev split basis --, they don't host (so I actually lost money making the move)... it just doesn't make sense."
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I should say that 2 great former Bloguin blogs have ventured to The Sweet Spot Network and I wish them the best of luck. In fact ESPN has seduced a handful of our blogs (to various networks they have) in addition to other defections we've sustained over the years to other competing networks. It happens as publisher needs change over time and network offerings and areas of emphasis also change.
Over time, I've never complained to a blog publicly or privately about leaving because I always felt they were going to be entering a beneficial and fair relationship. Having worked at Yardbarker previous to Bloguin, I can say its just part of the business and I've been on both sides of blogs either leaving or entering a relationship with my company.
For instance, Bucknuts.com, where I still write occasionally initially joined Rivals network (now owned by Yahoo) almost a decade ago. After a period of independence after leaving Rivals, they joined Scout (now owned by Fox) before becoming independent again. Fast forward to today and Bucknuts is now actually ESPN's first affiliate site and I believe the biggest. Saying I write for an ESPN affiliate has often helped me in procuring interviews and gaining credibility for future positions so I 100% understand the value of that brand affiliation that many bloggers have been drawn too.
Unfortunately though SweetSpot membership doesn't offer anything significant past that affiliation and requires way way too much. Below are some key points to consider:
Monetization - No Compensation for Traffic Representation
Depending on the amount of traffic, blogs can yield anywhere from a few cents to a few thousand dollars a month. The three variables that dictate how much you make are amount of page views, number of ads per page, and ECPM (rate per thousand ad units) your ads get.
There are literally thousands of not tens of thousands ad networks and various providers that can help you fill your ad inventory. Obviously its in your best interest to partner with those that will provide the highest ad rates for your site. For the sports vertical, there are a handful of companies who you can work with who specialize in selling ads for sports sites and are able to extend publishers better ad rates because of the targeted audience they can sell to advertisers.
All of these companies require documents from Comscore and Nielsen that identify you as a member site of that network so ad agencies and advertisers can look up traffic information about the site and the network that sells its advertising inventory.
ESPN requires these documents to join their network. They do not offer advertising or any other form of compensation meaning two things. 1) Member sites cannot partner with premium ad companies to have their inventory filled at solid rates 2) ESPN gets credit for that traffic thus helping their ad sales although member sites will not capitalize on any success on this front.
I know ESPN has argued to publishers leaving legacy ad agreements, that ESPN needs some way to measure the success of the network. Apparently Google Analytics, Quantcast, and SiteMeter were not suffice despite the fact they measure sites and networks in real time and more accurately than Comscore and Nielsen monthly panel reports.
Ownership of Content - The following section is disputed by ESPN. With conflicting info from ESPN and member sites, the section below should be taken with a grain of salt
Despite not being paid by ESPN or any help with key areas like hosting and design, reportedly ESPN requires ownership of your content. Cue crowd booing.
Actually that's not that terrible as other networks can often do the same. However in these scenarios the ownership of the content is part of a much more elaborate partnership agreement typically involving monetization, equity, and forms of site support. From the buzz around the blogosphere, ESPN is asking for ownership of content on the site even before the site partnered with ESPN. If only Drew Rosenhaus or Scott Boras could be employed to negotiate agreements on behalf of bloggers.
We're Like True Hoop Except for All The Good Stuff
Many time over, Rob and the crew have pointed to the True Hoop network as the model they wish to emulate. Per the post announcing SweetSpot's recent expansion
"We're just beginning to consider some of the endless possibilities, but we're drawing on the ideas and the fantastic success of Henry Abbott's TrueHoop Network."
Well I think trying to emulate True Hoop would be a great idea. The first thing you could do is pay writers just like they do.
I was a little dismayed to learn that True Hoop also lacked some key services for their network members but came to the realization that the compensation of a several hundred dollars a month for each blog was enough compensation to make up for any short comings in other areas. If you don't offer design, hosting, and advertising services, well certainly a couple hundred dollars will allow you some budget to address those needs. In some cases its more than enough, but in others its probably less than they could have made on advertising. Regardless it was significant, a great gesture, and something that squashed any qualms I had.
SweetSpot has the same lack of services yet offers no compensation. The quote at the beginning of this blog now becomes more clear. Blogs are LOSING money by partnering with the world's largest and most successful sports media company. Absolutely ridiculous....
Another drastic shortcoming is the lack of a promotion and vision leading the effort. Henry Abbott has long been considered a good citizen of the blogosphere and knows the blog landscape and personalities well enough to move mountains at ESPN to get the True Hoop Network off the ground. He was also wise in tapping Kevin Arnovitz as an editor to work with the network to build awareness and promotion.
With True Hoop you have basically two experts in basketball new media who have gone to great lengths to promote these sites, get them paid, and build awareness through Twitter like the account above.
On the flip side, Rob doesn't have a right hand man like Kevin and his roots are in old media. You can just rip through the archives and Twitter feeds comparing the amount of promotion each network gets and you'll see a massive discrepancy in how much affiliate sites are getting promoted between both networks.
You're On Your Own When It Comes to Everything That Doesn't Involve Our Logo on Your Site
Bloguin is among a group of a dozen blog networks that offer a combination of services to blogs. There is a lot of ways you can go in terms finding a partner to meet you needs. But other than the brand affiliation with ESPN, you're not going to get any additional services. Worse is that you won't be able to partner with networks that can offer you services that ESPN doesn't provide as they are hell bent on exclusivity.
This is really a shame as ESPN is about 1/2 a decade late to the blog game and a lot of companies have already staked their claim to the sports blogosphere. Bloguin in addition to many other networks have effectively roped off their sites from future infringements with more aggressive agreements with their networks or outright ownership of the site and content. If ESPN continues to launch blog networks with the strategy of not working with the existing pecking order of the blogosphere, they're going to find themselves locked out of a lot of great content providers. You can even make the case that True Hoop and SweetSpot have already had to deal with the recruiting reality that many of the best sites are already locked up.
Sites who have made the transition to SweetSpot also have had to pay out of pocket for a variety of services while also having revenue from their site disappear or decrease dramatically.
That's really a shame as I know having worked with hundreds of bloggers over the years where the revenue that goes into blogs is often invested in a lot of cool blog relevant things such as season tickets, cable/satellite packages, road trips, merchandise, etc. Worse yet some bloggers pay actual bills with their revenue or put it aside for charity or good causes like their children's college account. That last sentence comes unbelievably sappy, but its the truth. Bloggers can make money and that money is often a significant part of their livelihood.
The ESPN logo/affiliation comes with a pricetag for any site with over 10,000 hits a month.
Sour grapes? Maybe. I mean these sites did enter into an agreement with ESPN voluntarily, but at the same token the same can be said about door to door salesman who were duped by Kirby or Cutco.
I think you can chop a lot of my gripes to the fact that ESPN is green to a lot of the blogosphere and that maybe Rob bit off more than he can chew. Still though its a little disconcerting that SweetSpot members are entering into an arrangement drastically inferior to the benefits of the network they're allegedly looking to emulate.
I've discussed the merits of the SweetSpot Network with many other leaders in the Sports 2.0 space and their bewilderment of the value of the network has only reinforced my thoughts that this was a raw deal for bloggers. I hope this message doesn't again go on deaf ears and that bloggers begin to vocalize some of the shortcomings pointed out in this blog to instill some change going forward.
ESPN has the resources to do much better than this and will hopefully take their foray into sports blogging a bit more seriously. A larger argument can be made that ESPN just doesn't know how to interact with the growing sports blogosphere with a track record of not crediting them, plagiarizing full articles, ignoring them in blog specific features, and creating PR nightmares for their own.
For now lets hope they realize that a lot of hard work and commitment go into building a successful blog. Partnering with ESPN is indeed a great distinction but it should not have to be a sacrifice at the same time.
If you're reading this on Tuesday March 30th and have not been over to ESPN.com yet, you can probably still go over there now and see a really best in class ad campaign Lexus is running on ESPN to promote their hybrids.
Its funny because only 2 weeks ago I tabbed Lexus as my commercial of the week with their milestone ad. You can click the link to see the commercial, but it basically is a series of milestones that have occurred since Lexus started making hybrids 6 years ago.
Now they've moved the campaign online and are further emphasizing their legacy in the luxury hybrid space. Below is an online advertising play by play of the experience/campaign with a summary of why its awesome at the end. Click read more to continue.
Is a blog a news source? Are blogs part of the media?
These could be questions for a panel at a conference for pundits to debate back and forth. My take has always been that it really depends on the blog and what the criteria is for the organization that makes these type of determinations.
Given how influential blogs have become over the past couple of years, I think in a lot of cases blogs are not only news but the best source for news for particular niches. You could certainly say that TechCrunch, The Huffington Post, Gizmodo, and other blogs are considered the thought leaders in their space and definitely qualify as leaders in covering breaking news.
But what about sports and in particular Google's role in approving sites to be aggregated onto Google News?
There are a handful of sports blog networks that have been able to procure that blanket accreditation for their networks. There is even in fact, BleacherReport.com, a quality site that allows any contributor to sign up for an account and potentially be syndicated onto Google News and other larger more focused websites. Although Bleacher Report has some filtering mechanisms in place in regards to what content gets promoted, unfortunately there have been several incidents this past year where stories that fell through the cracks were either completely untrue, plagarized, or incorrectly attributed to a major reporter as a prank.
I have some friends who work at Bleacher Report, know the founders, and am in no way saying I don't like what they do, but just rather that the amount of content produced there by a wide array of contributors does lead to some quality issues. Not a big deal, but Google has rubber stamped content from Bleacher Report as news across the board. In some cases its well warranted. Other times its not.
In fact I was meeting with someone who told me his content is not syndicated onto Google News but sometimes he double posts content onto Bleacher Report. 2 weeks ago, after 48 hours of his content not being picked up anywhere he syndicated the article in full and less than 30 minutes later it was the lead news result for Texas Longhorns. Despite the fact his content is always of high quality and featured on many websites through various syndication agreements, Google News won't bless his wildly popular site with their seal of approval.
Unfortunately at this point in time Bloguin doesn't have a blanket approval. A lot of our sites are listed on Google News and we're helping more sites get that approval, but it seems like a random roll of the dice if you get approved or not. The feedback we get is not clear, we never have dialogue with a contact but rather boiler plate responses from a generic email address, and the application process has no consistency in terms of criteria and end result. My guess its that Google has what amounts to a = boiler room of people rifling through hundreds of applications a day and that they're numb to content and under the gun to made decisions on applications in a short period of time.
That is why I found this very troubling.....
The back story here is that I wanted to see if there were any trade rumors about Marion Barber. My thinking was that the Cowboys have depth at running back, he makes a lot of money, and there are a lot of high profile players being moved right now. It was a hunch I wanted to investigate so I did a Google News Search.
And what did I find? The second overall topic that you see titled "Dallas Cowboys Marion Barber T..." on the screenshot above leads to this page. Below is a screenshot of this riveting news about Marion Barber.
Yes. That's right. A jersey for sale has been deemed news by Google. In other breaking news I am selling my Frank Thomas rookie card, Eddy George bobblehead, Rick Mirer jersey, and 1/3 of a bottle of Michael Jordan cologne. Its sad all of these items are actually in my possession.
Having an ecommerce website that also dabbles in content should certainly not be considered a news source for every piece of content they publish. I think the same can be said about a lot of sports blogs, Bleacher Report, and other sites listed on Google News.
If a site posted an article titled "Hoping to see Lebron James score 50 tonight" and the article basically said I'll be gone at the game so I am not posting tonight and maybe tomorrow, that story is not news at all regardless of where it came from.
I understand that Google News can't get it right 100% of the time, but what they can do is have a more transparent process and more dilligent in the sites they sign off as being a news source.
Earlier this year we had a pair of blogs get rejected, both of which are so respected in their subject matter that teams went out of their way to offer them credentials to games. How a pro team can determine a site is a trusted news source, yet Google can reject you and instead put jerseys up for sale in their place, is absolutely ludicrous. In one of these cases, the writer had been employed by the print industry for the last 15 years and only made the move to digital because his newspaper folded.
I am trying to reengage Google and hope to get more of an explanation on this front. Until then I implore them to follow their motto and "Do No Evil". Relegating someone who works their butt off writing, interviewing, and attending press conferences off of Google News, while a website pimping a jersey gets promoted may not evil, but it certainly isn't right.
Google is a gate keeper to the masses and should take its role a little more seriously if it wants to stay the sweetheart of the social media world.
Yesterday I blogged that most of the acquisitions in the Sports 2.0 world were smaller niche plays and none of the larger sports startups like a Yardbarker, Bleacher Report, SB Nation, or Citizen Sports.
Well that changed today and you can cross Citizen Sports off the list as Yahoo plunked down a rumored 40+ million bucks to acquire Citizen Sports.
Yahoo has just confirmed that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Citizen Sports.
Citizen Sports has a range of products related to fantasy and real-life sports, most of which incorporate social features. Along with web based leagues and applications on Facebook, the company also offers applications for the iPhone and Android. These applications will nicely complement Yahoo Sports, which offers a number of hugely popular fantasy sports leagues.
Citizen Sports raised $10 million from Radar Ventures in 2005, when it was previously called Protrade.
Frankly speaking I am pretty confident that they have raised more than $10 million dollars so this isn't a home-run exit for the guys there but probably one they are very excited about and one their investors supported.
Speaking of employees and investors, Citizen has a pretty good story there. Starting first on the investor side they raised money from investors like:
"Other investors included Kleiner Perkins partner Will Hearst, said the Citizen Sports Web site, “as well as major sports figures, including former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champ Troy Aikman; Arizona Diamondbacks General Partner Jeff Moorad; legendary NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh; and Northgate Capital Venture founder Brent Jones, the former all-pro San Francisco 49ers tight end.”
Employee wise, one of their original founders is Jeff Ma which the book Bringing Down The House and the movie 21 was based off of. If you're unfamiliar with the story, he was part of the MIT black jack team which used card counting and team communication to beat tons of casinos for large sums of money. Jeff is Asian but Hollywood whitewashed him for some reason. Jeff actually does a cameo in the movie.
You could probably say writing a best selling book and selling your first startup to Yahoo for 40+ million is a nice way to start a career out of college.
Jeff co founded the company with Mike Kerns who recently made SBJ's 40 under 40. Mike seems to be in about every article in SBJ actually. I think he has a streak going of 5 straight issues and this is probably going to keep the streak going.
What's really interesting to me is if you rewind 2 years ago, Citizen Sports was actually far away from a significant exit and in the process of redefining itself.
Initially founded as Pro Trade, a stock market to trade artificial stock in athletes (real money.... I still don't conceptually get this), Citizen had not found a sustainable business model and their user base in the athlete stock market game was very modest although very active.
Somewhere in 2008 they put the brakes on Pro Trade, rebranded, and started over again this time focusing on Facebook and mobile. Along the way they found sales partnerships with MLB and Sports Illustrated while building out a fleet of products in emerging areas.
Actually feeling the pressure to nimbly transition to emerging areas that were getting competitive, Citizen went on an acquisition spree instead of ramping up engineering to enter a quickly growing space.
The age old question of build vs. buy and Citizen bet the farm on buy and hoped that there new talent could deliver a fleet of products that would get wide-scale adoption. Looking back it was a smart move as the acquisitions were likely low cost and most probably mostly equity. The time it would take to ramp up hiring, define new products, and go to market would have taken at least 3-6 months at very least and maybe even a full year. Keep in mind that these 3 small development shops would have also been competitive with Citizen had they not bought them out and brought their talent in-house.
Without these acquisitions the viability of Citizen Sports today might even be in question. The fact that these acquisitions took place in the first 60 days of the economic collapse is also telling. Perhaps their investors wanted a nimble change in direction or Citizen just saw opportunity to bring developers in house who didn't have the stomach to go out and raise money/take the plunge to full time work on these projects with the headwinds of the economic collapse.
On Facebook they built some of the first team specific Facebook communities in addition to developing social games on Facebook around March Madness and fantasy football. The fan communities were a little lacking in features and engagement, but installs weren't a problem as FB users were fine bolting on a FB app that identified their team allegiances. The team communities also gave them a great install base to push their bracket challenges and fantasy sports applications which seemed to attract more casual sports fans who might not otherwise sign up at Espn.com or Yahoo.
Suddenly Citizen Sports had users.... millions of them and sponsorable products to boot.
The real genius came with their mobile strategy as Sportacular blossomed into the best sports news app on the Iphone and brought in another huge wave of users. Unlike some of the Facebook products, Sportacular was addictive and met a glaring need in the mobile space as fans were tired of using clunky mobile unfriendly websites to follow their favorite team.
Sportacular most likely yielded 100K-250K in ad revenue a month although this is just a rough stab. A pay version of the product that eliminated the ads and had some additional features also helped pump some revenue into the company while the Facebook fantasy games and bracket apps turned the corner to become solid revenue yielding products.
Despite all of this there hadn't really been much buzz out there the past 9 months or so about Citizen so it wasn't clear on the outside looking in just how well the company was doing. The new direction was working but it wasn't evident just how effective it was and what the comapny's revenue looked like.
The Yahoo acquisition, especially the rumored price of 40-50 million, validates that indeed there was enough adoption, momentum, monetization going behind the scenes that warranted an acquisition from a larger media company.
For Yahoo this makes sense although it seems a bit rich to me and that's been the feedback that I've heard/seen. Yahoo has somewhat been engaging with ESPN in a digital holy war for a couple of years has actually moved well past ESPN in total audience and continued to make inroads with their blogs, Rivals network, and fantasy products.
What they didn't have was a mobile strategy or major FB presence. Bringing in Citizen Sports fills those expertise gaps. I guess the question now is how will the Citizen products change? Will Yahoo content now be pushed to users of the team communities and fantasy games as well on Sportacular? Most likely as Yahoo will look to gain users to their sports content by hooking into Citizen's built in user base.
Also what will become of Citizens fantasy games? Will they stay FB only or will Yahoo merge them with their fantasy games so you can play through Facebook as well as through Yahoo Sports. I'll have to sleep on it as what I would do.
Another caveat of this deal is that Citizen worked with MLB and SI through sales partnerships and now those relationships may be discontinued or simply run through Yahoo now. Considering Yahoo is very online advertising focused you may see them move away from these partners who will no longer have a mobile/Facebook offering.
I think the last thing to consider here is that Yahoo just shelled out a lot of money for a mainly technology/web services offering. While its not a content acquisition like a Bloguin, SB Nation, Bleacher Report, or Yardbarker, its hard to imagine them shelling out major bucks to do another sports acquisition anytime soon.
I could be wrong, but I don't know if Carol Bartz wants to attach herself to multiple sports acquisitions with these type of hefty price tags. Yahoo still isn't too far removed from the Rivals acquisition either. More than likely they'll stay put for 2010 and probably 2011 which potentially takes a possible buyer out of the equation for other sports 2.0 startups.
At a macro level this is exciting news as Citizen Sports crosses the finish line first for Sports 2.0 startups. The fact its a noteworthy buyer and its Bay Area company that will stay in the Bay Area is also cool. I also like the fact that Citizen wasn't a company that had a great concept and just guided its way to a great acquisition. The company had a different name, a totally different strategy, and didn't get anywhere meaningful for years. In just under 2 years they shifted course, put down the foot on accelerator, made some savvy acquisitions, developed innovative products, and now find themselves with a great exit and now absorbed by the largest digital sports company in the world.
Congrats to them...
Disclaimer- I consulted at Watercooler Sports for a good chunk of 2009, a company that competed with Citizen Sports on some levels. Its kind of relevent, but mainly disclaimers make you sound ethical and point to the fact that you've done things in your life.
Disclaimer- 21 was an okay movie. I think Hollywood twisted the story a bit too much.
On the heels of The Basketball Jones entering into a pretty significant/bellweather agreement with The Score, Philly sports blog The 700 Level has now been acquired by Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia.
Below is Enrico's explanation.
"Today, I'm excited to announce that The700Level.com has entered a new stage in its history. We have officially partnered with Comcast SportsNet and CSNPhilly.com. The700Level.com will retain editorial independence, while tapping into the unique access, technology, and resources of Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia.
Over the past five years, through two business consulting jobs and a two-year stint in grad school, I've spent the majority of my free time trying to make this site as fun, entertaining, and interesting as possible. Now, it will be my full time job to do so. Perhaps the best part of it all, we get to keep the band together. While I'll be working on the Level full time, Matt, Andrew, and Kulp will continue contributing their same fantastic takes on Philly sports that you've come to expect out of them.
You may be thinking, Why now? Will the site change at all? All fair questions. Through hard work and solid writing, blogs have fought their way into the mainstream media conversation. The700Level.com has enjoyed somewhat of a first-mover advantage in the Philly sports blog space. We've been doing it a long time and I like to think we do it pretty well. But there were maybe two or three other Philly sports blogs in existence when I started. Now there are hundreds. This move allows us to not only differentiate, but to also put my undivided attention and effort into making this site a must visit destination for Philly sports fans."
This is really interesting to many on many different levels. Let's go over some of the many different story-lines that are relevant here.
Established Bloggers in Content Niches are Getting Rewarded
You know how we date time with BC (before Christ). In the blogosphere maybe BT, Before Twitter, should become a demarcation of when blogs were established.
Bloggers who really dug in deep early on such as JE Skeets, Tas Melas, Eamonn Brennan, and now Enrico are getting rewarded with full time positions. In almost all of these cases, the blogger in question has a specific content area (NBA, college basketball, Philly sports), and a built in readership that was attractive to larger media companies.
This is really encouraging as a lot of these guys were working a lot of various writing gigs and other odd jobs and now have settled into a full time job covering their passion. Extremely happy for Enrico who I met a year and a half back and have been in touch with ever since. He's a great guy.
Going forward you have to wonder if some of there more established names in the blogosphere are going to find themselves in competitive situations for full time employment. Up until now places like Fanhouse, Deadspin, Yahoo, and SB Nation have been more dependent on part time contributions, but as media giants like Comcast and ESPN get more involved, that could change.
Mainstream Media Continues Absorption of Key Digital Properties
ESPN bought True Hoop, Fox bought College Football News, PFT was bought out (or partnered with) NBC, AOL has acquired MMA sites, and now you have Comcast buying The 700 Level. What's interesting here is that almost all of these sites were not massive sites or start-ups so to speak, but rather small shops run by a tight nit group of writers. In the cases of True Hoop and PFT, those initiatives have since been expanded with affiliate sites based off the concept site and hub.
While there is a hell of a lot of interesting things going on in sports 2.0, there has been very little M&A activity with the larger sports 2.0 startups like Yardbarker, Bleacher Report, Citizen Sports, and SB Nation. Instead we're seeing a lot of smaller deals for very niche content sites that most likely have much more modest price-tags.
I am sure Enrico can't comment, but its extremely interesting that Comcast bought out the 700 Level. What puts a smile on my face is that Enrico isn't your average sports blogger, but rather a recent MBA grad who held his own and then some in negotiations. The fact they kept editorial independence, he's full time, and the other writers are probably earning at a better level are all big wins for him. With all of that it's anyone's guess how much the site actually sold for. I think given the length of the negotiations this was the major sticking point as Enrico stuck it to the man to a certain degree as he negotiated the sale of his baby including the archives, the url, the brand, etc to Comcast. 6 figures? More? Its hard to know..... but he seems pretty upbeat about it.
Comcast Continues Lusting For Sports
Lets recap their moves into the sports world for a second:
- Rebrands OLN to Versus and acquires rights for NHL, college football, MMA, UFL, and rumblings of other deals in the works
- Buy out numerous regional sports providers or launch new ones.(replacing Fox affiliates in many cases)
- Add programming like Sports Soup and Fanarchy to Versus to try to tap into more viral sports coverage
- Buy NBC Universal with multiple contracts in place spanning Olympics, NBA, NHL, PGA, college football, NFL, and a lot more.
- Lead investor in latest round of SB Nation
That's a pretty impressive track record of movement gravitating towards sports and potentially a clash with ESPN. Now as ESPN looks to get more involved at the local level with their city microsites, it seems Comcast is trotting out an experimental strategy with the 700 Level which gets to my next point.
Localization of Sports
Think about it for a second..... Rather than building a new site and paying a dozen or so tech people, writers, and spending on marketing for a new site like a hypothetical ESPN Detroit, what if you took the Comcast approach and bought a site like Detroit4lyfe or for DC a site like DC Pro Sports Report?
A built in audience who knows how to scrap for traffics versus a 7 figure investment on a new site. Hard to guess what will be a better investment over time. Also keep in mind that other regional sports providers like SNY, NESN, and others are getting involved in the localization of sports as well.
This bodes well for companies like Bloguin and SB Nation as companies begin to realize the importance of local sports coverage to augment national coverage. Having such hyper local coverage also allows you to chase local ad dollar as well, although that's been a very tough nut to crack.
Still though if you think about the advertisers during a ball game or on local sports radio, there is a lot of local and region specific advertising dollars out there that could find itself transitioning to online and its pretty clear that local newspaper and radio sites are not in a good position to harvest that money. If local ad money begins to trickle towards sports blog, you can certainly expect a lot more consolidation in local media similar to The 700 level.
If you can't beat them....buy them
Title says it all. MSM has fallen way short of integrating the culture of blogs into their content ecosystem. Its a culture clash as media execs are still green to this genre of content and social media in general. Its not wise to try to build something from scratch that you have limited expertise in. In many cases, I think buying makes much more sense.
Regional hubs- A chink in SB Nation's armor?
In interviews I have given and on this blog I have said nothing but glowing things about SB Nation and I don't think anyone there can say anything to the contrary. One thing that does stick out is that SB Nation has gone out of its way to not have any sites like The 700 level in their stable of blogs. I know for a fact they haven't been keen on the concept in the past and opted instead to focus mainly on team specific sites.
No harm there but as we see more ESPN, cable providers, and blogs like The 700 Level thrive as regional hub you have to wonder if they made an error in avoiding them. Maybe its already a crowded space to begin with or maybe they'll launch hubs in the future as well. Still its not often you have to second guess something they have done over the years.
I know a lot of people who are big Twitter haters. Its not every-one's cup of tea, but I think we're far enough along to admit this is not going to be a Friendster type flash in the pan. I mean just watching ESPN or CNN is a pretty big indication of how culturally relevant Twitter is.
The merits of Twitter's value can span many subjects that have been covered at length. A social network, a media platform, a promotional tool, and a real time search engine. All are correct areas in which Twitter provides value.
But one area that really doesn't get as much pub, is the accountability it brings to individuals and companies.
In the past if your company or you individually was drawing the ire of others, those conversations were largely private. Someone might write you a mean letter or email, maybe bitch about you Facebook, or maybe a consumer services website like the BBB or Yelp. Some of this negative chatter could make its way onto a blog although some blogs have little or no readership. Essentially unless a larger media outlet picked up the story, you could keep mum on an issue if you decided to do so. Just wait it out, keep it private, and keep it quiet.
Twitter has changed all that because it's mostly open and conversations and feedback is public for anyone to see. This is only further intensified by the fact that people can do searches of all of Twitter on any text, name, company, twitter account, etc. If you buy a faulty product and can't find anything online about how it sucks, searching Twitter may be your best bet to find others complaining and maybe organizing.
Companies and people don't like being bashed. They don't like being bashed publicly with a map on the web on where to meet. Given how easy it is to retweet or find a companies corporate Twitter account, it allows Twitter users to confront and get answers from people and companies that they would have never been able to in the past.
PR disasters like Southwest's dealing with Kevin Smith can often unfold on Twitter. They can also be avoided via Twitter as well though.
One company that I've actually resolved multiple issues with is Quantcast whose corp account is @quantcast.
Quantcast measures Bloguin's audience size and exposes information about our visitors to advertisers. They're great and the best thing is that they're free opposed to some other companies who charge 5 figures for an inferior service. That's a blog for a different day though.
I can't really say anything about Quantcast that's negative because its free and they don't owe me any level of service or product expectations.
Regardless they've been slow to respond to some support cases we've had and I felt like giving them a little nudge on Twitter.
In the 2-3 instances in which I've tweeted at them, a support person has emailed me within 24 hours and solved our issue within a couple of days. We had used their support portal, emailed them, and I think even called them. Still though all those conversations are private. Once we had some negative feedback that we aired publically , they tweeted us back to check our inbox and sure enough they were compelled to crack some skulls so we could get any issues resolved. Ofcourse we were very gracious via email and on Twitter for our issues to be resolved.
But this week really stood out in regards to Quantcast as the site had a mini drama bubbling up that seems to have been avoided for now.
The way Quantcast measures audiences is very complex. Breakdowns of visitors per site, per country, per income bracket, gender, etc, are all some of the many things they deliver to us.....for free.....daily.
But of late the updates on our numbers and demographics have not been as regimented and were often delayed to later in the day or in some cases a day or two. I think the main thing that caused some worry is that there is a default "next update" area that always rounds up 3 hours when there is a delay. That is to say that when numbers usually come out at 9am, if that time was missed then it would be noon. If that time was missed, it would then say 3pm for the next update.
Thus a delayed update has you glued to your computer while the issue that is causing the delay may actually be an issue that could take some time to resolve. Imagine if airlines told you no matter what that your delayed flight would takeoff in 3 hours and you got that update for hours and days at a time!
Unfortunately for Quantcast, they fell victim to a week long lack of dates, an unprecedented issue.
With no real explanation or coverage of the suddenly dormant service, people like myself took to Twitter to investigate. Doing a search of "Quantcast", showed a good amount of people were wondering what was going on. I am not sure it was anger induced, just wanting an explanation as web entrepreneurs like myself really love Quantcast and were just worried.
In fact below is what I tweeted last night after a week of giving them the benefit of the doubt.
There was a lot of similar messages including some from Gawker founder, Nic Denton.
Despite not having any published stories I can find about the problem, the feedback on Twitter was enough to finally get an explanation.
This is what I call pro active PR and Twitter is at the cutting edge of this. Twitter can connect you with your biggest detractors and loudest critics.
You can't rectify everything, but Twitter forces you to hear them and hopefully acknowledge them. Its easy to lose or ignore an email but putting your head in the sand on Twitter is much more difficult.
On the flip side, someone emailed me 2 weeks back and I dropped the ball on sending back a reply. Today I got a tweet calling me out about getting a response. That individual now has a tweet apologizing for the mishap and a reply because I certainly don't want any shortcoming to not be rectified as well.
This also opens up a discussion in to who is the person you want manning your Twitter account as it will begin to play a more significant role in your business strategy.
I am a huge fan of The Pantless Knights, a group of local viral video makers who rock awesomeness with everything they put out.
Their concepts for viral videos, execution, as well as social marketing efforts make them a great source of entertainment and an emerging marketing option for companies looking to make a splash virally like the Mrs. Taken rings with the Puke In My Mouth video.
But the real special sauce of the Knights is there understanding of web culture. It's something that helps the finished product as well as shape the comedic tones and themes they explore in their videos.
Their newest video is a testament to that understanding as they celebrate "The New Dorks", the web entrepeneuer in their 20's/early 30's.
I love the video because its an accurate and funny celebration/satire on the growing community of web 2.0 entrepreneurs like myself. I think the Silicon Valley startup web 2.0 culture is really something unique as well compelling. I could easily see a great movie, HBO or AMC series, or something of that nature being derived about this scene and era.
For now I'll settle for a great music video from the Knights and the occasional video by my other favorite musical act documeting tech culture, The Richter Scales.
Kudos to Grasshopper.com for sponsoring this video. Already in its first day, its approaching 100,000 page views and I am sure getting a lot of mentions in the blogosphere and Twitter. Glad to see the Knights getting more clients and the effectiveness of these viral campaigns helping them attract new customers.
About a year ago I offered Tas Melas and JE Skeets of The Basketball Jones my help in regards to working with advertisers and other possible business partners. They were gracious enough to allow the privilege of being involved and for a couple months I tried my best to connect them with potential advertisers, helped make them an official media kit, and did my best to generally educate them on the world of monetization of online media.
In the end Bloguin started taking up all my time and I was bummed that I couldn't see the project through to the end.
Today though I have a huge smile on my face (not literally because I got a bad cold right now), that those guys have finally have made taken this time consuming hobby to the next level and made it a full time thing for the whole gang.
For those who don't know TBJ, check out the video below
For years these two friends and former classmates would wake up at the crack of dawn and record a podcast about the NBA. But it wasn't just a podcast, it was clearly much more as the two really put attention, research, and at times perfection into every nuance of the show. After a couple years, they moved to video all the while building their audience along the way. The show was comical, the rappaport between the two was perfect, the production quality was high end, but most importantly the commentary was right on and very entertaining.
I met Skeets at Blogwold 2008 and started a full court press to get them to work with Yardbarker. This ended up being one of my most proud additions to the YBN. Still though, Yardbarker wasn't really focused on monetizing video content so when I found myself with some extra time on my hands, I tried my best to help the guys out mainly because I liked the show and thought they should be rewarded for their hard work. A part of me also knew they were somewhat of a barometer for the sports blogosphere.
Revision3 passed on them despite multiple inquiries from myself (cue, "I told you so" and "your loss"). Mainstream advertisers were interested but at the same time usually they like to work with major media companies and not independent outfits like TBJ. Their thinking is "If you have a big audience and are really popular and growing, then why don't you work with a larger company".
Its this type of thinking that makes Yardbarker's partnership with Fox, Yahoo's foray into sports blogging, Bleacher Reports's work with the pro leagues, and SB Nation's partnerships stand out as it is the first couple of steps of corporate buy in to the sports blogosphere.
What's amazing to me is that Skeets and Tas explored countless ways to further TBJ's potential and income with minimal success. Skeets had landed a dream position at Yahoo as the editor of Ball Don't Lie while Tas cobbled together an income through a myriad of sports journalism positions with The Score and Yardbarker among others. Their producer JD, had his hands full elsewhere and they were lucky enough to bring on an intern this season to help shoulder the load.
With years of not having a major break through, the team continued to wake up at the crack of dawn and pound out awesomeness for their large fan base. Yahoo and The Score both experimented and flirted with doing more with TBJ, but both never pulled the trigger on fully adopting the orphan show that was loved by tens of thousands.
That ended today, when The Score stepped up to the plate and announced The Basketball Jones crew will now be over at The Score.
This is very well deserved and as easy as it would be to say those goofballs up north got lucky, the truth is they worked longer on harder to make this happen than most people work on anything in their entire lives. It would have been easy to make the show weekly, a 5 minute show, or just give up entirely when someone passed on the show. Even easier, the duo could have settled into other roles as a nice compromise of doing something cool, but not 100% their dream in TBJ.
But the team preserved and got it done and I am proud and happy for them. Congrats guys! Below is their video talking about the new partnership and speaking about the times they could have given up on the show.
Skeets and Tas elude to improvements and more time to invest in the show. Glad to see Matt and JD coming along as well.
Curious to know if they technically sold The Basketball Jones to the Score or just partnered with The Score. I am guessing the ability to embed their podcasts will likely end, but hell that's a minor drawback to this big deal.
Another curious storyline unfolding is Y! Sports blogs, who I consider the best mainstream media blogging destination, losing another anchor blogger. Skeets' rationale for leaving is probably pretty easy to guess (more passion and loyalty to TBJ) but still this coupled with the fact that Eammon Brennan double dipped over at SB Nation before going to ESPN, potentially casts shadow over at Y! Sports blogs.
Not to say that Y! Sports blogs isn't awesome, but maybe the compensation for the lead writers is possibly not where it should be considering how successful of a venture its been thus far. Maybe I am reading in between the lines too much, but something to keep an eye on as other opportunities present themselves to those guys.
In closing, many congrats to the TBJ crew. Knock em dead over at The Score!
Just wanted to write up a quick blog on WalMart purchasing Vudu for $100 million last week.
I've covered Vudu for awhile and was one of the first people to have the on demand video streaming box. I was really impressed with the business model, value proposition to consumers and studios, as well as the added benefits Vudu added to their product over time.
Initially Vudu launched with no HD, no television shows, no wifi, a modest hard drive, no adult content, and no integration with other web apps.
Fast forward to now where Vudu has HD and Blu Ray quality HD, a small collection of tv shows for download, wifi built in, a larger hard drive, adult content (Walmart has already turned that feature off.....per techcrunch you perv), and Vudu labs a collection of web apps like youtube and pandora.
Although I probably spent a good 4-8 hours watching content on my Vudu a month, one thing the startup didn't have was funding, marketing budget, and an install base that would let their digital rental and buying service break even.
In a good economy, I am sure Vudu would have been able to probably overcome these issues but with limited awareness for the product and retail distribution flat, the company opted to explore acquisition partners.
About a month back Walmart was rumored to be acquiring Vudu for $50 million. The final price tag was double that an indication that Vudu got another bidder to the table many of which believe to be was Cisco. Most likely Vudu was ready to take the $50 million but leaked the story in hopes of bringing another company to the table. In the scheme of things $50 million to Walmart and Cisco really isn't much at all.
So now what? Does this purchase make sense for Walmart?
I am biased since Vudu is probably one of my favorite possessions, but I see this being a good deal for Walmart. Most of the pundits disagree with me but lets put this in context here.
Walmart is one of the largest sellers of electronics in the world. Vudu was no longer pushing their boxes but rather televisions and Blu Ray players with Vudu streaming technology built in. If Vudu didn't have products coming to market from makers like Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Toshiba, then maybe this wouldn't make sense. However, Vudu has these partnerships lined up and a lot of these products will be at Walmart.
Getting a consumer to buy a Vudu box for $100-$200 is one thing. Getting a consumer to buy a television they were already going to buy which has Vudu integrated in it is a lot easier. Walmart can now market their new company as well as train their sales team to push Vudu enabled televisions to those interested over televisions that don't have the technology enabled.
In the end, Vudu ran into problems when they couldn't build awareness for their product and also the fact it was hard to find expensive to buy. With Walmart now behind the company and a new fleet of televisions coming to market, I look for Vudu to make significant inroads with consumers in 2010 and 2011.
I think television makers will also be more enthuiastic to integrate Vudu into their products knowing, Walmart is incentivized to push them in retail which also adds some more momentum behind this deal.
In the end, the metric that will really dictate whether this was a successful acquisition will not be the amount of units shipped, but the amount of households that utilize the Vudu functionality and the amount of movies rented or purchased. Its unclear just how aggressive Walmart will be in pushing Vudu to the next level, but given the hefty price-tag, the positive reaction people have to the product, and America's love affair for movies and convenience, its not hard to imagine this being a smart move that pays off down the line.