Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Intersection Between Branded Content And News Bites ESPN

The quality of human interest journalism which ESPN has produced over the years has caused tough guy sports fans to curl up on their couches weeping like 46-year-old mothers watching "Good Morning America." Specific segments such as a montage of soldiers coming back home to their families during sporting events and the story of two bonding wrestlers have been praised for their heartwarming themes which help viewers appreciate life.

As David Lloyd introduced an inspirational story featuring top football prospect Teddy Bridgewater during an afternoon edition of "SportsCenter," I prepared myself emotionally for what could possibly be another tearjerker. The introduction set up the story to have all the inner workings of a classic Chris Connelly "My Wish" piece except there was one big difference. This piece was produced by Spike Lee and Cadillac, not an ESPN news team.

"Spike Lee (and his company Spike DDB) has been a partner with us; of course his storytelling is completely unique. We were in a position to put the pieces together, and were pleased to do so," said David Caldwell, a spokesman for Cadillac. 

During the segment which turned out to be a mini-documentary, a graphic which read "Cadillac" to symbolize a courtesy was displayed on the top left corner of the screen. But other than that, no mention was made to viewers that they had technically just watched what is widely known as branded content, the "fusion" between entertainment and advertising. 


Whether "SportsCenter" should be airing branded content or not is another story for another day but I was surprised that there was no mention during the introduction or after the story concluded of the kind of role Cadillac played in the video besides the graphic which was shown. 

This isn't the first time "SportsCenter" has indulged in this practice but it usually makes it's intentions explicit. For example, to promote the release of NBA 2K, 2K Sports interviewed Michael Jordan and sent the exclusive video to ESPN before it was released on 2K Sports' YouTube page. Jay Crawford, a "SportsCenter" anchor, made it clear that the interview was part of promotion for the videogame

It is unclear whether this instance of branded content was added to the show after ESPN noticed how trendy the story became online or if it was an intentionally planned segment which ESPN would help become a trend. Some clues would lead to the ladder assumption.

  • Whenever ESPN pulls video from another source unaffiliated with their empire, a tweet is sent out through the @ESPNAssignDesk account asking for permission to use the content during its telecasts. There are no tweets from the day before the story was released or the day of (May 6th) from @ESPNAssignDesk asking Cadillac for permission to use this video. In the past, other companies such as Gatorade have been asked by ESPN through this account for permission to use their branded content on air.

When asked for comment, both PR teams from ABC News and ESPN had no recollection of the segment. 

If Cadillac purposely partnered with Disney's television outlets, they chose the right group to release this story to the masses because of "GMA" and Roberts' connection to overcoming cancer as well as "SportsCenter"'s place as the number one sports news show on television. The combination of "GMA" and "SportsCenter" exposure helped solidify this video to over 400,000 views on YouTube.

Despite my theory though, Cadillac says that they had no control over the selection of where their branded content aired other than their YouTube page.

"If we could do such things, we’d be on those outlets all the time, right?  We commissioned the video, and got involved on the car side of things. That’s about it," Caldwell said. "Airing on media outlets in full or in part is not something we compel, select, or control at all. At best we can make things available."

Separately, Cadillac has a deal with a college sports news website known as Campus Insiders to sponsor their shows and produce stories involving the intersection between college sports and their products. Through this deal, Campus Insiders was able to post the mini-documentary on their website which raised awareness about the story even further. In their posting, Campus Insiders says that the video is presented by Cadillac through the title but you have to look deeper in the site to find out the full extent of Cadillac's role in the video.

The Miami Herald recently confirmed that this mini-documentary was essentially a commercial for Cadillac (and not a news story as it was presented to look like on SportsCenter) after interviewing Spike Lee:

Lee, whose advertising agency Spike DDB "is the African American agency of record for Cadillac," was approached by Cadillac to tell Bridgewater's story. He said he came to Miami two weeks ago to begin filming Bridgewater and his family.
"It was a natural fit when they heard the story of Teddy promising his mother a Cadillac when he was 9 and at the time not even knowing the significance of the color pink," Lee said. "Everything clicked and it came together very quickly, even though we didn't go home until 4 a.m. [Tuesday] because we had to edit, mix and color correct.

If you were a viewer watching at home, the likelihood that these ethical aspects mattered to you is slim to none. Spike Lee did a tremendous job capturing the essence of Bridgewater's wish for his mother in the 3rd grade. But did ESPN and Campus Insiders make enough of an effort to make sure viewers were able to distinguish this branded content from a straight news story? Should there have been a verbal disclaimer even though this story was extremely softcore? 

It's very likely that no money was exchanged between Disney and Cadillac to air this story during "SportsCenter" and "GMA," but if any agreement was made to air this mini-doc as just another news story during either broadcast, I believe the viewers deserve to be made aware of what they're watching in order to uphold journalistic ethics. 

Even if there was no agreement and ESPN just chose to air the piece because they wanted to, a subtle but simple verbal notification shows that you have an esteemed value for your consumer and that you don't want to misconstrue any images which you're portraying to them. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Will Smith Intensifies New Year's Eve Television Battle

Will Smith developing New Year’s Eve TV special
Getty Images
An intriguing story has surfaced on Page Six involving The Fresh Prince of Belair:
Move over, Ryan Seacrest — sources tell Page Six Will Smith and his company Overbrook Entertainment are developing a New Year’s Eve television special similar to Dick Clark Productions’ “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.”One insider said, “As of now, it’s being shopped to the networks. It would feature musical performances, possibly one by Will.”Sources say Smith’s people want to film it in Miami and include his friend David Beckham: “They want to do something with Beckham and his focus on his Miami soccer team.”It’s unclear whether Will’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith, son Jaden or daughter Willow could participate. Smith’s rep didn’t get back to us.
This news comes after Pitbull recently announced that he'll be executive producing and hosting his own New Year's Eve show on Fox. Coincidentally, Mr. 305 will also hold his festivities in Miami. If Smith eventually finds a home for his New Year's Eve celebrations, this will be one of the biggest television showdowns of 2014.

Pitbull currently has a couple chart-topping hits featuring big artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Ke$ha and Christina Aguilera; all of whom he'll probably convince to perform on his show since they've performed at NYE shows in the past. He also brings in a young Latino demographic who're very supportive of him and serve as a desired audience for advertisers.

The impending deal between Endemol (producer), Shine Group and Core Media Group could also help Pitbull's show in booking each of those companies' internet stars as well as "American Idol" and "SYTYCD" alums on Core's music label (the Fox connection would also help too for obvious reasons).

Will Smith, on the other hand, is one of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood.  He has proven over and over again that he's a worldwide sensation through the millions of  views his various stunts garner on YouTube.

A variety show at the end of the year featuring himself, his family and some of his fellow Hollywood bourgeois would be a major hit on television and a major trending topic online. His movie "Annie" is also being released two weeks before NYE and a potential special could give the box office numbers a little extra push in the latter weeks of it's release.

Details are still murky about Will Smith's special and we're not sure if Smith himself will be a host/performer or just a producer but the possibility that Smith performs during NYE puts Ryan Seacrest's throne as New Year's king at stake. It was already difficult for Seacrest to book live acts when there are more lucrative opportunities for artists at private clubs and the added television competition doesn't help at all.

Overbrook Entertainment has recently worked with CBS in distributing "The Queen Latifah Show," which makes them an early candidate for Smith's NYE show. Although, CBS has never felt the need to air NYE shows in the last couple of years and there's no reason to believe (yet) that Smith would be a good enough reason to change that tradition.

The networks of Viacom (MTV, BET) also seem like a perfect fit because MTV constantly changes the theme of their NYE specials each year and BET's special is taped. Smith's show would provide MTV with stability and BET with notoriety. The network which this show airs on will be a key determinant to how much of a threat it is.

Smith and Pitbull's venture into New Year's Eve is unconvential but also a little weird when you consider that Seacrest's show only averaged 12.1 million viewers (Carson Daly: 5.7 million). Even before you include cable TV ratings for their respective NYE shows, the pie of viewers is already too small to make a major impact because December 31st is a night which many Americans celebrate away from their television sets. The competition on various networks doesn't leave any room for these shows to breakthrough in a crucial way.

Music artists will now have more choices than ever on New Year's. Perform on the traditional show (Seacrest), the NYC alternative to tradition (Daly), the Miami alternative with one of the biggest artists in the industry (Pitbull), another Miami alternative with a legend (Smith) or at a private club where you're guaranteed to make a lot of money.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What Does AT&T/DirecTV Mean For Sports Television?

Reports and rumors have been churning for weeks but today AT&T made it official. The company is acquiring DirecTV for $48.5 billion.

Analysts say there are two main reasons for the deal: leverage and extra cash. AT&T will now have leverage when it comes to negotiating deals with content creators because the company will now hold the power to distribute content to 20 million DirecTV subscribers nationwide + their wireless customers + UVerse subscribers. AT&T will also have more flexibility with how much cash it can use. Currently, 70 percent of it's cash flow goes towards dividend payments. By adding DirecTV, it now has access to $4 billion of extra cash it can use for whatever it wants.

How will this deal affect DirecTV's sports offerings? Based on the press release sent out announcing this deal, the future looks bright for sports on DirecTV.

Adding Sports Channels

The satellite operator recently spoke out against adding sports channels to it's lineup. It is currently tangled up in carriage disagreements with the Dodgers, CSN Houston, SEC Network and Pac-12 Network.

But according to AT&T's announcement, the company classifies DirecTV's live sports programming as "premier content." Could this statement signal that DirecTV under new ownership will be more cordial with sports content producers?

In the old days before carriage fees jumped to exorbitant prices, DirecTV's advantage over other carriers was it's vast array of sports programming. AT&T seems interested in bringing back that old strategy to differentiate itself from other telcos like Comcast.

Online Sports Rights and NFL Sunday Ticket

AT&T also spotlighted it's new $500 million joint venture with The Chernin Group which will aim to buy and develop companies in online video. Could AT&T begin to pursue online sports rights more aggressively to supplement any future online video companies it acquires?

The answer to this question may come during NFL Sunday Ticket negotiations. DirecTV is said to be close to a deal with the NFL but mysteriously nothing has been announced. AT&T touted the package, which expires after next year's Super Bowl, in it's press release which could hint that a deal is imminent between both sides (it wouldn't make sense to showcase the deal otherwise).

It'll be interesting to see whether the NFL agrees to let AT&T include NFL Sunday Ticket on it's mobile devices (Verizon is the NFL's current mobile devices partner) and/or on an over the top online video option which they sell separately from the other services this combined company will offer.

The Audience Network

The Dan Patrick Show and DirecTV's annual Beach Bowl during Super Bowl weekend have served as two quintessential sports broadcasts which the California-based MVPD is well-known for amongst sports fans. It is unknown how these two broadcasts will be affected by this deal but AT&T's commitment to sports seems to indicate that these shows and the network won't be touched.

DirecTV will remain independent of AT&T which presumably means that they will continue to operate as usual and increase their original content on The Audience Network. Rumors have recently surfaced that Rich Eisen could sign with the network and launch his own Dan Patrick-like empire. The network also has it's own drama which has just been renewed for a second season.

The most interesting development which could arise from this merger in my world: Will AT&T Stadium become The Dan Patrick Show's Dallas mancave? Hopefully, The DP Show's I-Team can conduct an immediate investigation on this matter.

UPDATE: How important is sports to this new deal? If AT&T fails to renew DirecTV's deal with NFL Sunday Ticket package then the whole merger is off, according to Bloomberg.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

WorldStarHipHop Enters Partnership With Adult Swim

Adult Swim, World Star Hip Hop Team Up for Comedy Series (Exclusive)

The well-renowned site known for it's ratchet urban lifestyle videos is about to make it's debut on television. 

WorldStarHipHop has signed a deal with Adult Swim to start a new comedy pilot based on the website which will explore sex, music and much more, according to The Wrap.

The show will be executive produced by Q, the founder of WorldStar, and Devon Shepard, who produces Weeds and House of Lies for Showtime. Here's what Shepard told The Daily Dot about what the show will specifically entail:
“It’s scripted, kind of a mockumentary, a day in the life of your favorite rappers,” he adds. “What would Rick Ross do on his day off? Well, maybe he gets involved in a violent game of Dungeons and Dragons. We’re going to come up with these things that you wouldn’t expect from hip-hop artists, with a little bit of sketch. …It will look and feel almost like you're watching the website on your TV.”
Based on that description, this show will be a blacker version of 30 Rock. Hot 97 currently has it's own mockumentary series which airs on VH1, so it wouldn't be the first time this kind of concept was thought of. The key to success for this show will be to garner as many guest appearances as possible from big hip-hop acts.

Would big hip-hop acts be more willing to appear on a WorldStar mockumentary show or a Hot 97 show?

It depends on which kind of audience the act is trying to reach and what kind of comedy they're willing to take part in. The Hot 97 series is way more mainstream than this new WorldStar series which will most certainly involve more vulgarity and controversy given WorldStar's involvement and the network which is airing the show.

Will the show be able to pick up viewers based on the brand?

I wonder how this will work out. People log on to WorldStar to watch fights, naked women and normal people involved in crazy situations. Does WorldStar have enough brand loyalty and fans who'll support a WorldStar TV show that has nothing to do with what the brand is known for?

What should WorldStar have done?

I like the fact that WorldStar is expanding it's empire into scripted comedy television but their first foray into television should've involved a clip show similar to "Ridiculousness" or "America's Funniest Home Videos".

WorldStar has a vast array of fight videos in it's library. Why not use it to create an unscripted show which features the best clips in the site's history and interviews with the subjects involved? It seems like a more logical fit to me especially because media companies are looking for ways to garner large audiences of young males without spending billions on sports rights. This kind of show would have a built-in audience who would stay loyal to the brand. I'm not sure this scripted comedy show fits those same fans' interests as a clip show would've.

Is Adult Swim a good fit?

Yes. Adult Swim is the only vulgar, mainstream television network I could think of which would fit WorldStar's audience and interests. The old BET which featured booty-shaking and nonsensical rapping would've caved for this kind of programming but the network has transformed into a more family-friendly female oriented enterprise since Viacom has taken them on.

How can WorldStar become more mainstream?

It's already happening. Deals like this will help WorldStar excel as a symbol of hip hop culture to mainstream America. Some other things the site is getting involved in to move away from being solely known for fight videos include:

  • A mature cartoon series
  • Mini-documentaries that are featured on the site
  • A future movie collaboration with Paramount Pictures
  • Music video debuts for some of the biggest artists in hip hop
  • A partnership with Interscope Records
All they need at this point is some millionaire investors who can help move the brand forward and strategically place WorldStar into a different stratosphere than it currently sits. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

VOA Partners With Nigerian Television Station As Kidnapping Dominates Headlines

As the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria continues to captivate the world's attention, one of the biggest international news networks has decided to solidify their partnership with a Nigerian news operation to help enhance it's coverage.

Voice of America, which boasts 164 million weekly viewers worldwide, is launching a new segment every Wednesday on it's "Africa 54" newscast featuring Channels TV Nigeria reporter Cynthia Areh, who'll discuss "hot topics in Nigeria and across the continent".

Areh made her first appearance via telephone this week and disputed the narrative being spread by many proponents of the #BringBackOurGirls movement that the Nigerian government wasn't doing enough to rescue the girls captured by terrorist group Boko Haram.

"The government was doing more acting than talking. It appeared as though it wasn't doing anything from the start when the girls were actually abducted. The government was doing something but not communicating it," Areh told anchor Vincent Makori.

"But now that the protests have gone global it is now making it's progress known to it's citizens, making it's progress known to the world and keeping everybody in check," Areh said.

Channels TV Nigeria and Voice of America were already partners before Wednesday's announcement. Ironically, as a car bomb rocked the capital of Abuja on May 1st, Channels TV was airing a recap of the NBA playoffs with VOA's sports correspondent Sonny Young contributing to coverage via Skype.

Embedded image permalink

Channels TV Nigeria, which was recently awarded as the best station in the country by the Nigeria Media Merit Award Trust, has also featured VOA's news reporters while covering global stories such as the South Sudan crisis. 

This addition should help VOA's coverage of the ongoing situation in Nigeria since the network lacks a bureau in West Africa. Channels TV Nigeria provides VOA with resources on the ground as developments continue to surface, which is important for VOA's coverage given it's reach.

VOA's director David Esnor announced in 2013 that the network was looking to build facilities in Abuja but there is no word on where progress is at the moment.

Recently, calls have been made for VOA to change their mission from being an editorially independent journalistic outlet to becoming a network which supports the United States' foreign policy goals. Legislation has already been agreed to by members of the House of Representatives but it isn't known when this bill would go up for vote.

Voice of America was originally established in 1942 to combat Japanese and Nazi propaganda, according to Foreign Policy magazine. The Ford administration would eventually turn VOA around into it's current state as an unbiased, independent news network funded by the U.S. government which would serve individuals living under "repressive regimes".

Questions arise as to whether VOA would be able to continue to partner with independent networks such as Channels TV if they were to become the United States' alternative to Russia Today or CCTV.

Would an independent news network want to be associated with a United States propagandist network? Would losing partnerships with independent networks hurt VOA's coverage of big international stories?

Alternatively, it also raises the question of whether international viewers living under repressive regimes continue to depend on VOA for unbiased news coverage with the rise of social media platforms and the Internet. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Could Katie Couric Be Headed Back To "Today"?

The New York Post is reporting that Katie Couric is in talks with NBC to co-host "Today" while Savannah Guthrie is on maternity leave. This shouldn't come as a shocker since Couric is going to have a lighter workload after she leaves her ABC syndicated talkshow in June for a position as global news anchor at Yahoo! News.

Last week at a presentation in which Yahoo! pitched their new shows to advertisers, Couric announced that she would be launching two new shows for the online portal. "World 3.0," will feature interviews with Couric and newsmakers while "Now I Get It," will try to explain complicated news stories in short, "shareable" video clips. 

Any potential agreement could help both parties. "Today" would be the perfect platform to preview and promote her Yahoo! shows because they're targeting a similar audience. The show also keeps Couric relevant because it's plausible that she'll go into internet obscurity over the next couple of years if she doesn't do this deal with "Today" or another TV outlet (there has never been a TV news star who successfully jumped over to the internet and as Piers Morgan knows very well, it's hard to lure buzzworthy guests for an interview show on a recurring basis). The show also benefits because there will be ratings buzz if this deal comes to fruition.

Interestingly, the story also mentions that Meredith Vieria is in talks to co-host "Today" while Guthrie is off as well. "Today" is attempting to spark some old chemistry and use nostalgia to bring it's ratings up. Will it work?

Why would "Today" be in talks to bring Couric back?

"Today" is only a couple thousand viewers away from taking it's throne back from "GMA," and execs most likely believe that trying to rekindle an old fire between Lauer and Couric will help the show close that gap.

Should Savannah Guthrie be worried about her seat after she's off of maternity leave if Couric brings ratings up?

No way. "Today" has already learned the hard way that ruthlessly removing anchors from their positions in the wrong way to attract viewers. Guthrie is part of "Today"'s future for the long haul. The real question surrounding any moves on "Today"'s anchor desk: Who replaces Matt Lauer? Josh Elliott? Willie Geist? Carson Daly? Ryan Seacrest (unlikely but who knows)?

Will Couric coming back be enough to push "GMA" out of first place?

Probably not. "Today" has picked up it's chemistry again but they're still second place because Robin Roberts and George Stephanapolous's weird pairing combined with Lara Spencer's quirkiness, Ginger Zee's cuteness, Michael Strahan's manliness and Amy Robach's toughness battling cancer are a more compelling watch. 

"GMA" gives it's viewers inspiration + entertainment scoop and it's very conversational while "Today" is very newsy and informative. Bringing Couric into the fray won't change much if "Today" doesn't sacrifice it's newsy format for more pizzazz. It's the unfortunate reality of morning TV right now.

Also keep in mind that "GMA" tried to use the same tactic, bringing in Couric to co-anchor while Robin Roberts was off. The result? "GMA" still lost to "Today".

If Couric were to come back, would she actually be co-hosting?

My guess is probably not although I obviously have no sources at NBC so I'm not sure. I would have to guess that she would be a contributor in the same way Strahan contributes for "GMA" right now. She would probably have her own segment and appear 2-3 times a week to joust alongside her good old pal, Mr. Lauer.

I'd also guess that her Yahoo! interviews would get a first look during "Today" if this deal were to go through. In the situation that she is placed as a substitute co-host, I would guess it wouldn't be as long term as the NYP says it could be because I don't think NBC wants to send any message to viewers that Guthrie's throne could be taken by Couric.

I also don't think Natalie Morales, Hoda Kotb or Tamron Hall would be amused if Couric were to sub in more times than they did. She fits better as an occasional contributor.

UPDATE: Multiple reports have come out since the NYP story which this analysis is based on and they all say that she will strictly be co-hosting.

If Couric's Yahoo! shows are aired in some capacity during "Today," what does it mean for Yahoo's relationship with ABC News?

Couric signing on to re-join the "Today" family while playing a role at Yahoo as their global news anchor would be very weird considering ABC News' partnership with Yahoo but it wouldn't be the first weird thing that has transpired since Yahoo and ABC News joined forces.
  • Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's CEO, debuted Yahoo's new homepage on "Today" despite it's deal with "GMA"
  • ABC News was recently announced as a partner that will contribute videos to a new rival player from Conde Nast known as "The Scene". ABC News already produces original videos for Yahoo, is that programming also going to air on a rival video player or will "The Scene" use repurposed television segments or will "The Scene" actually get new original programming of it's own which won't be available on Yahoo's site? If it's the latter, how weird would it be for ABC News to be producing new videos for one of Yahoo's rivals?
  • Yahoo is partnered up with NBC Sports and CNBC for complementary sports and business programming. 

Despite all of this, it's highly unlikely that ABC News' partnership with Yahoo is on the rocks because they still mutually benefit from each other (They signed an extension in 2013). "GMA"'s website has never seen more traffic and Yahoo has original video produced by a legitimate content provider with clout. They're also the #1 news site in the world as a combined entity.

Unless ABC News has something else lined up with BuzzFeed or Google or another major online powerhouse, it's unlikely that a potential Couric-"Today" reunion is a sign that ABC News and Yahoo are breaking up. The New York Post also points out that Couric's Yahoo shows are not covered in Yahoo's deal with ABC News.

Could this lead to another future venture for Couric with NBC?

If Couric and Lauer can re-ignite their chemistry, don't be surprised if NBC launches their own version of Kelly and Michael featuring the twosome to air either in syndication or on a cable network like USA or E! (both networks are trying to expand in the types of shows they air).

Couric could be the bait which keeps Lauer in the NBC family if he decides to leave "Today" in 2015 (which everyone believes he will).

Going back to the second question, it wouldn't make sense to force tension between Couric and Guthrie because in the hypothetical situation that Couric were to replace Guthrie, how many years could Couric and Lauer last during that grueling time period?

It's possible Couric has a future with NBC, but it won't be to replace Guthrie. She'll either become a long-term contributor with primetime specials co-produced with Yahoo and/or she'll do something with Lauer on one of NBC's gazillion channels.

Is there a chance none of this ever happens?

Yes. It's a New York Post report. To be honest, I still hold my prediction that Katie Couric will replace Barbara Walters on "The View," but ABC has been doing some unconvential things with it's daytime programming lately (i.e. Michael Strahan) and they could spice things up by adding a male to the panel.

CORRECTION - "Today" is losing to "GMA" by more than "a couple thousand" viewers, the lead is closer to 1 million. I apologize for the error.

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