The big shift: Ads, TV, and the content monetization challenge

By Mark Schaefer

For decades, I’ve been a big fan of the sports channel ESPN. They have a great brand — serious about sports, but not too serious about themselves. Their bold style of storytelling went far beyond the cable TV channel to web, print, apps, satellite radio, social media, and podcasts. They created exceptional content, bought into premium sports events, and seemed to be nurturing their brand as effectively as any company. From a content standpoint, they seemed to be doing everything right in the digital age.

And they just laid-off 100 people.

It just made no sense. ESPN is an iconic standard of multimedia content excellence. If they can’t make money with their content, who can? What went wrong?

The content monetization challenge

When I dug into it, it became clear that the ESPN story provides a great case study about the bigger picture of content, branding, the expense of producing content, the success of Facebook and mobile ads, channel fragmentation, the transition from advertising to subscription models, “cord-cutting” in the television business, and more. It turns out that this is not just an ESPN issue. It’s a content monetization issue.

ESPN’s parent company Disney said that interest in the sports network has never been higher — it’s just that the subscription audience has moved online where the content is free and ads have not caught up.

This ad-industry fall-out may just be the tip of the iceberg. A recent New York Times article points out that TV ad spending is still probably too high and out of touch with the reality of where consumers are spending their time — online and social media.

Exploring the problems with ESPN reveals the rifts in the dynamic world of content and business today. And, it made a fantastic podcast topic! Please join me and Tom Webster as we dissect this case study, the content monetization challenge … and the world’s worst games. Ready? Here we go:

If you can’t access the episode above, click on this link to listen to Episode 103

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Many thanks to our friend Scott Monty for the awesome show intro. Be sure to check out his amazing newsletter The Full Monty and his new podcast available here:

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  • I’m not a sports guy, but many of my friends said they turned from ESPN when politics began infiltrating virtually every show and political activism began overshadowing the actual sports stories. While I’m certain the challenges of monetizing content is critical, it’s also a lesson in branding and delivering on the expectations you’ve set with your audience. Most of my friends that are sports nuts turn to sports to escape… so turning to a station that reminded them of the very thing they wished to escape isn’t a great content strategy.

  • people def have better alternatives to consuming mass media content with 30% commercials, they want to engage with someone they either look up to or respect – like the rise in influence marketer spend mentioned later in the podcast or can get a response from if they post a comment, etc., and be heard. Youtube influencers are so good at this, they call out comments, answer questions in comments, etc., and are often significantly more entertaining then the talking heads we’re used to seeing who have been doing the exact same thing for decades.

  • well said JIm. Influence marketing is real, it is huge, and we are at the beginning

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