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Having a Great Product Isn’t Enough to Survive

“What Toys R Us, Blockbuster Video, and the NY Daily News have experienced is what could face the radio industry if it doesn’t evolve.”

Jason Barrett

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“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Remember that line? It was uttered in the movie “Network” by Howard Beale and went on to become a popular movie drop used on many radio stations in their imaging. It also describes the feeling many in our business have when they see reports surface of another mass layoff by a large media company.

Last week, the New York Daily News lost its heartbeat when it pulled the plug on forty five of its best and brightest people. One section which was especially hit hard was the sports section which had become part of the fabric of New York sports coverage for decades.

When I heard the news, I was irate. Seeing talented individuals lose their jobs due to the incompetence of ownership is frustrating. Frank Isola, John Harper, and Peter Botte, to name a few, showed up every day for decades, excelling at their craft. They were exceptional sports writers who provided superb content, and were one of the few reasons I still read my hometown newspaper. But now due to executive ignorance, and bad business decisions, their efforts and loyalty have been rewarded with a pink slip and a mention in a corporate press release thanking them for their years of service.

After the Daily News gutted their newsroom, many personalities took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the situation. Everyone from Michael Kay to Tony Reali to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo fired shots at Tronc, the parent company of the News, demanding answers for the exodus. Though I share their hostility for the recent turn of events, and will no longer invest one single second reading the Daily News’ content, I can’t help but wonder if this is the new normal for the media business.

Think about it, the New York Daily News, a staple of consistency, has now been torn apart from the inside out. ESPN, a company which seemed safeguarded from any kind of bloodletting, endured mass layoffs twice in the past few years. Rogers Communications and Bell Media, two successful companies in Canada, both eliminated hundreds of jobs in the past few years. Vox Media, BuzzFeed, and Meredith Corp., the company which bought Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Money, also reduced their work forces.

It leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth, but also makes you realize that operating in today’s world is very different. If a company doesn’t stay ahead of the curve, and find ways to reinvent its business model, they soon pay the price for falling behind, regardless of how successful or important they’ve been to their customer’s lives.

As I began writing this piece, I started reflecting on brands that were once important to me but have since decreased in value. Coincidentally, a number of those companies have either gone out of business or been severely altered. In some ways, I and those of you reading this who think like me, share in the blame for their demise. If we don’t continue supporting businesses, they lose money. When they lose money, jobs are lost. If expenses continue to outweigh profitability, larger decisions about a company’s future are explored.

I grew up on Toys R Us. It was my favorite store in the world as a kid. After I became an adult, the store had less value. That connection was restored when I became a father, but even then, the amount of business I did with the store compared to what I and my father did when I was a kid was drastically less.

When I was younger, the option to order merchandise on my phone and have it arrive at my door the next day didn’t exist. Had it been a possibility, I might never have discovered the charm of going into a Toys R Us. I was disappointed when I heard the store was shutting its doors in late June, but I then recalled how many times I had ordered toys for my son online, and quickly understood why.

In my teenage and early adult years, I practically lived at Blockbuster Video. I loved going into that store, buying a bucket of popcorn, and finding the latest movie rentals. It was a great family experience. But once television began offering On-Demand video, and groups like Netflix launched with superior offerings, those trips to Blockbuster stopped. The video rental chain was even given a chance to survive when Netflix offered to sell to them for $50 million dollars, but they botched that too. Netflix is now worth nearly $150 billion dollars.

Throughout my life, music has been a big part of my enjoyment. I’ve consistently supported artists by purchasing hundreds of singles and albums, and because I did, stores like FYE, Tower Records, Sam Goody, and Strawberries earned a lot from my paychecks. Once Napster launched and made file sharing possible, many started buying less records. Then as Apple, Spotify and Amazon made larger investments in offering music, the need to go buy a CD became minimal.

If you drive to most towns in America today, most of these stores barely exist. WalMart, Target, and a handful of others still sell music, but the selections are thin. The majority of music purchasing now takes place online, and although I still like to buy a CD at the store every now and then, I do it far less than I used to.

Having things appear on our phones, television screens, and doorsteps, has changed the consumer experience for the better. We still have interest in many of the same products, but our needs are different. We want things quickly, conveniently, and affordably. The idea of driving to stores, standing in lines, and paying higher prices is a thing of the past. It may sadden us to see some places exit the retail world that were once important to us, but when brand’s fail to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment, that can happen.

Which brings me to the radio business.

What Toys R Us, Blockbuster Video, and the NY Daily News have experienced is what could also face the radio industry in the future if it doesn’t evolve. The content will of course remain vital regardless of which era it’s offered in, but what about the way radio features advertising? Do you honestly think businesses are going to occupy fifteen minutes per hour on radio stations in between songs or talk content down the line?

Take a look around the world. TV networks have begun reducing their inventory. Why? They know people won’t sit thru long stretches of commercials. Advertisers know it too and don’t want to spend money just to be tuned out. That’s especially the case when viewers watch on-demand programming. They take their DVR, and immediately fast forward past the commercials to continue watching their favorite shows thus making it extremely difficult for the advertiser to reach them.

Check out YouTube. Their audience sizes are huge, and they realize that ads running 15 seconds or less are their only chance to keep people on the platform. Once longer commercials are pushed towards the viewer, they vanish. If offered in small doses though, fans of the content will sit thru it. The company has especially seen great results pushing six second ads.

Since I became a YouTube TV and Roku subscriber, I’ve learned how their approach works. The programming options are endless, and the video quality is exceptional, but if there’s a downside, it’s that when recorded shows air, the viewer is forced to sit thru a commercial break. The breaks are still shorter than what you receive on normal television, but even a one-minute spot break feels like an eternity when you’re watching a recorded show and trying to skip ahead to the next part of the content. At some point I’d expect that to change, but even if the breaks remained :30-:60 seconds, I think most people would accept it if it meant keeping costs low and content quality high.

So where does that leave radio? How exactly do you replace 15-20 minutes of spots per hour, and various inclusions in content (sports updates, traffic reports, weather updates, stock reports, etc.), and still remain profitable?

You could try to charge the audience to listen, but that’s a tall order. You could raise your rates for the limited amount of ad time inside your programming, and that’ll work with some clients, but not with all. It’s easy to suggest reducing ad times on stations because of audience demand, but how exactly do you replenish all that lost income?

We could investigate the possibility of further monetizing social media, podcasts, apps, and smart speakers, and although they’re all important to our business growth, if we’re not excelling in these spaces now, why would you expect them to be areas we’d dominate in down the line? Other opportunities will revolve around some of the things we do now such as creating events, and producing branded content. We’ll also have to become retailers, using our platforms to sell custom merchandise and products created by partners who we share revenue with.

Remember, most of the areas that we play in, belong to someone else. Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Google own the property, we just rent it. 5 years ago Facebook began limiting the ability of a brand to reach its entire audience. Think they won’t do that again? As soon as they see you reaping the rewards from utilizing their platform, they’re going to put up more roadblocks to take more money out of your pocket.

Keep that in mind as you’re falling deeper in love with the Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Those devices are great, and give our fans a chance to hear our content without interruptions. But do you think Amazon and Google won’t eliminate your ads in the future and serve their own up to your audience? Do you honestly believe they wouldn’t do to your brand what Facebook did, and force you to spend money to reach your listeners? As they gain more momentum, do you think they’re going to make it easy on you to access and use your data however you see fit?

A few other things you need to ask yourself, if the business model is going to change that drastically, how will that help with attracting future sellers? Is a new seller going to want to sell audio instead of Facebook, Google, Twitter or Amazon? Will a new salesperson see a better financial path to success selling audio or video? What about our current sellers who rely on selling radio ad time to make a living? If they see limited potential right now earning a living selling apps, podcasts, social media, and your brand’s website, why would they put their focus in that space when it doesn’t pay the bills?

What’s really going to be important is the measurement of our performance in these other locations, and our ability to educate advertisers on the way our programming can help them generate results. If our brands are well established, and the talent we employ possess the skill to mentally own space inside the listener’s mind, then we’ll still have a chance to gain support and trust from local and national business partners.

Perhaps the bigger challenge is going to be for programmers and content creators, because there might come a time when shows aren’t taking commercial breaks. Picture HBO programming where the movie never ends. Your breaks would come in the form of vignettes, liners, airing of soundbites, taped interviews, etc. In other words, following the content model of podcasts, and SiriusXM which reward the user and limit the interruptions.

That could also lead to shows being shorter in length too. If the average metered listener consumes your programming for 30-45 minutes per occasion, are you better served with one 4-hour show or two 2-hour shows? Some could even make a case for four 1-hour shows.

If breaks were someday to be done away with, advertisers would have to be further woven into the content without it seeming forced. If we hope to compete with other media for dollars and listeners, we’re going to need a less is more mindset, and give clients an opportunity to be more intertwined into specific programming. Movies and TV shows have done a great job of including brands into their content, and it’s a space where radio can step its game up. Barstool Sports and Bleacher Report, two relatively newer brands (under 20 years in operation), have figured out how to excel at it. Radio with its rich history should be able to do the same.

Change is inevitable in every business. Whether it’s complicated or not, technology creates it, audiences demand it, and dollars follow it. If we want to avoid future dark days where our best people lose opportunities and serve as reminders of our failure to read the signs and modify the way we approach our business, then we’ve got to get out in front of these issues rather than waiting them to arrive on our doorstep. When habits change, you either adapt, or get rendered obsolete. The winds of change wait for no one.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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