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Chris Kinard Wants You To Tune In Just One Extra Time

“That’s for us the name of the game as far as building TSL: having the realization that people are living their lives and that we’re just a part of it.”

Matt Fishman

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To say Chris Kinard (“CK” to most people) is a DC radio-lifer would be an understatement. He started working on “The Sports Junkies” at the age of 18, while a student at American University. Fast forward 20 years and he’s the Program Director of 106.7 The Fan, Washington, DC’s dominant sports radio station. 

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(For a look at the Washington, DC and other major market fall ratings click here: https://barrettsportsmedia.com/sports-radios-2018-fall-book-report/ )

Unlike many of his contemporaries who have traveled the country working their way from smaller markets to larger markets, CK has been in DC all this time. Wednesday I sat down with him in his office in Southeast DC. 

Matt Fishman: Let’s start off with your fall book. You guys had a gigantic fall book despite the Nationals being out of it and the Redskins having an up and down season..

Chris Kinard: I was very happy with our performance. I think it does show we have a really strong brand–a consistent brand. That’s one of the things I preach to my guys. Our audience has an expectation that they’re going to get a certain level of programming every day. We’ve had the same lineup now for nearly five years. They want their shows–They want the Junkies in the morning, Grant and Danny in the middle of the day and Chad (Dukes) in the afternoon.

My guys come to work everyday with that commitment that they’re going to provide a very consistent product and be entertaining. This is a unique market. It’s a transient market. We do talk sports but we talk sports from a perspective of trying to be entertaining no matter what’s going on. Win or lose. 

The Redskins had an up and down year. They were 6-and-3 at one point and then you saw a collapse and I think that became an interesting story that helped propel us through the December book and even the Holiday book. The Capitals have a ton of interest because they’re coming off the Cup. The Wizards–that’s  gonna be a tough one down the road.

I think the Nationals fan base has changed a lot in the last four years. It has matured to a point where we can really have great baseball discussion and really engage with the audience at a level we couldn’t nine years ago when we launched or even seven years ago. I think something really changed within the last three to four years. I think we just hit a tipping point–a big enough audience that is passionate and knowledgeable enough to be able to debate what the team’s doing. What moves the Manager is making. What moves the General Manager is making, what ownership is doing. That wasn’t necessarily the case five, six, or seven years ago. That really helped propel us in September and even into October. 

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So it’s a good time to be in DC sports even though none of the teams are doing all that well right now, it’s still interesting.

MF: To your point, if you can do well even when the teams are up and down, you’ve done something.

CK: This is a TSL format and we’re a high TSL station. It’s all about listener passion and loyalty to our personalities. No matter what’s going good or bad, they want to hear what our guys have to say about it. That makes us a little bit stronger in bad times than we would be otherwise.

MF: Speaking of personalities, you re-signed the Sports Junkies (Morning Show) recently. What was it like getting them re-signed and what does that mean to The Fan?

CK: They are the backbone of the radio station. Entercom made a great commitment to them and to the radio station to keep them here for years to come. What makes me really proud of them and of the company is that after 23 years they are still growing. That is almost unheard of. 

I think we see a lot of great shows that have incredible staying power but very few have been on the air in one market for 23 years and are still growing. Their ratings have never been higher. Their digital metrics are off the charts–a million podcast downloads a month. Now for us to be able to expand the show into other markets regionally is a really great opportunity. Our TV deal (NBC Sports Washington) has been mutually beneficial. I think it put them on another playing field.

For me, someone who started working on their show when I was 18 years old, it is incredible to see that not only are they still going strong, but the show has never been better, never been more relevant to the city. I think it has never been tighter and those guys haven’t changed. They’re still great guys who are great in the building. Great to their co-workers. It’s awesome to see this happen to great people. 

MF: I love your radio story because it’s the opposite of the typical radio story. You’ve been in DC your entire life and career.

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CK: It’s insane to me. I feel incredibly fortunate. I grew up listening to the station when it was a guy-talk station with Howard Stern and Don & Mike. I heard the Junkies first show because I was so obsessed with the station growing up that when they started this “Sports Weekend” thing and they had three shows, the Junkies were the third show 5-9pm Saturdays and Sundays–I was listening to it. I remember their first show and their first several shows. I was very fortunate that I got in on the ground floor when they were starting out. They were looking for help. I started “interning” no one ever asked me for any paperwork. I couldn’t have gotten college credit if they had asked me. So thank God for that or I probably wouldn’t be here at all today. I was kind of in the right place at the right time. Two and a half months or so after starting as an intern, their call-screener left and I got that awesome $7 an hour job screening calls for them and they haven’t shown me the door yet. 

I think one of the things that’s special about this place is that it is kind of a family atmosphere because so many of us have grown up together. From 18 and I’ll be 40 in June I’ve seen those guys get married and have kids. I’ve had interns who have been with us for a long time. I hired an intern in 2002 who’s Chad Dukes, our afternoon host. Most of our producers if not all of them started out as interns. We’ve all grown together. One thing that’s important for our company and certainly for the station is to foster that kind of personal growth for our people. That’s really important. 

MF: Over the years, what has evolved or changed about your programming philosophy or has it mostly stayed the same? 

CK: I hope it has matured in terms of content. I think our world has changed, too. There are a lot of pitfalls you can fall into. For me the biggest sea change was from diary to PPM–huge. From a host’s standpoint or a programmer’s standpoint, you had to completely change your way of thinking twice. We were told all these things when PPM was starting about shorter production and programming to the meters. We made all those mistakes but then you had to get back to having a strong brand or none of that really matters. You really had to relearn it twice because of the PPM. 

One of the challenges for personalities who started in diaries is to always remind them–there are certain things we can do that can impact listener behavior and there are certain things that can’t. There are certain things we have to do for our brand regardless of how we are being measured. A lot of people on the air had to re-train themselves as to “what is the show?”

People (listeners) are coming and going every second. It really has to be reinforced to talent that you have incredible competition even more so today than there has ever been in terms of other things they can do to listen, watch, or click at all times. That your show is not a movie that someone is listening to from beginning to end. The beginning of your show is whatever time that person happened to start listening. 

That’s when one of the key things people have to always be thinking about when making content decisions is the reality of the environment that people are listening in. We are a component of their day and they (listeners) are living their life.  

MF: Building on what you just said, you’re going to be part of a forum at the upcoming BSM Summit about Inside vs. Outside radio thinking–What goes into how you think about reaching listeners and whatever habits need to be broken?

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CK: In addition to people thinking about their shows having a beginning and an end, what has stood out to me in terms of talent conversations is that when they talk to listeners they are often surprised what listeners latch onto. What we find is that listeners latch on to the personalities. It’s a great thing for our hosts to know that their power is not necessarily just their sports opinions but that their P1s especially love to hear the personal stuff and that’s what they remember about them. The little quirks, the little things that make them special. The things that make them in some ways irreplaceable–or at least very difficult to replace.

When you have a show that’s hitting it’s because of the people on it. That’s what makes the difference. Yeah we’re a sports station but there could be three or four stations in a market the things that differentiate them is the people. For the talent to understand that they have to let people in and they’ve gotta find that part about them that makes them unique and makes them special. I think that’s one of the big things. 

One thing I think a lot of hosts are maybe not aware of, or take for granted,  is that they think people listen everyday. Our P1s don’t even listen four days a week, maybe three and a half. For us it’s about how can I do great, compelling content and also make a connection in terms of benchmarks for people to come back to certain content every day or later in the day and how can I translate that to the next day. Building occasions throughout the day and throughout the week.  That’s for us the name of the game as far as building TSL: having the realization that people are living their lives and that we’re just a part of it. Our path to success is to get people to listen just an extra time that day or to remember that on Thursdays we do a great benchmark that they won’t want to miss. If we can get that extra day out of those couple of meters again you’re building a strong brand while also programming to the meters. That’s a huge, huge focus for us! 

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MF: Speaking of the BSM Summit, how import is it for a PD like yourself to get out of the building to hear what else is going on out there? 

CK: It’s very important for me since I’ve been in the same market for 21 years. It’s incredibly important to get different perspectives and different views on things and meet people with different ideas. I thought last year was incredible in that respect. 

A lot of these great programmers have been all over the country and in all sorts of different formats and different companies. I think you can really learn a lot and pick up on a lot of things from each other. You’re going to get ideas on how to do things differently or how to look at something a little differently. Some of the things I learned last year on how our industry is handling diversity and how much of a focus that needs to be is completely valid because I think it’s a struggle for us in this format every year. I’m very much looking forward to it and looking forward to seeing it’s growth as well. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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