Jeff Blumenthal of the Philly Business Journal talked to Comcast SportsNet President Brian Monihan, who HAS A PLAN TO GET MILLENIALS:
In an attempt to keep up with fast-changing viewer habits and attract and retain the coveted millennial audience, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia has implemented significant format changes in recent months – including a shuffling of on-air hosts and a shift in programming.
Last year, CSN eliminated the 6 p.m. edition of its flagship news program, SportsNet Central, in favor of Eagles-centric gab fest Quick Slants. More recently, the program’s 10 p.m. edition has scaled back highlight packages to focus on analysis, and back and forth banter, mirroring some of the programming seen on national sports networks like ESPN and FS1. A new segment called Three and Out matches up three hosts offering opinions about a specific topic.
“We’ve tried to evolve an operation in a more efficient, smarter fashion,” CSN Philadelphia President Brian Monihan said. “Viewers are not just watching on TV but on mobile phones and IPads. And they’re not necessarily looking for highlights. If they want scores, they don’t want to have to wait for them. They can just look on their phones and get that immediately.
“Our programming is now more about discussion. Our hosts are not individual experts but they have the ability to express their opinions. And we have seen our hosts raise their presence on social media. They are expanding their reach on all platforms.”
“Our talent needs to be more flexible in terms of what they are asked to do,” Monihan said. “Some of them have started podcasts… [BOB co-hosts Jillian Mele and Barrett Brooks] now host [Eagles coach] Doug Pederson’s press conferences. We don’t just air it. They actually host it. And Jillian can get analysis from Barrett, since he is a former player… We are asking our people to be malleable and not just do one thing.”
Viewers can spot CSN’s increasing focus on attracting millennials with its BOB program, which is heavy on social media interaction and other programming is following that course.
Blumenthal also confirmed my report that Jen Daniels is out at CSN. Though no one will say it, I believe that the departures of Neil Hartman, Leslie Gudel and (to a much lesser extent) Daniels were cost-saving contract moves.
But Monihan describing what millennials want – though to be fair he didn’t use the word – is like a beaver describing how a dolphin swims. Sure, he might be able to relate to it using its tail, but the rest is just a complete oversimplification. Just because viewers no longer need scores and highlights doesn’t mean they automatically want debate. In fact, I’d argue that nonstop debate is what has steered younger viewers away from ESPN. More savvy viewers who have direct connections to athletes through social media and can choose their own echo chamber online don’t need to listen to some old guy or girl or former player in a suit give their hot take of the day. Worse, at least ESPN gets the “premium” talent for its debate format. It gets the best former players and personalities. Monihan literally cited Barrett Brooks as someone people want to hear from, “since he is a former player.” But most former players are dumb and don’t provide anywhere near the insightful analysis or commentary that can be found elsewhere. CSN’s debate shows and segments are TERRIBLE, uninventive fluff about a topic some producer scribbled on a sheet of paper. Never mind that CSN cut away from one piece of truly compelling content – Ryan Howard’s ceremony on Sunday – in favor of the studio show. Asking hosts to do more or, worse, “raise their presence on social media” exposes them:
NO ONE CARES, JOHN.
Worse WORSE is that if CSN is trying to steer people online, their website is a blazing tire fire. That is NBC’s doing, but it doesn’t change the fact that the site actively hates the user. You think MILLENNIALS will put up with this shit?
And the struggles for CSN might have little to do with ratings. People are cutting the cord. Right now, I think about $4 of your cable bill goes to CSN. Like ESPN, when people cut the cord, Comcast loses that money… money that they’ve already paid for broadcast rights. It’s not just about ad revenue. Ratings will surely go up as the teams improve, but that might not be enough to stave off the losses in subscription fees.
It wasn’t Monihan who referred to BOB as being geared toward millennials (that was Blumenthal), but if CSN believes this too I don’t even know what to say. BOB is fine, but no young person is waking up and immediately putting on a morning show, let alone a B-list show on a local sports channel… they’re (we’re?) picking up our phones to see what’s going on.
CSN is one of many networks that struggles with “social media interaction.” They think it’s some buzzword, some separate element that needs to have its own segment filled with cat pictures. What most TV networks don’t realize is that social media is just part of the way we interact today. It’s not its own special thing. If you’re going to incorporate it into a show, do so organically (Michael Barkann actually does this well) without treating it like a quirky step-child who farts a lot in a way that most of the family perceives as cute. In other words– never call your social media segment a “social media segment,” just reference Tweets, Facebook posts, and Snapchats as if they’re just another piece of content, not unlike press releases, statements, soundbites or whatever. Or go the extra mile and use your social media channels to provide content and sell sponsors on that. That’s the one thing I would do if I had a larger staff– do more directly on social media and figure out a way to monetize it. Comcast has the resources and access to have a kickass Snapchat feed.
I’m not sure there’s an easy answer for CSN or any sports network, but at least ESPN has the resources, rights and leverage to crowbar their way into the future with unique content. CSN has local broadcast rights, sure, but little else going for it. The fact that they think debate and talking heads is what young people want is a bad, bad sign.