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Selling Drama The TNT Way!

Jason Barrett

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For the past 10 years, if you’ve watched TNT television you likely heard the channel’s slogan “We Know Drama“. It’s a tagline in my opinion which was simply brilliant, because it reflected the channel’s programming choices. If you turned on TNT, you’d find either a movie, game or original program, and when you analyzed the content of that particular show, you’d find that it often included some form of drama which helped it fit perfectly into the channel’s strategy.

The slogan was introduced in June 2001, and at that time, former TNT General Manager Steve Koonin said “TNT’s promise is to engage the hearts and minds of our viewers with dramatic programming that offers a powerful combination of compelling stories and interesting characters, mixed with excitement, action, suspense, romance and humor. TNT’s slate of original movies and series, theatrical product, acquired series, championship sports and live event specials will deliver on this consumer proposition.”

Judging from what the channel featured during the past 13 years, they not only lived up to their promise, but viewership increased, and today it remains a strong presence in cable television. Clearly the interest in dramatic content was there, and TNT didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, they simply satisfied the appetite of those who were hungry.

Take a look back at this classic TV commercial created around the 2003 NBA Playoffs. TNT featured Spike Lee to sell the message and the result was a very identifiable spot which was easy for viewers to relate to.

When it comes to sports talk radio, I’ve heard numerous executives over the years refer to the format as the ultimate “soap opera for men“. In some ways, it’s hard for me to fathom that the world of sports could be mentioned in the same sentence with “One Life To Live” and “General Hospital” but when you step back and think about what the world of sports has to offer on a daily basis, it makes perfect sense. The presentation has shifted from x’s and o’s discussions and box score breakdowns to sports-bar conversations centered around personalities and teams. Coincidentally the ratings, platform distribution, and advertising dollars are all experiencing some of the highest performance levels in the format’s history.

lbj2So why is it that people keep seeking out sports media content?

The answer is simple, they love drama!

Case in point, look at these headlines below which were posted within the past week on different media websites. All 5 are written about one of the most popular and polarizing basketball players on the planet, LeBron James.

As you look at these 5 examples, one word should stand out in defining what each story is about – Drama!

  • LeBron James, Pat Riley to meet
  • LeBron James has a Dwayne Wade problem
  • Cavs working to clear max space to land LeBron
  • Cavs explain why they took down Dan Gilbert’s letter to LeBron James
  • LeBron’s inner circle, including his wife, want him to sign with Cavaliers

Regardless of where you go to get your sports news, you go there because you’re curious, and emotionally engaged in the content. Whether you realize it or not, you’re lured in by the drama of the story. LeBron James right now is the NBA’s real life version of the Truman Show, and we’re all sitting back watching, listening, reading, and reacting to every piece of news, and deciding what’s best for him, his family, his future, and each team that wants him. It’s a classic case of media outlets feeding us drama, and each of us devouring it, and asking for seconds.

Your-Opinion-MattersWhen you finish your show today, I want you to step back and reflect on what you presented to the audience. Look at each of your segments and what the conversation was built around. In most cases I bet you presented a question based off of a certain subject, and with that question you provided your opinion/answer to it. That my friends is called selling the drama!

If you weren’t doing that then I’d ask you to reassess your content, and figure out what you want your audience to sink their teeth into. If you have no hook and no drama in your presentation, than chances are you’re filling air time with no true purpose. By doing that you’re asking your listeners to standby while you figure it out, and they don’t have time for it. Your audience wants to show up and have you distract them from the everyday pressures they face by providing them with compelling and entertaining content. If you can’t do that, they’ll find someone who can.

Remember this, your audience isn’t turning to you because they want to know who won last night’s game, what Player X’s batting average is or how many of the next 10 games their favorite team plays at home vs. on the road. They can get that stuff by clicking on any sports website. They’re also not coming to you to hear how many phone calls you can take during the course of a 3-4 hour show. The only person keeping count of your caller totals is you and your producer.

They will though listen to a passionate discussion between a host and a caller provided there’s a question or angle being discussed, and they do appreciate information as long as it’s used to advance the angle you’re presenting. In a nutshell, information and filling content time doesn’t earn you an emotional investment from your audience – your ability to deliver a compelling discussion and unique opinion on the story that matters to your audience does.

manzielWhether we like it or not, people today care more about Johnny Manziel’s off the field behavior than any of his studying habits or practice throws. They know Carmelo Anthony’s free agent suitors better than the NY Knicks roster that he played on last season. They focus more on who got snubbed from the All-Star game, and how playing in the game could impact a player’s second half performance, more than they focus on the actual game itself. Every listener fancies themselves as a GM with solid knowledge of what each player makes, what each team spends, the length of each player’s contract, and how it will help/hurt their favorite team in the future.

Why do all of these items above matter to people? Because they’re dramatic, and they create thoughts and emotions inside of every one of us. These are feelings that can’t be turned off or brushed aside. Whether it’s joy, frustration, love, hate, passion, confusion or something else, the more people hear about it, the more interested they become, and the more they seek resolution and additional facts to our conversations, the more we invade their minds and cause them to think and feel. The more we do that, the better our chances of keeping them listening.

feelingsFor an on-air talent, you are constantly selling drama to your audience because it’s the one ingredient that makes your show special each day. Nowhere on the planet can your show be duplicated. While the same stories may be discussed everywhere else, your personality, perspective, creative elements and delivery of the information keeps you unique.

However, your audience has distractions being thrown their way every day, so the only way to cut through the clutter and permanently rent space in their head is by using drama to your advantage. They want to take the roller coaster ride with you, and experience your ups, downs and in-between’s. It’s your job to keep them hanging on every word and sentence.

A colleague of mine (Jeff Schmidt) sent this to me months ago and it instantly connected with me. Take a look at these two stories below and look at the headlines. The story on the left is presented by Deadspin.com and the story on the right is presented by ESPN.com. When you look at the headline of each story, which one contains more passion and suspense?

Kluwe Stories

In my opinion, Deadspin used words to stir an emotion with the reader while ESPN focused on the facts and delivered a neutral headline. While the approach for both brands may be different, they both make sense. However if this were a sports radio segment, you’d hook a lot more people with the drama of the Deadspin headline than you would with the ESPN presentation.

Think for a second of how this relates to you. Your listener is either in a car or listening on a computer or mobile device and on each of these platforms have multiple choices. In most people’s phones there are 25-50 apps readily available to take them elsewhere, or if they’re in a car they have the option of FM/AM radio, a CD player, possibly satellite radio, or some other electronic device that they can connect to their dashboard and listen to. In either case, you’re already battling for an individual’s attention before you even get started.

If you’re lucky, you’re one of the first places the listener turns to because your brand/station has built trust and loyalty with them, or they’ve formed a connection with you or another on-air personality. From there, it comes down to picking the right content and manufacturing the drama in the most unique and entertaining way to keep them engaged.

Right_Vs._WrongPick the wrong content, and they’re gone. Pick the right content, and present it in a safe and predictable way, and they’re gone. Select the right content, and construct enough angles and unique viewpoints to keep the listener wanting to take an emotional journey with you, and you’ve got a fighting chance.

Try it out when LeBron James finally signs with a team. I guarantee you’ll hear every station discuss the story, but the place where you’ll spend the majority of your time listening to it, will be with the outlet and personality that advances the story, and best captures and sells the drama and suspense and drama.

There is no better example of capturing drama than when you go to the movies, and spend 15-20 minutes waiting for your featured movie to start. Once those previews hit you know you’re immediately sucked in. For example, watch this trailer of the upcoming film “When The Game Stands Tall“. By the time the trailer is done playing you’ll know the focus of the story, the drama that occurs, and the question being asked that must be answered. The result, you’ve given Sony Pictures 2:44 of your time, and soon enough you’ll be spending your money to go watch it because the story drew you in.

Whether it’s a movie, a sporting event, an argument between co-workers or a sports talk radio show, people have a passion for drama. They seek it out and remain consumed by it, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook feed or Twitter timeline. It’s happening every second of every hour.

Sometimes a slogan doesn’t make any sense for a brand, but in the case of TNT they created something which fit like a glove, and they delivered on that promise to perfection. That’s an example of effective research, smart strategy, and consistent execution. When you do those things right, you win consistently and grow continuously.

101 PartyTo wrap this up, I’ll leave you with one shred of evidence that’ll make you re-think whether or not you can afford for drama to not be a central part of your content focus each day. Currently when you look at the best performing sports radio stations across the country, the average amount of time spent listening is usually between 3-4 hours per week M-F 6A-7P. These stations also deliver somewhere between 5-10% of listening among Men 25-54, and that by industry standards is considered a pretty strong success.

One though could look at it the other way, and argue that your core programming which you pay top dollar for and promote heavily, is consumed for only 36-48 minutes per day out of a 780 minute window, and in your market, 90-95% of Men 25-54 don’t listen to you.

Now how’s that for drama!

Yes we can talk about the issues with PPM, we can blame things beyond our control such as signal issues, play by play events, lack of marketing, etc. but in every one of those scenarios, we’re emotionally invested in the subject and we’re ready to defend, explain and engage in the conversation. That my friends is what drama does.

TNT figured out how to capture the mind and eyes of the viewer,nand there’s no reason why sports radio can’t do the same, and capture the mind and ears of its audience. If ever there was a business built to understand and sell drama, it’s sports talk radio. If it can be done right, who knows, maybe one day we’ll present a brand new slogan – “We Own Drama“.

Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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