First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. Then, matches were spaced out 75 minutes apart on two different channels, Titans and Bills starting at ESPN at 7:15 p.m. ET and Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 p.m. on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which games began at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the last game on the West Coast.
ESPN is clearly testing something, and it’s worth looking into why the network hasn’t followed the schedule it’s used for the past 16 years, scheduling its launch at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on its primary channel. This is the typical approach, isn’t it? The NFL is the most valuable show of all sports and ESPN will have at least six consecutive hours of live programming with no other game to switch to.
Instead, they arranged starts sporadically, so the second game started just before the break. They put the games on two different channels, which risked breaking up their audience. why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about Manningcast last year that they brought it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not only aware of the reality of its customers’ behavior, but it also embraces it.
Instead of all they have to hope the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they are aware of the fact that they will leave and offer another product within their portfolio as a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experience that everyone in broadcasting has to investigate because, despite all the talk about meeting clients wherever they are, we still tend to be a little stubborn about adjusting to what they’re doing.
Customers have more options than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks mitigated the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not completely free for everyone, but the battle for viewing is becoming more intense, and more open than ever as this viewer has so many choices not only in where and when but how they will consume the media.
Programmers have a choice in how to respond to this. On the one hand, they can stick to the current model and try to squeeze it as much as possible. If ESPN were thinking this way, they would stack these two Monday night games one after the other just like they always have and wish as hell for a few matches close together for the ratings era. Why make it impossible for your customer to watch both products that you paid so much for TV?
I’ve heard radio and host programmers read taking the same approach for over 10 years now when it comes to making programs available on demand. Why give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that is neither rewarding nor immeasurable?
This thinking is outdated and is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means that you are trying to get the customer to act in your best interest by restricting their options. Perhaps that will work. Maybe they like this software enough that they use it the way you like it or maybe they decide this is inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now that customer who would have listened to your product on demand choose the format to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one restricting that customer’s options because you’re the only one who has the desire to keep your customer in their shoes. Everyone else is happy to give your customer something else.
There is a danger in sticking too hard with the current model because the harder you push, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical presentation to complete this metaphor, take a handful of sand and press it hard.
Your business model is as good as it can predict the behavior of your customers, and once it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Not only do you realize the fact that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media options provide, but embrace it.
View more products. Try more ways to present these products. The more you try to dictate the terms of customer interaction with your product, the more customers you will lose, and by accepting this, you open yourself up to the fact that if your customer is going to leave your main offer, it is better to get them to switch to another of your products than to leave your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement and breadth of experience. Obviously, that’s what ESPN does because conventional thinking would see Manningcast as a show to rival the mainstream Monday Night Football Broadcasting, which you break up. ESPN considers it a free trial. Adding to the main stream, but it also has the advantage that if a customer feels compelled to walk away from the main stream – for whatever reason – they have another ESPN show they might hit.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football Double Heads starts next year, and playing times have not been announced. Will they line up back-to-back as they did until this year? If they do, it will be a vote of confidence that that evening’s traditional programming approach is still viable. But if you interfere with these games in the future, it’s another sign that little is more when it comes to giving your customers choice in products.