Skimming across the front page of the greatest sports website on teh interwebz, I found a bunch of boring headlines and a couple of fortyish white guys with impeccable hair and genial smiles. Big deal. But then I remembered the much less attractive but much more insightful ombudswoman with this: ESPN must stop the suffocation of synergy. Le Anne Schreiber: please start the revolution from the inside. I've got your back.
For the short two-week oasis of Olympic time, there was a merciful abating of the ESPN barrage. Schrieber praises ESPN's Olympic work, but also takes on the issue of ESPN's regular and relentless "cross-promotion", where ESPN television specifically tries to promote other ESPN/ABC shows, ESPN the mag, ESPN radio - basically the entire ESPNiverse.
The most telling quote in the article comes from Vince Doria, ESPN senior VP and director of news, which I will vivisect for you right here:
"We do carpet bomb you with information about what you can see here,
Really unnecessary war metaphor, Vince. When people use really unnecessary war metaphors, I think they're really out of touch with reality.
and we've got the reputation, in part from newspaper critics, of being the big bad TV guys that want to capture your mind and tell you what to do and when to watch and where to go
Fortunately, the newspaper critics (despite what the self-deposed Jay-bird might say) still have something to say. Vince: I'm glad to add my little, uncapitalize, hypenated, reputeless name to the list of persons contributing to that completely accurate reputation.
-- go over to dot-com now, go to radio now, go buy the magazine and then come back here, we got four networks; wait a minute, radio's on, go back there."
Just on the ESPN.com front page right now, I see a SportsCenter clip, a handful of ESPN Fantasy ads, an ad for the Ryder Cup on ESPN HD, links to articles from the Magazine... sounds like you've correctly diagnosed the problem, Vince!
"Isn't it also a service to let people know where to find more about what they are interested in?" Doria asked. "We can debate where service ends and promotion starts, but most of the time, the promotion is quick, doesn't terribly interrupt your viewing and provides information that is actually useful to somebody. When viewers complain, do they make legitimate points about interrupted viewing?"
Bullshit. I suppose any corporation can redefine "advertising" as "service" - they're just helping you get another helping of their delicious product! I wonder if this argument held weight when these guys got taken to court for their advertising practice. Obviously, tobacco is a much more damaging product than ESPiN, but there's still a limit to advertising decorum, and ESPN crosses it on a regular basis.
A real problem is cited later in Schreiber's article:
Mostly, the rage seems in excess of any specific provocation -- a recent example being complaints from viewers who used the words "disgusting," "repugnant" and "shameless" to express how they felt about seeing a highlight from "Wipeout," ABC's new reality show, included as a Top Ten Play on "SportsCenter." The highlight ran only a couple of times, for 10 seconds or less, so why were they so bent out of shape?
"Wipeout" has no place in sports. Maybe the problem is with us - who forget what the "E" in ESPN stands for - but I think the problem is with ESPN's claim to being the authoritative voice in sports media, when they're actually the authoritative voice in sucking money out of their consumers. I don't care if it was for less than ten seconds: get your ads out of my sports.
And the worst of it all:
Doria suggested that some viewers are offended by cross-promotion because "They have been told by critics that they should be offended."
This quote confirms what I already suspected: ESPN sees its viewers as a bunch of directionless sheep, who neeeeeed that 1 AM SportsCenter to get the latest speculation on the Brett Farve story. That people at ESPN really think they're providing a service by cross-promoting their stuff; they admit to "carpet bombing" you with cross-promotion... and they honestly believe that the people who reject it don't have the brains to decide for themselves. It's getting clearer and clearer to me that the few decent journalists who might work there are simply cogs in a larger media machine designed to extract all the possible dollars from their consumers.
I'll quote something I once heard from Chris W (I think he was paraphrasing P.T. Barnum): "You can't go broke underestimating the American people".
ESPN is underestimating the American people - and they certainly aren't going broke doing it.