SBD/Issue 245/Sports Media

Ombudsman Encourages ESPN To Lighten Up On Cross-Promotion

Schreiber Says ESPN Should Lighten
Up On Cross-Promotion
In her latest contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber wrote when everything on ESPN "points us toward something else on ESPN, as it so often and relentlessly does, viewers start feeling trapped in the sports equivalent of 'The Truman Show.'" Schreiber noted the Beijing Games "provided ESPN with no opportunity for cross-promotion," and watching the net cover an event it "did not have rights to, an event dominated by sports not usually on ESPN's short list of priorities, proved more refreshing, and more of an eye-opener than I anticipated." Schreiber: "I found myself feeling a dizzying elation. It was as if oxygen had suddenly been pumped into an airless room, simultaneously reviving me and making me realize how close I had been to suffocation." ESPN Senior VP & Dir of News Vince Doria said of cross-promotion on the net, "We do carpet bomb you with information about what you can see here. ... 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?" Schreiber noted mostly the viewers' "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 ABC's "Wipeout" as a Top Ten Play on "SportsCenter." Schreiber: "The problem might not be the cross-promotion itself, which does have its uses for viewers, but a degree of multiplatform corporate synergy that often feels so relentless and all-encompassing that ESPN's heaviest viewers go berserk from time to time." The net's "self-reinforcing practices have the effect of implanting ESPN's business interests -- especially the recouping of rights fees -- too much at the forefront of too many viewers' minds," and that "awareness can drain the fun out of sports."

TOO MUCH SYNERGY: Schreiber: "This is my suggestion to ESPN for an antidote: Lighten up on the synergy. Don't expend all your creativity devising new ways to drive viewers into the corrals of your biggest business partners. Viewers will flock there on their own." She added ESPN should "surprise us more often with something we didn't know you or we cared about, and don't rely entirely on 'Outside the Lines' to deliver the surprises." Noting the addition of the net's morning news block, Schreiber wrote, "Use those six new live hours of 'SportsCenter' to let in some fresh air, and not just every four years" (ESPN.com, 9/10).

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