SBJ/May 15-21, 2017/Media

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  • Media firm Deltatre ready to move into U.S.

    Deltatre helped rights holders deliver coverage on multiple devices from the Rio Olympics. Its online sports video player carries the brand Diva (below).
    Italy-based media and technology company Deltatre has hired a former Google executive to oversee its expansion into the U.S. market.

    Claude London will run the company’s U.S. operations as president of Deltatre Americas. The ex-Google director will manage staff in three U.S. offices — one in New York, one in Los Angeles and a soon-to-be-opened office in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

    Deltatre’s business involves livestreams and over-the-top systems, putting it in competition with U.S. companies such as BAMTech, NBC’s Playmaker Media and Turner’s iStreamPlanet. Deltatre also specializes in providing graphics and data for rights holders and media companies.

    “For 10 months, we’ve been working hard to build our business to bring to the States,” said Deltatre CEO Giampiero Rinaudo. “America is a very competitive market. It’s also a huge market. We are noticing a lot of American properties going to Europe and Asia and a lot of European properties going into the United States. Because of our presence on these continents, we think we are the ideal choice.”

    It’s not clear how many people Deltatre will hire, but London said the positions will include everything from sales and marketing executives to operations executives. London will work out of the Bay Area office, but he joked that he really would be based on a plane.

    Andrea Marini, Deltatre executive vice president, will move to the U.S., be based in the New York office, and work with London to build out the company’s U.S. business, which is a new focus for the 30-year-old company that already is well-established globally with clients ATP, FIFA, Premier League and UEFA.

    LONDON
    “It’s a strong signal to the market that we are relocating an EVP of the group overall to the Americas to work with me to build up this business,” London said.

    Last June, George Pyne’s Bruin Sports Capital acquired Deltatre for an undisclosed amount with the idea that it would come to the U.S. market eventually. In an announcement that is expected to be released this week, Deltatre said this “is the first in a series of major announcements planned by Deltatre over the next several months as part of its American expansion.”

    To win U.S. business, Deltatre’s pitch will focus on its independence in supporting rights holders and their partner broadcasters. In some cases, Deltatre will partner with the property, while in other cases it will make deals with broadcasters.

    “We’re not in the business of acquiring their rights,” London said. “We’re not in the business of competing with them. We want to support their ambitions and we want to do this both in the Americas and internationally.”

    While a lot of competition exists, London said this is the right time to build up streaming services and over-the-top platforms.

    “I see a moment of huge opportunity for rights owners specifically and their partner broadcasters to really take advantage of what’s happening in the landscape,” he said.


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  • For ESPNers, Bulgrin’s contributions go far beyond the numbers

    Best known in the sports business as a bookish, analytical media researcher, Artie Bulgrin cuts somewhat of a different persona inside ESPN’s offices. ESPNers are more apt to describe Bulgrin as a Mets fan, a guitarist for a classic rock band and an all-around good guy than as the dean of sports media researchers, which he has become over the past two decades.

    Take Norby Williamson, for example. When asked how he would describe Bulgrin, ESPN’s executive vice president of studio and event production told a decade-old story of Bulgrin as a Mets fan.

    It was 2007, and Williamson and Bulgrin were at Shea Stadium, where the Mets had to win the last game of the season against the 91-loss Marlins to advance to the playoffs. Ace pitcher Tom Glavine was on the mound, but he flopped and gave up seven first-inning runs. The Mets lost. The previous season, Williamson and Bulgrin also were at Shea to see Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran strike out looking with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth as the Mets lost Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals.

    “That was the lowest of the low for Mets fans,” said Williamson, who also supports the Mets. “But no matter how much despair there is, Artie remains calm, analytical, calculating. Things will always be OK with him. That drives me a little nutty. At some point I want to see him get totally pissed off and break something as we root for this team. But he’s not, and that’s part of his charm and it’s part of who he is.”

    Artie Bulgrin, who built research and analytics at ESPN, will retire at the end of this month.
    Photo by: ESPN IMAGES


    That description also rings true for Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations who previously was Bulgrin’s boss at ESPN.

    “Artie is always the calm in the eye of the storm,” Bratches said.

    The bespectacled Bulgrin, 58, will retire at the end of this month, take the summer off and look into picking up advising and consulting work with media companies, like, he hopes, ESPN. During Bulgrin’s 21-year ESPN career, he earned a sterling reputation as one of the most trusted researchers in the business. Friends and colleagues are quick to describe him as smart and analytical, but they also focus on other aspects of Bulgrin’s personality that have made the unassuming research executive one of the best-liked people at ESPN.

    When news of his pending retirement leaked in February, ESPNers from all levels reacted with a sense of disbelief that someone so integral to ESPN would be leaving. It resulted in a three-month-long goodbye, one that saw Bulgrin surprise his colleagues by shaving off his trademark mustache.

    Loyalty to Bulgrin is all around. Last Wednesday, Bulgrin’s staff skipped work and took their boss to a Mets game against the Giants. Anyone who sent an email to ESPN’s vice president of media intelligence, Dave Coletti, received the following out-of-office message: “In honor of Artie Bulgrin’s retirement I am taking Artie out to the ballgame today, along with the entire ESPN Fan & Media Intelligence team. If you have an urgent request we will get back to you after the last out. Let’s Go Mets!”

    “Artie is a true titan of the industry who for two decades has been a sage and calming voice amid a sea of change,” said ESPN President John Skipper. “I know I am not alone in saying that he will be missed — not only for his counsel, but for his friendship — and for being an integral part of the fabric of ESPN.”

    Bulgrin’s ESPN career started in 1996, when former ESPN President George Bodenheimer hired him away from ABC to be one of ESPN’s two researchers. Bodenheimer wanted Bulgrin to build up the research department, which he did. Today, ESPN’s research and analytics group run by Bulgrin has about 60 people spread across several continents.

    Bodenheimer delivered a simple message to Bulgrin when he hired him. He wanted Bulgrin to ingratiate himself with advertisers, cable operators and the press. That public persona helped Bulgrin become the dean of sports media researchers — someone who has earned respect from competing networks.

    For example, when reporters call research executives at rival networks, many times the executives start the conversation by asking, “What did Artie say?”

    “George gave me the freedom to do that,” Bulgrin said.

    Bulgrin’s staff took the researcher to see his beloved Mets last week, sporting shirts saying “Keep Calm When Artie’s Gone.”
    Photo by: ESPN IMAGES


    Bulgrin recalled a presentation he gave at an off-site meeting at the Tarrytown, N.Y., Hilton six months into his ESPN job. He detailed how ESPN was doing and the presentation went well; Bulgrin was feeling good. As he was packing up to leave, though, Bodenheimer called him and said, “I forgot I put you on the agenda for the ESPN board meeting this afternoon in New York at ABC.”

    “I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t dressed for it,” Bulgrin said. “I bought a tie at the hotel store and raced down in my car to our office on 66th Street. It was intimidating. The board had luminaries like Roone Arledge and Steve Burke. But it went fine, and ever since then, George would recommend me to speak at different conferences. Then I learned to become very active in the research community. I found it valuable because it gave us the outlet to tell our story to the industry — whether it was with the Advertising Research Foundation or the Cable Advertising Bureau or the Media Ratings Council.”

    Bulgrin is called “Artie” by everyone inside ESPN except Bodenheimer, who calls him “Arthur,” and Bratches, who has been known to call him “Red Hot Artie.”

    Bratches laughed as he told the story of the “Red Hot Artie” nickname, which came during an off-site sales meeting a couple of years ago. ESPN had brought in actors as a way to lighten the mood during the meeting.

    “One actress really took a liking to Artie,” Bratches said. “Over the three days, she would always come into the room and shout out, ‘Where’s Red Hot Artie?’”

    ■ ■ ■ ■

    ESPNers love to tell stories of Bulgrin’s personality because his work as ESPN’s top researcher is so respected.
    Bulgrin has had as much impact on ESPN’s business over the past two decades as many of the network’s better-known executives. It’s hard to find a part of ESPN that did not rely on Bulgrin. He influenced decisions that affect programming, ad sales and affiliate relations.

    Take the decision 16 years ago to program the late afternoon with original studio shows, like “Pardon the Interruption.” That’s the example that Williamson uses when he talks about Bulgrin’s ESPN influence.

    “He was sort of like a mad scientist that made us look at our networks in a totally different way,” Williamson said. “We always thought of 5:30 p.m., where ‘PTI’ currently resides, as a wasteland. He looked at the numbers and convinced us that we could attack that area.

    “Prior to that, we put all sorts of garbage on in the afternoon, goofy things like ‘Racehorse Digest.’ Artie really opened our eyes to the fandom that wasn’t being served at that time. He brought us into that culture and availability of audience that really catapulted a lot of our growth.”

    Bulgrin also was a regular on ad sales calls, said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of global sales and marketing. Bulgrin would be deferential and quiet during the pitch, eventually coming alive as he presented his findings.

    “It was magical when he became animated about something that he cared so much about,” Erhardt said. “That authenticity always resonated. We didn’t have to do a lot of selling after he got done talking.

    “The ability to tell a story around the numbers is always one of the great things that great researchers can do. Artie could definitely do that kind of thing when he was in the mode of sharing with our customers how sports fans were doing whatever they were doing at that particular time.”

    During his ESPN career, Bulgrin was instrumental in developing a cross-platform measurement that’s being used across the industry. He helped develop the ESPN Sports Poll, and started the “ESPN All Day, Every Day” measurement to quantify ESPN’s total audience.

    He oversaw the launch of the ESPN Ad Lab eight years ago and has been ESPN’s point person in pushing Nielsen to measure out-of-home viewing.

    Bulgrin is proud of the team he has assembled, and it’s certain that his departure will be felt by ESPN.

    “Artie is unequivocally the thought leader in the industry that led the business into cross platform measurement and permitted media companies around the globe to release value in the new media world,” Bratches said. “The value he created in this regard resonates across the landscape today.”

    John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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  • ‘Undefeated’ builds swagger in year one

    When ESPN launched “The Undefeated” one year ago, editor-in-chief Kevin Merida wrote an essay that defined the site’s mission. “We want ‘The Undefeated’ to feel urgent, necessary, not dutiful. Ours won’t be a site of sermons and scoldings. … Expect us to experiment aggressively with form: music, comedy, poetry, animation, gaming, film.”

    In an interview this month, Merida spoke about the areas where the site has carried the voice and the swagger promised at its May 17, 2016, launch.

    Editor-in-chief Kevin Merida said the site thrives on experimenting and being brave.
    Photo by: ESPN IMAGES


    What’s your assessment one year in?
    MERIDA:
    We said we wanted to experiment and innovate. We’ve done some really interesting things. We’ve done some oral histories. One thing we’ve done recently — Aaron Dodson, who went to the University of North Carolina, he took the last 13.5 seconds of last year’s North Carolina-Villanova national championship game and did an oral history. He talked to every single person there and had video with it.

    What’s your personal stamp on the site? How do I know you’re leading it?
    MERIDA:
    The great thing about starting something from scratch is that you feel ownership. But everybody here is part of the charter membership of “The Undefeated.” There were seven people here before I got here. We call them the “Magnificent Seven” because they had to persevere and just stay through a lot of ups and downs. Maybe, me coming was just to tell them that they can do it and give them some confidence that it was going to happen, we were going to launch it, it was going to be successful.

    How do you grow?
    MERIDA:
    We’re focused on extending our reach and finding ways to partner with other entities to find audience outside of the audiences that are already coming into ESPN. We’re doing it through rigorous study, metrics and analytics. We’ll also continue to experiment and be brave. The best thing for any media property is to be unafraid to try things. When things work, do more of it. When they don’t work, try something else.

    How was “The Undefeated” affected by ESPN’s recent layoffs?
    MERIDA:
    Some of these people were friends of “The Undefeated.” They did work for us. Others are people whose work I admired. Reese Waters was a correspondent. He was a brilliant comedian and did a lot for “SportsCenter,” but he did a lot of creative stuff for us. When we found out that he lost his job, we did a collection of his greatest work and put it on our site as a tribute to all he had contributed to us.

    One recent piece revisited the day Biggie Smalls died.
    Describe an Undefeated story.
    MERIDA:
    There should be some identifier of our work — sometimes it might be the voice, the swagger. We had a piece on the 20th anniversary of Biggie Smalls’ death. Justin Tinsley went back and recounted that day and talked to players like Shaq and others with the Lakers who were there and supposed to be involved with the party or saw Biggie that day and just kind of reconstructed the day. That’s probably a singular Undefeated piece. I don’t think anybody would have done that. I don’t think that would have appeared on ESPN.com.

    What made you proud over the past year?
    MERIDA:
    One of the things that we always said we wanted to be was not just a website. We wanted to be part of helping people understand athletes better, particularly black athletes and being part of the conversation that people are having about sports these days that may extend beyond the highlights. We’ve had six live events. We’ve been part of hosting and driving conversations, specifically around social activism and what athletes do with their platform. It started with the town hall in the south side of Chicago with community figures and athletes. We had the president of the United States at North Carolina A&T University. It was the first time a president had been at NC A&T, which is the largest historically black university in the country.

    YEAR ONE TIMELINE

    MAY 17, 2016: The site launches.

    JULY 25, 2016: Michael Jordan breaks his silence on social issues in an Undefeated story that becomes one of the highest-trafficked stories on any ESPN platform.

    AUG. 25, 2016: “The Undefeated Conversation: Athletes, Responsibility and Violence,” a discourse on athletes, responsibility, guns and violence in urban America, is held on Chicago’s South Side.

    OCT. 11, 2016: “The Undefeated Conversation with President Obama: Sports, Race and Achievement” is held at North Carolina A&T University.

    OCT. 18, 2016: The Undefeated announces funding for Morgan State University’s Center for the Study of Race in Sports and Culture to research the image of black women in sports.

    NOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2016: The Undefeated gains access to travel with America’s most famous ballerina, Misty Copeland, on a U.S. cultural envoy mission to Cuba.

    DEC. 18, 2016: “The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common” showcases a conversation between tennis great Serena Williams and Oscar- and Grammy Award-winning artist Common.

    MARCH 8, 2017: The inaugural class of six Rhoden Fellows is announced — a two-year journalism internship program identifying and training aspiring African-American journalists from historically black colleges and universities.

    APRIL 2017: The Undefeated wins the 2017 Webby Award in the Website/Sports category.


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