Possessing complete domination of the 24-hour sports news cycle across just about every media platform allows ESPN certain luxuries.Namely, it could long ago have neglected what viewers thought, continued to add channels, local news sites, and radio stations, and done as it pleased, carrying on in the the tradition of history’s long list of dictators.
But by God’s grace ESPN elects to take a different route: it chooses to listen to its considerable audience. Sarcasm aside, in Don Ohlmeyer’s last column as Ombudsmen (that’s a big word for “internal media critic,” for the non-media savvy among us) he reveals the company’s impressive approach to listening to complaints.
Let’s parse through the original 5,830 word piece, and bullet it.
- The ombudsman receives more than 25,000 e-mails a day. Network gets 53,000 communications via phone, letter, and e-mail (actually down 40 per cent from 2009).
- Their 50-person audience research team has a multi-million dollar budget spread across five offices around the world.
- Researchers spoke in person to 315 respondents in 15 cities over the past 24 months. They conduct 1,600 survey interviews every quarter, and hold monthly studies that track viewers’ ratings of ESPN productions.
- Opened a media lab led by a team of Ph.Ds to take “a scientific approach to understanding how our fans interact with our content.”
- They hold “conflict groups” between ESPN fans and detractors, conduct deprivation studies, take fans to games to discuss things in context, and host BBQs to talk to audience in an intimate environment.
That’s actually a pretty impressive undertaking for a media company that many sports fans, myself included, turn to by default. The brand is so strong that they could probably sustain their dominance without taking all these measures – especially considering the technical quality and sharp graphics of all of their production.
Then again, it’s up for debate whether all of this listening has actually produced results. The Ombudsmen touts the revamped Monday Night Football (featuring Jaws and Gruden) as a stellar product of conceding to audience demands. They wanted more in-depth football analysis, and less Kornheiser/Dennis Miller jokes, and they got it.
Of course, that analysis comes with a hefty side of Ron Jaworksi and John Gruden professing their love for seemingly every football play they see as if it were the subject of a Shakespearean sonnet.
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