Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Brave New World Where Everything is Fragmented

Of course complicating things even further, not all the players involved are all that brave. I’ve seen this happen before (think about a newspaper industry that was once booming that can now often not give away free newspapers). We were all talking about that stuff in the mid ‘90s and it has certainly come to pass.

Think about this: the Sopranos, the most influential drama (especially considering it wasn’t on a broadcast network) probably of the last 20 years. It drew about 11.9 million viewers on Sunday, making it only the 4th most watched episode ever. Number one was the 2002 season premier (13.4 million).

I’m still not quite sure that the NHL is really in better shape just because franchise values are up. It’s true that the multiple is the multiple (and right now that multiple seems to be 3.5x revenue). But it’s also true that: the multiple is the multiple, until it isn’t.

But what’s going on with the NHL, the NBA and the Sopranos is the EXACT same problem: limited free time in a world of burgeoning choice. It wasn’t that the Sopranos got significantly worse since 2002 (it was already starting to wane by then in my estimation), it’s that momentum for the fragmented world is accelerating and getting more and more fragmented all the time.

So let me be the first person I know to say this: (I’m not sure anyone else hasn’t, and I ‘fess up, I didn’t google it, because I didn’t want to know):

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is a GENIUS. Like Mark Cuban genius in terms of timing. He got out when the going was good. This poor sap Roger Goodell is about to not know what hit him. He’s worried about the Cincinnati Bengals % arrested – and while I don’t blame him, that’s going to be the least of his worries. The one thing that’s held on pretty steady is the NFL’s ratings clout. But their ratings too are eroding and it’s going to get worse, not better. And this is regardless of anything the NFL and the networks are doing in terms of packaging the product itself. It’s just math. It’s inevitable because of that math (limited free time, more choices, with choice escalating constantly).

I think of at least three things the NFL could or should be doing to stave this off (they can’t stop it, but they can optimize for the fact it is occurring), but don’t appear to be doing at all yet. This doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it, but I believe they probably are not thinking about it enough. Mr. Goodell, I may be reached at robert dot seidman @ gmail dot com. I’ll give you the three ideas for um… $3.8 million.

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