Sports Media

CSN Bay Area moving away from SportsNet Central, SportsTalk Live

Comcast SportsNet — much like ESPN and other outlets — is scrambling because more people than expected are “cutting the cord” in response to exorbitant cable bills.

Those gosh-darned millennials, mostly.

In response, CSN has started figuring out ways to modify their programming to keep fans hooked while still holding onto their phones.

Most of the network’s resources go toward live sports, and the rest will be funneled toward shows that promote those same teams and games. They plan to extend the pregame and postgame shows for each game (other than Warriors games, which are already an hour apiece), and the big new offering they’ve been promoting is the (overdue, frankly) ability to stream games on any device, even when you’re physically in the market where the team plays.

That’s the good news. There’s some bad news … if you were a fan of SportsNet Central and SportsTalk Live, at least. SportsTalk Live hasn’t been on the air for weeks (they’ve been showing reruns), and SportsNet Central appears to have left as well.

(Full disclosure: I appeared on STL between 50-100 times over the last few years, and greatly appreciate those opportunities and the folks who worked to put that show together.)

From what I’m hearing, CSN Bay Area will follow CSN Philly’s lead (Philadelphia is where CSN is headquartered).

From Philadelphia Business Journal (10/7/16):

In an attempt to keep up with fast-changing viewer habits and attract and retain the coveted millennial audience, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia has implemented significant format changes in recent months – including a shuffling of on-air hosts and a shift in programming.

Last year, CSN eliminated the 6 p.m. edition of its flagship news program, SportsNet Central, in favor of Eagles-centric gab fest Quick Slants. More recently, the program’s 10 p.m. edition has scaled back highlight packages to focus on analysis, and back and forth banter, mirroring some of the programming seen on national sports networks like ESPN and FS1. A new segment called Three and Out matches up three hosts offering opinions about a specific topic.

“We’ve tried to evolve an operation in a more efficient, smarter fashion,” CSN Philadelphia President Brian Monihan said. “Viewers are not just watching on TV but on mobile phones and IPads. And they’re not necessarily looking for highlights. If they want scores, they don’t want to have to wait for them. They can just look on their phones and get that immediately.

“Our programming is now more about discussion. Our hosts are not individual experts but they have the ability to express their opinions. And we have seen our hosts raise their presence on social media. They are expanding their reach on all platforms.”

“Our talent needs to be more flexible in terms of what they are asked to do,” Monihan said. “Some of them have started podcasts… [BOB co-hosts Jillian Mele and Barrett Brooks] now host [Eagles coach] Doug Pederson’s press conferences. We don’t just air it. They actually host it. And Jillian can get analysis from Barrett, since he is a former player… We are asking our people to be malleable and not just do one thing.”

Viewers can spot CSN’s increasing focus on attracting millennials with its BOB program, which is heavy on social media interaction and other programming is following that course.

They won’t follow CSN Philly step by step, though. For example, I haven’t heard anything about a 49ers/Raiders-centric “gab fest” coming to CSN Bay Area any time soon. Maybe that’s in the works, or they’re waiting until the 49ers are no longer a dumpster fire.

But a similar shift, away from SportsNet Central and SportsTalk Live anchoring weekday evenings and toward programming built around fast-paced hot takes and social media, is in the works.

SportsTalk Live was mostly based on banter, but management believes that particular show has run its course since debuting as Chronicle Live in 2007. And that makes sense, since no show with this format lasts forever, other than ESPN’s The Sports Reporters. Which is getting canceled in May. Figures.

I saw the writing on the wall for STL when it went from Yahoo SportsTalk Live to just plain old SportsTalk Live about a year ago. When Jim Kozimor was moved to Kings pre/post a few months ago and the show went to a rotating set of hosts, it was pretty clear that CSN Bay Area would make some changes shortly, especially in light of what was going on in Philly.

What will replace these shows? From what I’m hearing, they’re looking at a format that will replicate that of the Dan Patrick Show or Mike & Mike — a sports talk program, available in all relevant formats (TV, podcast, streaming), hosted by current full-time CSN personalities. We can probably fill in the blanks as to who those personalities might be — Greg Papa is CSNBA’s go-to guy for just about everything, and Ray Ratto is the network’s only “insider” who isn’t a team-specific beat writer.

As far as I know, the only person who has left the station is Henry Wofford. Crossing Broad reports that several CSN Philadelphia personalities were let go, so we’ll see if CSN Bay Area follows suit.

***

There’s the social media angle, of course. There’s always a social media angle.

Sigh …

We know television stations are doing their best to pull our eyeballs away from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. (And it’s got to be even more difficult for sports networks these days, with everything going on in the real world that the #StickToSports crowd tries so hard to make us ignore.)

CSN’s intent is not to engage with regular users of these platforms (for example: rolling tweets from regular sports fans across the bottom of the screen during whatever programs replace SportsNet Central and SportsTalk Live). This makes some sense. Most social media posts from celebs aren’t worth a second glance, let alone the rantings of some guy on a bar stool, angry with Draymond Green for one reason or another.

However, it’s pretty obvious that the plan is to cut down on the traditional sports TV stuff and replace it with content under the umbrella of “what the kids are talking about right now.” Which, according to people who sit in board rooms with marketing degrees, means trending social media posts from athletes.

I have a couple of problems with this model as a viewer.

First, there’s no way a TV station can curate these posts and show them on the air before they trend on the social media platforms from which they came, and people (sorry, MILLENIALS) who are interested in such things are already on those platforms. Also, watching fuzzy vertical Instagram videos on a widescreen 4K television is not exactly the best use of the technology.

Second, while athletes occasionally post things that are funny, controversial and/or enlightening, social media is, by and large, a brand-building exercise for them. So while it sounds cool and easy to build a show around clips of Riley Curry dancing, Zaza Pachulia’s kid chucking a halfcourter, Marquette King beefing with Travis Kelce, or Hunter Pence making coffee with a French press, it’s really just advertising in a different way.

Which is probably the point. Comcast doesn’t want these shows to exist as their own entities. They want shows that promote the teams and games featured on Comcast.

They might also want faster-paced discussion and content that’s quick and VIRAL, as opposed to long-form discussions that could result in things being said that upset the teams they broadcast. But I’m probably getting a little too deep here … this is about money (duh). Covering live professional sports is one of the only surefire ways to generate it, and it makes financial sense for networks in a changing entertainment landscape to focus every second of TV screen time on getting people to watch the games and/or visit CSN’s website instead of sitting on a social media site all day, waiting for other people to spoon-feed everything to them for free. We’ll see whether the changes result in better programming for CSN Bay Area, or whether the difference between the new shows and the infomercials they broadcast throughout the morning and midday hours will become less noticeable.

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