A Media Non-Move: ESPN.com Star Bill Simmons Stays Put

Here’s a variation on the “old media star bails for new media outlet” story–a new media big shot staying put at the place that made him famous.

ESPN.com is hanging on to star columnist Bill Simmons, whose contract was set to expire this year. Disney’s sports site has yet to announce the deal, but sources tell me it was finalized more than a month ago–but not as far back as May 15, when Deadspin reported that a deal was essentially done.

How’s that for precision?

In that same vein, you can hear Simmons acknowledge the new deal, tacitly, in his pal Adam Carolla’s podcast today. During the show, taped yesterday, Carolla tells Simmons that “I know you signed a new contract with ESPN,” and then the two go on to talk about future podcast plans, including the potential for video podcasts (this kicks in around the 17:30 mark, if you’ve got the time).

Simmons more or less grew up on the Web, and while Disney’s (DIS) sports unit gives him an opportunity to do things off the Internet, he’s best known for his Sports Guy columns and podcasts on ESPN’s very big site.

Deadspin says Simmons is now working on a “top secret” project for ESPN; rival sports gossip blog The Big Lead says he’ll be building a new standalone site under the ESPN.com umbrella.

No word on length of the new deal, or its value, though I’m hoping it’s for a boatload of money.

That’s what Simmons’s colleague Rick Reilly got when he came aboard from Time Warner’s (TWX) Sports Illustrated back in 2007–a 5-year, $17 million deal, I’m told–and even though Reilly’s deal was done before the economy tanked, it’d be nice to think a Web wonder can command the same kind of cash in 2010.

Even something in the same ballpark would be nice. Right?

ESPN declined to comment; I’m waiting to hear back from Simmons.

[Image credit: Steven Barry via ESPN Books]

Bloomberg Fantasy Football Tool Coming To iPhone, iPad

Bloomberg Sports' Decision Maker

If the words “Bloomberg” and “fantasy football” seem incongruous, the financial media company is hoping to change that impression with the release of a new iPhone app it expects to be approved next week. The company created the Bloomberg Sports division a few months ago. The app will be will be sold through Apple’s App store for $1.99, for the iPhone; the iPad version will cost $4.99.

The mobile version comes a month after Bloomberg Sports signed distribution deals Fox Sports, USA Today, RotoHog and AdamCarolla.com to feature the Decision Maker subscription product, which sells for $7.95 for a season pass. The tool is available free to NFL.com fantasy players as part of a larger partnership between Bloomberg and the NFL and the league’s players union.

The new mobile app lets users see how any player matches up to others individually, all backed with Bloomberg’s “propriety scientific algorithms.”

Like rival Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI), Bloomberg is trying to broaden its appeal to a more general business audience, as its real-time news offerings have faced greater challenges from the internet. At the same time, the financial weakness of other media outlets have provided openings for both companies to move into. While Bloomberg Sports is certainly taking a bigger leap into the entertainment side of media, its Decision Maker app features analytics that demonstrate the companies market data DNA can be translated to other content categories.

The idea for creating a fantasy football product was generated last year by Bo Moon, Bloomberg’s head of business development and product’s division, and Jay Lee, who’s in charge of operations. After getting the go-ahead to see if they could provide market research for the project, the duo received permission from Bloomberg’s management board last March.



The Morning Lowdown 10.08.10

Morning Lowdown

Some of the stories people are talking about this morning:

»  Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has long been known to plant stories when it suits its purpose. But TechCrunch finds the process particularly calculated with regard to a recent story in the WSJ about Verizon finally getting the iPhone. AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, a former WSJ reporter, defends her Dow Jones (NSDQ: NWS) sibling company and rebukes TechCrunch through more than 20 comments on the site. [TechCrunch, ValleyWag]

»  The NYT, WSJ and Gannett (NYSE: GCI) are looking to Samsung’s forthcoming tablet as a countervailing force against the iPad. [WSJ]

»  A CNN study says only 27 percent of its website visitors shared 87 percent of its stories. The major social media sites—Facebook Twitter, YouTube and MySpace, accounted for 43 percent of all links shared, email 30 percent, SMS 15 percent and instant messenger 12 percent. [The Guardian]

»  The LATimes appears to be taking aim at rumor-mongering bloggers in its appeal to advertisers to support its “non-rumor” pervading newsletter, The Envelope. [The Awl]

»  After nearly 125 years since it began publishing, The Sporting News is a smart example of a publication that knows how to price its print, online and mobile versions to consumers and advertisers, says Outsell’s Ken Doctor. [NiemanLab]

»  Megan McCarthy is the sole human being powering news aggregator Mediagazer. This is her story. [AJR, via Mediagazer]

»  When the head of bookmark sync and search provider Xmarks was out of money and options last month, it actually helped attract potential acquirers, suggesting that the death cry may have saved the company’s life. [Cnet]

Naked Brett Favre Won’t Make Money for Nick Denton

Gawker Media’s Deadspin sports site says it will publish nude photos of Brett Favre today, along with some voicemails it says the quarterback left for a woman who is not his wife.

Which means that corner of Deadspin is going to be very, very popular today.

As well as unprofitable, says Gawker Media owner Nick Denton.

“These things are always money-losers,” Denton says via IM, before referring me to Gawker Media marketing director Erin Pettigrew for more.

But while I wait for her to get back to me, I can make some educated guesses to explain why lots of traffic won’t mean lots of money for Denton today.

  • It’s hard to serve ads into traffic spikes. Or at least that’s what Denton always says about his most popular posts, like the iPhone 4 prototype that Gizmodo showed off to Apple’s dismay, or a sorta-sex tape featuring “McSteamy” from “Grey’s Anatomy,” etc.
  • In this case, Gawker is very likely to serve up the Favre post without any advertising, anyway. When I interviewed Denton onstage at an Advertising Week event last week, I asked him specifically about how advertisers feel about “athlete dong” photos, which his readers love. His answer, in short, was that advertisers are understandably squeamish about this stuff, and can opt out of posts that contain it in advance. Have to assume this is one of those cases.

Requisite to-be-sure: Denton runs a for-profit business, and he won’t run athlete dong photos or anything else unless he can make money doing it.

So while those individual pageviews that the post generates won’t make him money, those visitors may well end up visiting other, dong-free posts on Gawker sites today, which will have ads.

And of course, the post will give Gawker and Deadspin that much more publicity, as mainstream media outlets that would never stoop to running athlete dong photos find time to talk about the site that did. (Cough.)

UPDATE: Sure enough, both the Favre post and the rest of Deadspin are currently ad-free. Via e-mail, Erin Pettigrew explains why that’s so:

In the case of major ad/edit adjacency issues such as this, we have a cadre of tech tools to handle the display conflict. Usually the decision is made to prevent ads from showing next to NSFW or similarly questionable content and then the tech solution is put into place to effect that immediately after. The tech tools range from removing ads on a per-post basis to scanning post content for particular topics against which we can negatively target ads.

If the adjacency affects takeovers and sponsorships where ad inventory cannot be otherwise rerouted, we communicate the scenario upfront to the client and involve them in the decision-making. The same tech solutions then apply.

It’s the classic airplane ad next to an airliner crash scenario for which publishers need to develop contingencies. For this particular scoop, the decision was indeed to clean the Favre post pages of ads.

I saw your note about spikes — you are correct that we aren’t able to instantly match ad demand to the surge of inventory supply caused by traffic spikes. This is because our inventory is 100% directly sold versus hawked by real time auction marketplaces. More pageviews does not directly equal more dollars! Also, note that our ad bookings close weeks to months before creative hits the websites. So, unless a spike is ’scheduled,’ it can’t really be sold.

New York Times Co. Could Wind Up With Share Of Liverpool Football Club

Liverpool FC

In the oddest of twists, the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) is on the verge of being part owner of a major UK football club. The publisher still holds nearly 17 percent of New England Sports Ventures, LLC—owner of baseball’s Boston Red Sox and the likely next owner of Liverpool Football Cub. NESV and Liverpool announced a deal today for the Boston sports group to acquire the troubled Premier League football (as in soccer) team from controversial U.S. owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The sale has to be approved by the league and various legal matters have to settled before it can be finalized.

I’ll leave the Liverpool ownership drama to others, like BSkyb, the BBC, and my colleagues at The Guardian.

The sports company also owns Fenway Park, 80 percent of the New England Sports Network, and a stake in Nascar’s Roush team.

The NYT started formal efforts to sell its stake last year and sold 1.2 percent in April. From this side of the pond, it’s hard to see how acquiring a team deep in debt, despite its passionate fan base, will make it any easier for the NYT to sell the rest of its stake in NESV. Maybe they can sell some units to Liverpool fans.


You’ve Got Mail, Mike Arrington: AOL Buys TechCrunch

And now it’s official. The details we really want–how much–aren’t out yet, but I’m betting they’ll show up soon. Meantime, here’s the press release:


Leading Authority on Tech News Will Expand AOL’s Growing Offering of World-Class, Audience-Relevant Content

San Francisco, CA, September 28, 2010 – AOL Inc. [NYSE: AOL] today announced that it has agreed to acquire TechCrunch, Inc., the company that owns and operates TechCrunch and its network of websites dedicated to technology news, information and analysis. TechCrunch and its associated properties and conferences will join the AOL Technology Network while retaining their editorial independence, further bolstering AOL’s position as one of the world’s leading providers of high-quality, tech-oriented content. The announcement will be made on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, CA.

Founded by Michael Arrington, TechCrunch operates a global network of dedicated properties from Europe to Japan, as well as vertically-oriented websites, including MobileCrunch, CrunchGear, TechCrunchIT, GreenTech, TechCrunchTV and CrunchBase. The TechMeme Leaderboard ranks TechCrunch as the No. 1 source of breaking tech news online, followed by AOL’s Engadget.*

“Michael and his colleagues have made the TechCrunch network a byword for breaking tech news and insight into the innovative world of start-ups, and their reputation for top-class journalism precisely matches AOL’s commitment to delivering the expert content critical to this audience,” said Tim Armstrong, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AOL. “TechCrunch and its team will be an outstanding addition to the high-quality content on the AOL Technology Network, which is now a must-buy for advertisers seeking to associate their brands with leading technology content and its audience.”

Heather Harde, Chief Executive Officer of TechCrunch, said: “TechCrunch and AOL share a motivating passion for quality technology news and information, and we’re delighted about becoming part of the AOL family. This represents a compelling opportunity to extend the TechCrunch brand while complementing the great work of sites like Engadget and Switched. Our contributors, and our audiences, can look to the future with excitement about what we can build when we have the significant resources of AOL behind us.”

Michael Arrington, Founder and Co-Editor of TechCrunch, said: “Tim Armstrong and his team have an exciting vision for the future of AOL as a global leader in creating and delivering world-class content to consumers, be it through original content creation, partnerships or acquisitions. I look forward to working with everyone at AOL as we build on our reputation for independent tech journalism and continue to set the agenda for insight, reviews and collaborative discussion about the future of the technology industry.”

TechCrunch also hosts industry-leading conferences and events, including The Disrupt series, The Crunchies Awards and various meet-ups worldwide. These conferences bring together industry innovators, entrepreneurs and financing sources to exchange ideas, forge new relationships and discuss the current and future industry trends.

“Engagement with thought leaders is as important to AOL as our engagement with our contributors, audiences, publishers and advertisers, and TechCrunch’s conferences and websites will give us a promising, additional springboard to join and amplify these conversations. We’re committed to quality in everything we do at AOL, and look forward to working with Heather, Michael and the TechCrunch team to extend the brand,” said David Eun, President of AOL Media and Studios.

The AOL Technology Network consists of AOL’s tech-oriented properties including Engadget, the Web magazine about everything new in gadgets and consumer electronics; Switched, which covers the intersection of the digital world with entertainment, sports, art, fashion and lifestyle; TUAW, the unofficial Apple weblog; and DownloadSquad, the weblog about downloadable software and other computer subjects. The AOL Technology Network ranks in the top five for tech news according to comScore Media Metrix, August 2010 data, and leads the top five in average time spent and average visits per user.

This acquisition will further AOL’s strategy to become the global leader in sourcing, creating, producing and delivering high-quality, trusted, original content to consumers. TechCrunch will remain headquartered in San Francisco, CA, as a wholly owned AOL unit. Deal terms were not disclosed.

ESPN’s Newest Premium Apps Are For Insiders Only

My Insider

While other publishers brag about surpassing single-copy sales on the iPad or look for ways to manage subscriptions outside of iTunes, ESPN (NYSE: DIS) is running a different pattern. The Disney sports unit has a number of successful free and one-time purchase apps. But its new ESPN the Magazine iPad app and ESPN Insider iPhone apps, awaiting approval now, are subscription products tied to its premium Insider membership—and designed to be sold through Apple (NSDQ: AAPL).

The download will be free with access to one digital issue of the bi-weekly magazine included. When the user tries to access back issues or to use the app to download a new issue, they’ll see a pop up that asks “Are you an Insider?” Current members can use their ESPN Insider login; others will get an offer to become one at $9.99 for six months. That’s a significant discount from the $6.95 monthly Insider subscription; plans online also sell for $60 for two years or roughly $40 for one year.  (Membership is also included in subscriptions to the print magazine. This may encourage more of those subscribers to activate their Insider accounts.)

Gary Hoenig, GM & Editorial Director, ESPN Publishing, explains the strategy. “We don’t see it as a major means to add subs or revenue. We see it as a great way to promote the overall Insider experience.” That’s one reason they’re comfortable with in-app purchases through iTunes, even though it means giving up 30 percent of the take. “To me, the question is not whether people will pay but how. ... If you make that easy people will do it; you don’t, they won’t. Right now, with the possible exception of Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), no one comes close.”

The apps are also ad supported. Chevrolet is the presenting sponsor for the iPad app with placement across the apps, the magazine and the ESPNInsider.com.

Both apps are designed as “value adds” for current subs. In addition to the magazine, the iPad app (see the video below) includes “Other Stuff We Like”—an exclusive collection of video, including interviews for the app, clips from the ABC Wide World of Sports archive, E:60 and Outside the Lines and photos combined with trivia, sports betting analysis and news from the sports gambling industry. “The daily portion of this alone probably could be released as anapplication.”

Chris Berend, deputy editor for the magazine and Insider, is responsible for the editorial products. ESPN worked with Bottle Rocket as the developer and Moment as the designer on the iPad app, and Scroll Motion for the iPhone. 

The subscription model is the same for the ESPN Insider app. It’s literally meant to be Insider in your pocket, updated constantly, says Berend. It includes the content but isn’t designed as a visual experience.  How does ESPN know its subs wants this? “We know they’re using this stuff. We want to make sure we’re there when they are.”

Berend also sees potential for more apps spinning off of the magazine’s single-topic issues. “It’s not out of the question that we could spin ‘The Body Issue’ or ‘Next’ or one of our other franchises into an app.”

Berend and Hoenig say the additional costs of producing the digital versions are minimal. “We’re already set up for digital content,” says Berend. The same content system powers the iPad although they’ve opted out of doing exact copies of everything in the magazine. He describes the approach as more basic than Wired: “We’re way more basic—in a good way. We really focus on reading and looking and watching. We come out of every two weeks. We don’t have the luxury of designing a second magazine on top of the one we’re doing. We’re curating what we actually put on and creating an original interface.”

They’ve added some staff to work with development going forward but like working with outside developers both for the speed to market and added insights. “Otherwise, you’re just talking to yourselves,” says Hoenig.