We talk a lot in this blog about giving your audience a seat on the table.
Our Techsurveys – by definition – are very fan-based. Most of our respondents come from station email databases or from social media pages.
We are big fans of listening to your listeners – the basis of audience research.
But is there a point reached when fans become too vocal? Or when brands become too reactive to their whims?
It's always important to keep in mind that what your fans want – and what you want – may not always be aligned. Give them a third Country station in town, and they'll tell you they love expanded choices. But that's not going to necessarily translate to a station that wins in both ratings and revenue.
Still, fans are the lifeblood of any successful pop culture brand or platform – including radio. That was on display this past weekend in metro Detroit at what was billed as “The Last Reunion” – a gathering of hundreds of “classic” radio pros, They were all there – 93 year-old Robin Seymour, Lee Alan (who put on the event), Joey Reynolds, Bob Greene, Jerry Goodwin, Jo Jo Shutty-MacGregor (the first female traffic helicopter reporter), along with Shotgun Tom Kelly, and even John Records Landecker. The “new guard” also were in the house – Pat St. John, Jim Kerr, Ken Calvert, and other legends of the FM airwaves.
What separated this event from past nostalgic Detroit radio reunions? This one was open to fans – and they showed up in force, autograph books and selfie sticks in hand – excited to meet their radio idols.
Very cool to meet so many legends and talented people in the radio and television industry today. #thelastreunion #robinseymour #leealan #dickpurtan #radiolife #radiopersonality pic.twitter.com/pTdEgITkm8
— James Honeycutt (@jamesxxcc) September 15, 2019
And why not? These are the folks who showed up at car dealership remotes and jello jumps. They incessantly called the request lines, and most importantly, they filled out Arbitron diaries.
And they worshiped these radio gods mostly from afar.
That was then. This is now.
Today's fans most certainly have a voice in how their heroes perform and how content is produced. Maybe too much of a voice. That's because core fans, followers, and so-called “influencers” have become well aware of their increasingly powerful voice.
And that leads to situations when fans grasp the fact brands will bend over backwards for them. That's a dangerous thing, because as we know, power requires responsibility. And I've never met a fan who felt responsible for a suggestion they've made.
A great example of fans going berserk – or perhaps better put, a big brand overreacting to them – came during ESPN's first Monday Night Football game of the season , featuring the Patriots vs. the Steelers. The story was well-covered by Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune. He noted ESPN set a fan-speed record for correcting a stupid move the network made for this broadcast.
Here's how it happened:
For some reason, ESPN thought it would be cool to change up its dashboard (the stats that live at the bottom of the screen) by changing the color of the penalty symbol to black (from its usual yellow), and turning the down/yards to go marker into yellow.
OK, so you can already see how this disaster in the making unfolded. The network's Bill Hofheimer heralded this dashboard refresh before near the start of the game. You can see the result of this graphics experiment at the bottom right of the tweet below:
The NFL graphics revamp by ESPN’s Creative Services team includes a new #MNF dashboard this season. A notable addition is the neon yellow “venom” color. Great work by @coolhand20 and company. pic.twitter.com/AwjVWfrG2O
— bill hofheimer (@bhofheimer_espn) September 9, 2019
Yeah, venom all right. It didn't take long for football fans to take to Twitter to vociferously complain about ESPN's colorblind decision in the cheery, constructive way they always do:
Get rid of the HORRIBLE yellow green boxes and font. WTF is wrong with you people? Oh and FIRE BOOGER too while you're at it!
— Matt (@BloodSoil88) September 9, 2019
Nothing unusual about this, right? When fans complain in force, the usual response from programmers and executives is to assess and verify the damage, meet during the following week, and then make a decision about the choice of yellow venom for their down/distance stat on the dashboard during next Monday night's game.
Except by halftime of this same game, the venom yellow box was gone, replaced by inoffensive white. And ESPN went out of its way to acknowledge they heard (saw) all those fan complaints, and made the switch.
Our ESPN production team is aware of the feedback on the #MNF down and distance graphic. We have called an audible and adjusted for the 2nd half of #HOUvsNO and for the #DENvsOAK game to follow. New look pictured here. pic.twitter.com/SWLKKuW87w
— bill hofheimer (@bhofheimer_espn) September 10, 2019
Strategic? Not for a moment.
Phil Rosenthal asked the same question that hit me when I first read this harebrained story;
What possessed ESPN to make this change in the first place, ostensibly without fan feedback or research in the first place?
A mature, well-known product like NFL Football is easy to research. A simple focus group would have told Hofheimer and his team all they needed to know about “Yellowgate.” If money was an object (for Monday Night Football?), recruiting a handful of respondents from ESPN's vast database would have yielded the same reaction to this miscalculation over colors.
And why “experiment” with a wild change to the dashboard on the most important night of the year – the very first Monday Football broadcast when it could have been tested during an exhibition game?
There's a lot to be said for being responsive. And also for admitting a mistake, fixing the problem, and moving on.
But this incident begs the question why this wrongheaded decision happened at all.
In tomorrow's blog post, we'll take a deeper look at empowered fans – the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly.
Thanks to David Gariano for the inspiration. And congrats to Lee Alan, Art Vuolo, and Mike Seltzer for their hard work on putting together “The Last Reunion.”
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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