To see the entire interview with Tom Hearne, CFO of Score Media, click here
In a 1992 song, Bruce Springsteen complained about staying up until “half past dawn” watching TV because there were fifty-seven channels and nothing on. Oh have the times changed. On any modern television with any cable or satellite provider one can start flicking channels at the top of the hour only to flip constantly until the bottom of the hour without finding what you are looking for.
At one point, television ruled the airwaves. It became the advertisement destination of choice if you had the funds. If you wanted to broadcast a message to a broad audience, television was the medium. If you wanted bragging rights about making an impact during the Super Bowl, television was the choice. Conversations were curtailed, radio play was cut short, TV dinners were invented, Lucy became a star and prime time was born.
One of the most disruptive television companies to emerge was scorned by broadcasters upon launch but whose technology is now common in most North American homes. TIVO. A box that sat on top of your TV and recorded shows onto a hard drive. What was so unique about TIVO was the fact you could program it to record a television show, not a time slot, and then watch it — while skipping the ads — on your schedule, not the networks. This seems pedestrian today, just a few years from launch, as you can now pause live TV and watch your favorite shows on demand.
What has happened to television since TIVO was introduced in 1999 has been a slow climb that has lead us to a tipping point in the industry. This tipping point has been brought on by the shift in human behaviours around when and how we watch TV, the impact of the Internet and sites like YouTube and the desire to watch television from wherever and on whatever device is most convenient.
One of the most relevant and driving factors forcing broadcasters and providers to innovate is the incredible impact that mobile is having on the average North American viewer. Used right, television is no longer a passive form of scheduled entertainment. In order to engage with an audience broadcasters need to create a more interactive dialogue – something that makes the consumer feel compelled to watch something live. If not, there are now many more ways to gain access to that content when it is more convenient.
Tom Hearne, CFO of Score Media, the company that brings Canadians The Score television channel, understands this industry in transition. They spent $15 million building their high-definition studio not to mention the costs of their own broadcasting license as well as other licensing agreements to broadcast live and taped sports and statistics agreements for the real-time data every sports channel is required to have. They also house the talent – the hosts and personalities who create, produce and broadcast what advertisers love, content. Is The Score scared of this changing industry? Not one bit. In fact, being a smaller television company, they have been able to adjust and embrace the change and use it as their competitive advantage.
Where have they focused? The emerging mobile market.
The Score is no stranger to the mobile game. Four years ago they offered a subscription service through Rogers for sports scores and news on BlackBerry’s – well before the iPhone launched and changed the mobile landscape forever. Today, mobile is a key driving growth force for the company and they are not slowing down. In fact they consider mobile as their next big media push. “There will not be Score 2, Score 3, and Score 4.” Says Hearne, “There will be ScoreMobile, ScoreMobile FC, and maybe four, five, or six other ScoreMobile applications that put us in very specific sports genres where we can engage an audience and grab a conversation.”
The reasons why are very clear when you consider that the audience for the Score television channel is fixed based on their reach inside of Canada but their mobile applications reach beyond our borders, beyond their television signal and into the pockets of sports fans around the globe – 2 million of them and growing – and the new audience, exposed to the mobile applications, may not even know that a television channel is behind all the content.
Hearne feels the distinct advantage that a traditional television channel has over the other newer forms of citizen reporting – basement sports fans for example – is quality and the volume of content they can produce. The content their studio develops is broadcast-quality, their on-air personalities are professional broadcasters, their relationships with statistics and live feed organizations allow them to extend what they do every day on air into the airwaves creating global brands from their studios in Toronto.
He is also quick to point out that the 60 inch screen in your living room won’t become obsolete anytime soon but perhaps the way we have become accustomed to using it will evolve into something a little more participatory. Hearne cites a few key trends that they are witnessing as they wayfind through this new new media world. The biggest is the multi-platform conundrum brought on by mobile. He says “Generally I think you’ll find sports fans will go to their device of highest fidelity. If I have a choice between watching an NFL football game on a mobile device or on my 58-inch flat screen at home in my basement or at a bar, I’m probably going to go watch it on the 58-inch flat screen.” It is here where using a mobile device to interact with other fans, to be a part of the conversation while the plays are happening, to add context to what you are seeing is where The Score scores.
Whatever happens on the field, on the ice or between the lines the broadcast world is changing. It no longer makes business sense to simply broadcast a live event, watch time expire, roll the credits and get on to the next show. Even the term “broadcaster” needs an update – this is not a one-way medium anymore. “If all you’re focused on is pushing a one way live event, you’re missing out on a fantastic opportunity with your audience to have a great conversation.” Says Hearne.
There is no doubt that the past 10 years have seen a shift in the way we consume television. Before the Internet and mobile, the average consumer of content waited for the newspaper to arrive in the morning, the newscast to be on at noon or 6 or 11 and used the radio for hourly updates about the world around us. Today that is no longer the case. Global news breaks in real-time and is available just as fast and for the sports fan it has never been easier to find a score, watch a play, a live game or get expert insight. This ease of access means broadcasters and leagues need to rise above the commodity of the sport and find ways to generate revenue from new business models and pull from a larger pool of fans.
“I will definitely get less per second of engagement from a mobile perspective but I will get a much broader audience.” Says Hearne. “For us, especially at The Score, as a CRTC-regulated television station, I have a reach of 10 million households. I’m in seven million of them right now. That’s about as good as it’s going to get. I’m not going to be in 30 million households next week because there aren’t that many households in Canada. Whereas I can be in front of two million people [with mobile] which will hopefully soon be three million, then five million, then 10 million people around the world that I can engage with and have a conversation with and create value to advertisers from the sense that there’s a community that’s all focused and passionate about very particular things. As an advertiser, I can start to send them very directed advertising.”
Reach is only a piece of the puzzle for generating revenue on mobile. Another very important aspect is the ability to clearly segment and target a market. Mobile phones are as personal a technology as there is and for the user who has customized their phone to display what they are interested in should be a clear path to making sure the messages being sent to them are targeted and relevant to their likes. For a sports fan following the New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays it would be easy to make sure the in-app advertisements resonate with their interests.
And what about the future? Can the revenue generated from mobile overshadow revenue from television? Hearne and his CEO, John Levy believe that outcome is inevitable and a short 3-5 years away. To do this their key tenant is to create products that facilitate the conversation between fans not own the broadcast rights that fans consume and this is a powerful shift in the way television operates today.
The success of the Score in a market dominated by bigger brands is not an accident. Perhaps being a smaller, more agile station allows their team to react faster to the changes happening around them. The strategy to integrate the social aspects of mobile seems a natural fit with the sports fan demographic – they like to talk about their team, the game, the play with other like-minded individuals.