Cable Is About To Get More Expensive

There is a bidding war going on among cable providers, networks and sports franchises.

Maybe you noticed the almost $300 million CBS is paying for some early season games on Thursday nights while the NFL gets the Thursday games for its own network as the sports race heats up later in the season.

The average cable household is paying $6 a month to have ESPN content whether they want it or not.

Want the Philadelphia Flyers games on Comcast Sportsnet in Philly? Even with the cheapest basic cable package you’ll pay $90 a month. The cable systems are passing their costs of acquiring sports rights on to audiences faster than the audience can say I don’t want them.

This is insane for many reasons and one that few people see.

Millennials don’t like sports the way previous generations do.

Go to a game and watch young people having fun on their phones, forget the game.

Football especially has generational problems because Gen X parents – especially moms – are rethinking whether they want their kids playing high school football. Many parents are concerned about whether they want to expose their children to concussions that could cause memory problems and expose their children to dementia later in life.

When a sport cools down in high school, it affects college and as hard as it is to believe on the eve of the next Super Bowl, sports has a problem with the Millennial generation.

We may look back on these times as great days for sports but in spite of what cable operators and networks will still pay for sports, it’s not a slam dunk going forward.

But you’d never know that to see baby boomer media execs making fools out of themselves to get in bidding wars over broadcast rights.


Because sports still brings them massive audiences and they can sell it. Their own prime time programming, on the other hand, is declining in ratings and increasing in older demographics.

Time Warner, Cablevision and other smaller cable companies are increasing their fees to pay for sports content as is DirecTV whose fees will increase by almost 6% this year. Of course, you can negotiate with them by cancelling – cable companies and satellite providers are losing subscribers at the fastest pace ever.

None of this makes sense.

Owners and operators do what they want even if it flies in the face of what audiences want. They’ll watch sports on free TV but they’re not going to pay for increased costs for sports rights.

Yes, Gen X and baby boom audiences want sports, but when you consider that Millennials are cord cutters and will not pay for television (other than Netflix, Hulu and custom content channels they choose), it doesn’t bode well.

Remember that Comcast is about to takeover Time Warner after the government rolls over on that monopoly.

And cable companies like Cablevision are getting into the phone business. You may have heard about Freewheel which is Cablevision’s $29.95 a month cellphone service that works only on WiFi.

Talk about disrupting – this could kill the mobile phone business.


Radio is free and you can’t give it away.

God knows Jeff Smulyan has done everything he can to turn a cellphone into a Walkman and still, very few people want it.

iHeart says it has 60 million registered users but silly iHeart doesn’t track listening sessions as Pandora does.

Know why?

Because it is nearly impossible to listen to terrestrial radio on a mobile device with all those commercials and music repetition.

The dilemma for content providers is to change the way you think about audiences and you will do great things.

That’s the premise of my next media seminar in Philly in about 7 weeks from now.

Just for the heck of it, look at radio’s biggest problems below and make your goals match what we know about emerging audiences – 95 million Millennials many already in the money demo.

  1. Too Many Commercials – Stations want to sell more ads for more competitive prices (translation: cheap ads) so they cram 16 or more minutes of them into each hour. Then they use PPM as their guide for placement of these commercials. How spots are scheduled can make a difference. Also, the length of spots in each stop set.  There is much that can be done.  To proceed as is is not a solution.
  2. Unremarkable Programming For 70 Million Baby Boomers – Radio is guessing about Millennials and making incorrect assumptions about aging Baby Boomers. Baby boomers have been radio’s most loyal listeners but that’s changing now. Ignore baby boomers, target them or better yet discover what the two disparate groups have in common.  I think I can surprise you with what Baby Boomers and Millennials both want from radio that they are not now getting.
  3. Outdated Morning Shows – Radio needs to sell traffic, transit, weather and even news to earn revenue and they want to cut costs by firing popular personalities and replacing them with cheaper alternatives. Listeners like personalities but increasingly they don’t like much else about morning shows. So it would make sense to focus on three new features to replace traffic, time checks and weather. Things they can’t get on their cellphones. Consider these three potent options to replace tired old staples of morning radio. (And you can sell them!)
  4. Repetitive Music – Audiences have always hated music repetition on radio for decades but they had few alternatives. After all, somehow it gets ratings. But now it’s not that easy because listeners have alternative means to easily access music discovery. Two new strategies show promise. One adds more new music without watering down the hits. The better approach is to rip up the traditional playlist and present the music differently.
  5. Declining TSL – Radio TSL has been down every year since the early 90’s. Under 30’s don’t even listen to any song all the way through even though music radio is built on the assumption that if you play the right songs, the audience will stay tuned in. Now, there is a way to keep listeners from straying and it isn’t longer music sweeps.
  6. Listeners Don’t Like the Way Stations Talk to Them – Sounds dated, insincere. Too much bragging and hype. It all sounds like radio is out of touch. Talking down to listeners whether we mean to or not.  Surprising words that turn off young audiences when used on the air, in promos, sweepers, imaging and commercials. Learn them and overcome this objection.
  7. Radio Is Not Authentic – Demographers have discovered 5 things that Millennials crave. Do these 5 things every hour of every day and radio becomes more relevant to the 95 million members of this age group.  One of the 5 things they crave is more authenticity. Learn the fastest way to master being truly authentic to Millennials but also the four other expectations that radio is currently not meeting.  They are screaming this out for you to hear.
  8. Lack of Music Variety and Customization – Spotify, Pandora and YouTube are killing radio when it comes to variety and customization. There may be no way to compete with that, but audiences are beginning to tell us what these streaming services are lacking presenting a great opportunity for responsive radio stations to do what streaming services cannot do.
  9. Outdated News and Talk – Two staple radio formats are seeing audiences erode or attracting unsellable aging demographics.  News stations don’t just sound like their father’s radio station – they sound like their grandfathers radio station. Droning on and on with sleepy features designed for station sales managers not for listeners to crave. Conservative talk is also over because audiences want compromise not red meat. And Progressive talk radio never really worked. It’s a no-win. But spoken word is something young Millennials like, really like – here is the spoken word station of the future (bring an open mind).
  10. Don’t Know Where the AM Band Is – Think about it. There’s nothing for audiences under 60 on AM. So you may be thinking that younger money demos won’t listen to an AM station, right? True, unless … well, I’ll show you a number of things you could do on two tin cans hooked together with a string that Millennials would eat up.  Will you take that challenge?  Because I’m going to do it and you’re going to want to brainstorm on it. Forget the FCC. AM needs to disrupt FM the way FM disrupted AM.

PLUS, What Audiences REALLY Want In Digital Content …

There is nothing worse than doing something well that doesn’t need to be done at all. Some stations are doing impressive digital initiatives that audiences simply don’t care about.

Instead, drill down on what listeners really want in digital and get a better return on your investment in time and money:

  1. Storytelling Instead of Podcasting
  2. Short-Form Video Revenue Stream
  3. Non-hyped Social Media Beyond Facebook and Twitter
  4. Content Audiences Can Binge on Just Like They Do Netflix
  5. Apps Not Websites (and That Includes Radio)

Our day together is worth your time and investment.

A clearly defined agenda, creative and innovative solutions to apply and a forum to discuss and hitchhike on new ideas that you hear.

Independent broadcasters and digital entrepreneurs are invited to the 6th annual Media Solutions Seminar at the Hub Conference Center March 18th in Philadelphia, walking distance from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station and 20 minutes from Philadelphia International Airport.

Buffet breakfast, lunch and all breaks prepared by James Beard award-winning chef Jean-Marie Lacroix, former executive chef at The Four Seasons included.

Less than 8 weeks from today to reserve a seat at the next Media Solutions Conference.

Register Now

Contact Jerry about the conference and group rates here.