We’ve had fun with Web 2.0 blogs adding long tail value. In Web 2.1, big media companies will start branding the long tail. It was bound to happen: insurgent cottage industry blogs have figured out how to make money, and now the incumbents say “Thanks for the R&D!” as they use their high powered platforms to employ the Walmart Effect.
Disney (DIS) has announced their ESPN platform will now add women’s sports — ESPNW — to their quickly growing list of branded long tail content. In the past 2 years, ESPN has made very aggressive moves into high school football, high school basketball, little league baseball, and poker.
Although niche blogs and media startups did the market research for ESPN, Disney is also starting to worry about serious competition from the individual leagues. The NFL now has both a website and TV network with professional football media content as good or better than ESPN. Major League Baseball also has a solid website and television network in addition to their leading-edge web distribution of baseball games. And lately, the NBA has caught on with an excellent website and new television network. It won’t be long before the NCAA copies these models as well.
“But,” you say, “ESPN is the world-wide leader in sports!” Actually, ESPN simply syndicates/licenses original content (scores, league news, player updates, etc.) from the leagues, then adds commentary and some original reporting. If the individual league outlets offer high quality commentary and original reporting (the leagues have an access-to-information advantage), ESPN starts to lose its purpose.
In my humble opinion, I’m starting to prefer getting my information directly from the league outlets because I get exactly what I want without wasting my time on the content I don’t want (e.g., golf, little league baseball, hockey, etc.). I am also making the simple leap of faith that others such as hardcore hockey fans may not like having their daily highlights interrupted by a segment about baseball or golf. But that’s what happens when you watch Sports Center: it’s like a DJ remixing all the day’s highlights from every sport. And in the next iteration of information distribution in the Information Age, I firmly believe this inefficient and annoying content delivery format will lose demand.
With that said, it will be interesting to see if Disney and ESPN can mitigate threats to their core content offering by expanding to the long tail. One thing’s for sure: consumers will continue to win as the Web continues to disrupt what will one day be perceived as ancient content distribution.
What are your thoughts about how ESPN is changing and how the professional leagues are transforming into direct distributors of their own content? Let us know in the comments below …