YES Network Marketing Follies for Live In-Market Streaming Package

“Watch the Yankees when you’re locked out of your house?” I know that’s not the first thought when I’m locked out, it’s a distant second, with everything else behind gaining entry! Yet, that is how YES Network is pushing their product to the market place.

When the Yankees, YES, and MLBAM announced the first live in-market streaming deal in July with a price tag of $39.95 for the rest of the season or $19.95 per month, it immediately raised the question of who would pay for this and what would they gain. MLBAM and cable nets are absolutely right in that they should charge for it out of the gate, and prevent the issues every other media business that moved online with free content now faces. However, subscribers have to be Cablevision (and now Verizon) customers with both Internet and cable service. My question, and one YES should consider as they market the product, is one would someone already paying for network at home, pay a significant fee to watch games online all season?

The marketing plan does not communicate a value proposition to its audience, a reason why they should pay additional for this service. Further, it’s creative leaves much to be desired, and I don’t think I’ve seen any distribution outside YES and its website (though I’m not a Cablevision or Verizon customer). MLBAM offers a tremendous online game package with great features and high quality feeds, YES should be touting what you don’t get with a regular cable subscription at home. Talk about the live stats on the side, the fantasy player tracker, the ability to call up highlights on-demand, social media integration to discuss the game with fans, and even PIP if they are MLB.tv subscribers.

Next, consider when customers will use this service. According to YES, its at the beach or when you’re locked out. Maybe I’ve been locked in a cave, but I’m not seeing many laptops in those situations (leave mobile out for now), nor do I feel the Yankees game is top of mind in either situation. The ads do mention work, which is likely the number one place, but what about in the house when your wife/parents are watching something else, or at school, or stuck traveling – or you want to track stats and interact during the game. Build out realistic scenarios, then develop creative that presents them in a more humorous way – similar to how the NCAA tournament employs the boss button. A key missing ingredient in the marketing is that I never see someone watching the games on their laptop in any realistic situation. All YES shows are generic Yankee highlights, if you watch it without sound it’s not completely evident what the product is.

One problem could be that YES is marketing a product that does not yet exist – single PPV games. Without any added value, customers will always opt for TV over online, making a full season or even monthly package less realistic. Then the marketing campaign touts one-off scenarios when the product is useful (beach, etc.), yet you can’t buy a single game for say $2.99.

Two other points on YES product roll-out. First, I mentioned the poor distribution earlier, but placement on their website is abysmal. I actually looked at the site for a good minute or two and thought it was not on the homepage, until I finally found it at the top, with the same colors as the background and no distinguishing creative. Not going to attract fans who are not looking for it. Second, the team should offer fans a chance to sample it, say one game free for all eligible subscribers, or put a time constraint. Get people to experience it, try it, live it – and win them over that way. Make completing a survey a stipulation for the free access, and leverage that data for next year’s product.

Under the current conditions, I don’t see how this product is generating much subscription revenue at this point. Though, it does have promise if executed correctly.

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Will Customers Say ‘YES’ to Double-Charging for Streaming

YES Network officially launched its partnership with Cablevision to stream Yankee games in New York Wednesday, the first local market live streaming deal in the major professional sports that rely on local TV revenue. A day later, the network had the perfect bargaining chip – a mid-week afternoon game. Now fans can catch every minute of the Bronx Bombers, even at work.

A few aspects of the deal boggle my mind. Start with the combination of exclusivity and price point. Only customers of Cablevision’s cable and Internet product are eligible to sign up, thus some form of authentication is in place to manage access. I’m all for charging for online content, however if Cablevision and YES implement an authentication system, doesn’t that assure that all the users already pay for YES Network on cable? The point of charging for online content is to avoid giving it out free, not to double-charge customers that follow the rules.

Given the operational cost of live streaming and the anticipated demand networks and teams project, a small fee is justified, but nailing customers for $50 for the season while still charging them for YES on their cable bill will not help gain traction for the service.

On to the second key point, content distribution. Streaming video will most benefit users who can’t access the network on TV, so why cut exclusive deals for people who already receive the network. YES should focus on those who currently have no access to YES, thus presumably have higher demand for the live stream. This may be less pertinent in the NY market, since YES is widely distributed, but look at San Diego, the next market to roll out the service. Cox has withheld Padre broadcasts from AT&T IPTV subscribers, so a significant audience that demands baseball has no access – the perfect place for live streaming. Yet, the team is dealing exclusively with Cox, who already broadcasts the games.

I understand the politics surrounding these decisions, yet it still perverse action by the teams and leagues as they attempt to usher in a new revenue stream. Given the choice of HD on a nice TV or streaming video on a little computer screen, which by the way inhibits multi-tasking, the choice is clear. However, given the choice of nothing or live streaming, sports fans will shell out.

The current price point appears to high to gain traction among cable subscribers that already have access at home. Is it really worth $50 to sneak a peek at the handful of weekday games the next 3 months? And listening to the YES marketing pitch, someone should advice them that most people don’t go to the beach and plan to watch Yankee games on the Internet. Maybe they should rethink that campaign.

If they have an authentication mechanism in place, baseball should consider different price points for current cable subscribers and non-subscribers, plus add the option to purchase individual games, in addition to the rest of the season or 30 days to encourage incremental purchases. Right now, I envision single game options would increase revenue more than lost revenue from potential 30-day purchasers trading down.

All Sports Cable Channels Benefit From Radio Simulcasts

On the heels of ESPN’s announcing it will simulcast “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd on ESPNU networks, its time for all sports networks to visit the simulcast idea. I don’t have ratings number to support my argument, but regional RSN’s and national sports networks certainly lack enough fresh content for a 24-hour cycle and radio simulcasts are cheap alternatives to reruns.

Notably YES Network broadcasts Mike and the Mad Dog (pre-break up) each afternoon, ESPN2 simulcasts its Mike and MIke in the Morning show, while MSNBC showed Imus in the Morning for years, all with varying levels of success. For an ESPN, it creates a deeper interaction with its suite of multimedia offerings. The Worldwide Leader will not necessarily gain new fans, however current viewers increase engagement. Listeners are more likely to watch TV at home in the mornings than tune in on radio, so the show attracts an entirely new group of users that may have watched reruns of Sportscenter all morning. More than ratings, the impact is felt on the website, which receives tremendous interaction via emails and video views.

Mike and the Mad Dog’s YES partnership took advantage of a different benefit, bringing a local show to a national audience. Over the past five years, the show started receiving callers from all over the country. Former New Yorker’s came back to the show, new viewers tuned in out of curiosity. The show certainly lured more viewers than a daily showing of Yankees Classics, the same ten games played over and over again.

Simulcasts allow for deeper sponsor integration. On ESPN, the show’s have more inventory and exposure to offer sponsors. YES’ approach creates new sponsorship opportunities for the show, which they have taken advantage of with overlay since the tandem will only reference WFAN sponsors on the air. Simulcasts open the door for digital deals and cross-platform integration. Deeper viewer/listener engagement, enhanced sponsorship opportunities, and wider public exposure.

In NY, MSG has no reason not to simulcast something. ESPN putting The Herd on ESPNU is a perfect match with Cowherd’s devotion and knowledge of college football and its niche following. Jim Rome has his ESPN show, but many more will tune in to see his radio show. Numerous other local personalities could benefit from regional exposure. RSN’s should consider replacing the third replay of last night’s game or 6 hours of reruns of the sports news show with a live radio show that delivers fresh content. Yesterday’s news won’t cut it in 2008 and beyond.

O’Neill Strikes Out in YES Booth

Of the small army of Yankee analysts YES network employs, Paul O’Neill proved he deserves a spot at the end of the depth chart. Paired with play-by-play man Michael Kay in a two man booth during the Yanks opening series with Toronto, O’Neill lacked the commanding, confident voice of successful analysts. In fact, his monotone diatribes turned the broadcast into a snoozefest. His knowledge of the game is unquestionable, and analysts that can speak from a wealth of experience, as O’Neill can, bring a lot to the table, but he lacks the on-air presence to engage the audience.

To make matters worse, Kay, as he is prone to do, spends too much time bowing at the feet of O’Neill, continually alluding back to his playing career. Yankee fans love O’Neill, his contributions to the recent championships still fresh in most minds, we don’t need to reminded during the entire broadcast just how great O’Neill was.

Without a third person in the booth to take the weight off of O’Neill his weaknesses shined through. Not as witty as Ken Singleton, unable to break down the game the same way John Flaherty, an star analyst in the making, and without the experience and broadcast savvy of a Bobby Murcer. O’Neill simply does not have the personality to succeed as an analyst. Never outspoken, without a noted sense of humor, O’Neill would contribute better with an occasional studio appearance and in a 3-man booth helped with an upper echelon analyst.

YES already loses points for its inconsistent broadcast team, chopping some of the fat won’t hurt. Take a lesson from across town – find a solid 3-man team and stick with it all season.