When Penn Entertainment bought Barstool Sports, it gained a large audience, a beloved media brand, and Barstool’s numerous personalities. It also got, per an analysis published last week, some controversy on the side.
Penn is learning what it means to own a media brand, particularly one that employs people who often say things that might run afoul of state regulations. One example was afforded last week, when a tweet from Barstool Sportsbook showed Dan “Big Cat” Katz, a key personality at the company, hitting a table with a baseball bat. People on social media criticized Barstool for promoting violence, irresponsible messaging, and so on, going as far as to report it to the National Council of Problem Gaming.
Brands operating in highly regulated and potentially controversial environments like sports gambling have to tread carefully. But when brands also own media brands, treading carefully can mean having to err on the side of caution when it comes to content. Brand publishing toes the line between marketing and editorial, which means any “editorial” endeavor runs the risk of being seen as advertising. Regulators have already been on high alert on the watch for marketing to underage students. And Massachusetts, for example, ruled Wednesday that it plans to have a hearing concerning a Barstool promotion from Katz, known as “Can’t Lose Parlays.” How they now interpret content created by these brands as “editorial” now remains to be seen.
The podcasting “boom” that isn’t
Modern Retail reports that retailers are launching podcasts as part of their brand publishing endeavors. Retailers included in the piece include Thrive Market, the membership grocery brand, infant formula company Bobbie, and hard seltzer maker Nectar. All have launched podcasts in the past couple of years.
Podcasting as part of a brand publishing strategy is hardly a new development. Most in media will recall the podcasting boom following the Serial years, when every publication – brand or otherwise – decided that creating their own podcast was going to be the focus of their content plans.
But since then, podcasting has become a medium that’s much more complicated. For one, it requires significant time and investment compared to producing written content. Because distribution is so platform-dependent, it can take a long time for podcasts to reach a wide enough audience to be considered a worthwhile investment. . And because of the glut of podcasts in the market, both brand-owned and those produced by media organizations, it’s increasingly difficult to stand out. Even at Spotify, which had poured nearly $1 billion into podcast show development over the past few years, reevaluations are underway. Podcasts also demand a lot out of audiences in a way that written content simply does not.
Speaking to brand publishers lately – particularly those thinking carefully about publishing investments amid a tight economic environment – podcasting appears to have taken a backseat to other initiatives that are deemed more efficient.
The AI arms race
A wave of new generative AI tools is vying to win a spot in brand publishers’ toolkits, as the race to help brands with content production heats up.
Over the past few weeks, brand publishing teams have been hearing from a variety of companies, each promising to solve critical pain points and each with a slightly different pitch. As one editor at a startup said, “we’re getting inundated.”
“I think embedding [AI tools] in marketing SaaS is about to become table stakes, but you can probably only win if you own a specific use case or are a behemoth already,” said Joe Lazer, who runs content and marketing at A.Team. Lazer said it remains to be seen who “wins” when it comes to AI tools to aid content production, but he thinks the most compelling value proposition would be a platform that combines ideation with SEO, analytics, AI and human creators in one platform.
Also worth noting:
- New Gartner research found that 60% of marketers believe that executing first-party data strategies that balance privacy with a value exchange will become more difficult in 2023. It’s a common problem for brand publishing teams, who are often charged with gathering first-party data in exchange for access to content – and therefore have to make sure that they’re providing valuable, expert information in exchange for that data.
- Multi-hyphenate Questlove is becoming a publisher, starting his own book imprint within MCD Books at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Formats are the workhorse of any publishing endeavor, writes Brian Morrissey at the Rebooting. At the same time, trying to make new ones up can usually lead to some pretty strange results – which is why the best formats hew closely to audience needs.