The past week presented a revealing snapshot of the future of online media with Nate Silver and his 538 brand leaving the NY Times for ESPN, and Peter King and his Monday Morning QB brand becoming a standalone site. Both Silver and King evoked Bill Simmons and Grantland as the archetype of what they want to accomplish, with each site backed by a large media entity, full time writers, and minimal advertisements.
Independence is also a factor in all three website brands. The three websites are free (to what extent?) from the internet click machine and instead, favor a return to longer, in depth journalism. Advertisements do also play a role, with Subway and Blue Moon at Grantland, and Bose and Microsoft amongst others at MMQB. For businesses, this represents a new branding avenue. And for these new internet ventures, this may represent the future – up and coming journalists no longer dream of writing for ESPN, but having their own, autonomous website under ESPN.
Silver’s move to ESPN is interesting as it transcends the written word. He’ll lend his brand of analytics to election coverage and Oscar nights. He could, as this article by Douglas Warshaw states, transform ESPN by putting narratives into advanced statistics in the same way he did with the 2012 election. Sports television is also in a state of flux – ESPN is the 800 pound gorilla, but NBC Sports has the TV rights for the Premier League and Fox 1 Sports debuts August 17th. Every little branding advantage matters. Silver could represent the next extension of this new wave of branding (and to an extent, Simmons already has, with his NBA work on ESPN pre-games).
It’s fair to ask if Grantland, MMQB, or 538 will succeed under these new umbrellas, or even ask what success looks and feels like. Is it metrics? Is it influence? Is it good old fashioned ad sales? Combine those sites with others like Sports on Earth or the kickstarter funded The Classical to see how these powerful websites are shaped mostly by an individual vision. Consider this the Auteur Era of media.
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