In the opening remarks of his letter to the public, ESPNcricinfo’s Sambit Bal notes that, “Everything has changed, yet nothing has.” It’s the kind of turn of phrase you’d expect from the person in charge of a large sports media platform’s coverage of an even larger global sport. ESPNcricinfo – the home base for all of ESPN’s coverage of Cricket around the world – just got a much needed (by his admission) facelift. Bal goes on to mention that, “ESPNcricinfo has evolved constantly over the years, adding new content, new voices and new platforms, but like all major design interventions, our latest makeover is an adoption of an idea. It’s a simple, yet profound one, and it has you at the center.”
While the notion of an ever-changing landscape is nothing new to digital publishers, what stands out most about ESPNcricinfo’s latest rebrand is the attention to personalization. The new site groups all of the data in endlessly customizable ways, whether it’s scores, stats, or video highlights. (They are, of course, focusing heavily on the latter.) They even go as far as saying that the personalization is “the heart of the new experience.” Despite existing in an industry that’s as much about finding the latest innovation as it is actually implementing it, this latest trend might be here to stay.
“I think the personalization of content will be a mainstay in media for a long time,” said Troy Machir, Senior Digital Producer for CSN Mid-Atlantic. “As personalities and writers become more opinionated and people change jobs, consumers will want to pick and choose the content they are presented with, almost a la cart.”
The pros of a completely customizable experience are clear.
New Yorkers no longer have to shift through 15 pages Dallas Cowboys articles while trying to get their Giants fix. Seattle Mariners fans have the score, inning and pitch count in their pockets, refreshing constantly, three finger swipes and a poke away. It’s an outreach method that, like Machir says, “[is] very important for large national sites looking to capture the attention of fans who are local in nature.”
But while his prediction seems to be good news on the surface, there is – per usual – a catch: over-investment.
“I believe there is a saturation point with major media outlets,” Machir added. “They provide personalization of widgets and layouts, but how much investment of resources is too much when users can go to hyper-localized sites that have invested all of their resources on content that is, in its root form, personalized?”
Ironically enough, Machir offered ESPN as an example. About a decade ago, the Worldwide Leader took on an ambitious attempt at creating completely personalized sites, all focusing on a single city’s sports news. It originally was a popular move, but inevitably faced the same fate that all wind tunnels do – they don’t make money. As of today, most if not all, of the regionally-focused sites on ESPN’s website are defunct.
“What doesn’t work is investing in resources for new localized information, like they did with team-specific bloggers and city sites,” Machir said. “Now, certainly, they still have city sites and team-specific bloggers, but there has been heavy turnover and job layoffs.”
Machir’s advice (which has worked in the case of ESPNcricinfo): “Use the available content first, and then, if it truly makes sense from a financial standpoint, invest in bulking up the original content.”
By Cameron Ellis, Special to the News Media Alliance