The Rise of Women’s Volleyball

2021 NCAA DI women's volleyball championship selections announced | NCAA.com

The 2021 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament gets underway this week, and the quality of the teams this year is pretty staggering. I’ve become a super fan of women’s volleyball, and (you know me) I’m seeing some things that need discussion, because this sport is outgrowing its parochial infrastructure. If the powers that be play their cards correctly, this could become the new rage in televised sports.

The bottom line is this: Volleyball is not only the top participatory sport for girls in the United States, but it’s also the fastest growing participatory sport for girls. Girls don’t just play volleyball in school; there exists a rapidly-growing club level volleyball that is expanding to handle the demand. This is producing REALLY talented players who then go on to scholarships from NCAA teams each trying to build the best volleyball programs possible. It’s impossible to overstate the upward pressure that all of this is putting on the sport.

Upward pressure is also coming from social media and the tools available for preparing and presenting promotional videos of their daughters and sisters for recruiting. YouTube is a goldmine of such videos and provides a service previous generations didn’t have. This is only going to get better.

Florida State is in the tournament with a remarkable team of almost entirely freshmen. They’re about to get even better next year with the addition of Audrey Rothman from Spring Park here in Alabama. I’ve seen this girl play, and she’s the top volleyball player from the state. She’s 6′4″ and a 6‑rotation player that will fit in beautifully with Florida State’s system. But, for every Audrey Rothman, there are hundreds of others talented enough to play in Division I, and that is raising the level of the game throughout every conference in the NCAA.

I love the game and the talent it takes to play at the highest levels. Every aspect of the game is getting better and better, because coaching and preparation have also evolved to accommodate the interest from young girls. NCAA Volleyball women are terrific role models for girls, because there’s a certain elegance, fun, and glamour that accompanies the sport. Volleyball players are by nature VERY smart and capable leaders, and who would argue that our world needs such people?

With all of this, you’d think that the sport would be considered among the other potential moneymakers of college sports, but that’s not the case. On some campuses — especially in the Big Ten — a women’s volleyball ticket is the hardest to get. These schools have given resources to the sport and have been repaid with creative fans who turn each match into a loud and fun campus event. From bench dance contests to playing The Beatles “Let It Be” complete with phone lights waving whenever their opponent challenges a call that went in their favor.

With all of this going for it, women’s volleyball is suffering badly from growing pains, especially with television. ESPN gives cursory scattered matches on its channels, but there is no overview media assigned to the sport. Conferences operate with autonomy, each advertising that only volleyball from THEIR conference is worth watching. These conferences have their own cable or streaming channels, and the result is a high degree of parochiality in the sport. Certain conferences are stronger than others, but all are judged by their records and statistics, which are skewed by the level of competition in each. For example, there are eight teams in the tournament from the Big Ten, and it’s more than likely that all will make it to the second round. That means that of 32 teams, 8 would be from one conference.

But that, too, is facing the upward pressure from the younger girls. Conferences other than The Big Ten (who’s the genius who came up with B1G?) are rising to the very top, and the Louisville Cardinals are this year’s example. The competition will only get tougher throughout all conferences.

As an old television guy, much of my focus has been on how the sport could become more television-friendly. There are plenty of good announcers to handle the sport, but they aren’t helped much by production. Graphics, statistics, and personal accomplishments could be presented so much better. Key to games are the challenges to referee calls, which require replay. However, the sport moves so fast that the points of contention aren’t easy to “see” absent very high speed cameras at the net and the court’s out-of-bounds line. Storytelling is also weak, because there aren’t the resources dedicated to making it better.

There is no news report that covers volleyball thoroughly, and this is important to establish and maintain the growth and evolution of the sport. No reports on upcoming high schoolers. No reports about club tournaments or human interest stories of young girls playing volleyball. A weekly, one hour program with Paul Sunderland and commentators that covered everything in the sport would be very useful for the growing competition level. Somebody needs to track all of this.

There needs to be television coverage of the sport from outside the bubbles of the conference networks. This coverage would include news and updates from around the NCAA.

There is no America pro volleyball league, and it’s inevitable there will be one. The sport is simply growing too fast to not give these women a chance to pursue careers in volleyball. I’d run a slate of games on Sunday afternoon to compete with NFL football. Perhaps an Alumni League would serve the same purpose.

At some schools, the sport isn’t promoted on campus, which results in light crowds on hand to set the excitement level during matches. Obviously, there needs to be drives on campus to recruit students for the gallery, but teams could also reach out to the local club and high school scenes to fill those stands, even if it means comping the tickets. A televised match with little audience is bad TV.

Volleyball is filling a need by providing a sport that is actually more fun to watch when women play the game, not men. That makes it unique in the sporting world and another powerful reason for college athletics to take notice. Remember, it’s the fastest-growing participatory sport for young girls in the U.S.

ESPN, are you hearing this?

Are You (and your kids) TV Ready?

The seminal marketing (see Doc’s comment below) book for the digital age was The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 1999. The first thesis was “Markets are conversations,” and I immediately sensed that this line of thinking would become my own, for I couldn’t argue with the book’s wisdom. It is still highly relevant today, especially if you’re lacking some foundational thinking about the web. It’s available for free here.

Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” in 2004 and J.D. Lasica’s “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation” in 2005 were the first two books to generally describe the disruption of personal media. J.D., in fact, coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to tag what was about to descend upon our culture. And, oh boy, has it ever! I was so convinced of its certainty, that I dedicated many years to study it and report back to television clients about the enormity of it all.

Nobody cared. They were making too much money doing things the old way, and that was professional media’s great downfall. These executives could only see as far as their business model could carry them. They were married to one-to-many marketing and too blind to even see the disruption of targeting individual browsers. Online, I would tell them, afforded two-way advertising wherein the ad was served to eyeballs, but the server received information back from the ad. It was obvious to some of us that the pros were doomed.

When I was teaching college students, they’d ask, for example, what’s the best way to get to be a sportscaster? My response was always, “Just BE a sportscaster. Establish your brand. Blossom where you’re planted. You don’t need the institution to ‘do’ sports, not when you can do it on your own.”

The web loathes filters and their roadblocks, which it views as inefficient annoyances that serve no useful purpose. The web’s basic function is to connect people in a 3‑dimensional media form. It can be one-to-many, many-to-one, and most importantly, many to many, thus turning every browser into a form of media company itself, including the people formerly known as the advertisers.

The personal media revolution has advanced so far today (and it’s got a long, long way to go yet) that everyday people have been able to exploit the free time granted them through the coronavirus to explore beyond surfing or connecting via social media. No institution has been more impacted that adult entertainment. Yup, that’s right; good old porn. For the uneducated, Only Fans and many other similar sites offer software that enables anybody to become a porn star and get paid directly by the audiences they “serve.” This same concept is giving new light to each of the arts, and this is a good thing for our culture.

While this is highly chaotic to many other institutions of the West (and I could go on), but the aspect of this that needs the most discussion is how TV itself is being reinvented. The very definition of the TV is changing. In the beginning, it was reserved for broadcasters only. As each new form of video delivery appeared on the scene, they, too, were tagged (by the disruptors) as “TV.”

And today, YouTube is exploding with fresh content posted by this personal media revolution, and they are called “TV.” In the world of Reality TV, the vast majority of contestants are seasoned TV performers before they set foot on the set. In truth, those who apply to be on reality shows see the experience as a way to dramatically increase their individual influence on social media as experienced TV performers.

On the show Married at First Sight (MAFS), this same thinking applies, although this show can involve some very unusual contestants. Take Henry, of Henry and Christina, one of the couples married at first sight in the current season. Henry is, well, a little quirky with quite an awful set of parents who doubtless contributed to his lack of social skills. Reddit, that online gathering of talkative people with opinions who enjoy the company of others of a similar ilk, has a whole section on MAFS.

One Redditor (as they’re called) who goes by NoWayJeFe, had this to say about Henry: “Decent guy just not TV ready.” It would seem being “TV ready” is a prerequisite for appearing on these sorts of shows, but it speaks volumes about where we are as a society. It would seem that from the earliest years, kids are now learning how to be “TV ready” from the time they face their first cameras and microphones, even if it’s just an iPad.

There’s the Barbie TV News Team dolls, where little girls can pretend to be the real thing. Take a quick look at YouTube’s kids channels, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids playing TV. It’s almost a rite of passage these days, and in so doing, these kids and teens are learning what we all have known for a long time in the world of television news: it’s just not all that hard to do. Sorry if I’m toe-stepping here, but it’s just much, much easier than all the “broadcast” schools would have us believe. I mean, where’s the money for an industry that can be easily duplicated with an iPhone?

Think TV has shot its wad in 2020? Think again, because there are no rules to these youngsters as they invent their own uses for the video medium. They start by copying but soon move to innovating. Those who pretend its rocket science are slowly going to fade into the setting sun.

To parents and grandparents, are your kids TV ready? If not, that would be a great investment for their future. Get them what they need to make media. Buy usernames or obtain them for free on the various sites that require them. They will fight their own media wars downstream, and those who’ve been properly prepared will have a head start.

But what do I know, right? We’ll see. Maybe I won’t see how far it goes, but you certainly may. And, those kids of yours will be the ones who’ll need these skills the most.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey local TV. This remains a viable business opportunity. You balked at it all those years ago, but it’s still there. Who better to teach local people to be TV ready than local TV?)

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective — is there really any other that matters? — there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

A postmodern view of today’s political chaos

We come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.
Christopher Lasch

JFK-250My Nashville blogger friend Rex Hammock reminded me this week of a wonderful quote from President John F. Kennedy in 1963. My goodness, how those of us alive at the time loved that man and his vision.

“No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power.”

We need to think about this today as we gaze upon the sheer madness of the landscape that is America in 2016. And that’s exactly what it is — madness. I know a couple of very sweet Christian ladies who are passing along the most hateful political venom on social media as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I’m talking really vile, hateful stuff. The heartland response to the leftish drift of the culture surpassed anger long ago and now seethes as a horrific rage that threatens peace at every corner.

In the name of God, of course.

I’ve written a book about the role I played in bringing this about, but from my chair today as an observer and chronicler of postmodernity, I view all of it now as an inevitable and necessary portal through which we must pass for humankind to reach its full potential. Hierarchies always corrupt — it’s in their nature — and humankind has had centuries to realize the fruit of powerful institutions with self at the core. Today, however, the very structure of hyperconnectivity judges hierarchies to be inefficient and irrelevant as it routes around them to bring us together. This is the cultural disaster we face through this remarkable cultural shift, and make no mistake, it will be ugly. Of course, there are many of us who don’t view it as a disaster but admit it will have disastrous results.

One of the major shortcomings of humankind is ignorance fed by hierarchies with self-centered motives, especially the elites who write the book of laws. We have a staggering amount of knowledge in the combined library of humanity, but much of it is hidden by those who glean a good living from its protected shelves. Medicine, the law, religion, and higher education, just to name a few, will be judged tomorrow over how well they pass that knowledge along to everybody instead of keeping it from them. This will not go well for modernity’s gasping body, but its inevitability is sure, so long as the network remains free and intact. There’s nothing inherently sinister about it; it’s simply the chaotic, natural evolution of humanity’s desire for self-governance. Those who advance this will be successful downstream; those who don’t will become increasingly irrelevant.

Michael Rosenblum

Michael Rosenblum

A great example of this is my friend Michael Rosenblum, who runs TheVJ.com and has led the way in teaching anybody how to shoot and edit video like a professional, including employees of Fortune 500 companies. I’ve no doubt Michael will always be successful in business, for he understands the need to equip people laterally for the video revolution that’s coming and in many ways is already here. The disruption of media is among the most visible in the world today, but it’s only going to get worse, depending on your point-of-view.

So while forces wishing to maintain the status quo fight for their lives, the people are sparring with each other over elemental differences based on what they know — or think they know. This, thankfully, is leading us back to the cleansing power of argument, which is never a bad thing. Historian Chris Lasch wrote about this in 1990:

Our search for reliable information is itself guided by the questions that arise during arguments about a given course of action. It is only by subjecting our preferences and projects to the test of debate that we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn. Until we have to defend our opinions in public, they remain opinions in (Walter) Lippmann’s pejorative sense — half-formed convictions based on random impressions and unexamined assumptions. It is the act of articulating and defending our views that lifts them out of the category of ‘opinions,’ gives them shape and definition, and makes it possible for others to recognize them as a description of their own experience as well. In short, we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.

“We come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.” This is profound and the most pressing need for the cultural advancement of postmodernism. It’s a natural part of the evolution of global humanity, and a necessary step if we are to learn to live with each other instead of killing each other.

We simply can’t trust ANY hierarchical institution to educate us. We must do that for ourselves — with postmodernism’s deconstruction as our authority and the practice of exploring associative links on the World Wide Web as our tool — and this, I believe, is in the spirit of President Kennedy meant those many years ago.

Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Why YouTube Red is the future

YouTubeRedsmI’ve been a subscriber of YouTube Red for the last month, and I’m completely sold on its model and its virtues, so much so that I think this is the one everybody in the content distribution world should be copying. Not only does it provide me with the greatest consumer experience possible, but it actually encourages me to spend even more time with YouTube.

No advertisements. Zero. Zip. Nada. That’s the draw, and it’s one in which everybody wins. The only way in for those wishing to do commerce is to participate as content providers. It is the essential distribution point for content marketing, and some of the best content on YouTube is advertiser content such as movie trailers, celebrity interviews, and much, much more.

And I’m personally thrilled that Google is the one to present this, for these guys figured out a long time ago that a clean and simple product such as free search could open vast doors of wealth in ancillary products and services. Good for them.

YouTube Red overcomes the taxonomy challenge of any publisher who wants people to find their content, whether published today or many yesterdays ago. As David Weinberger has taught us, there is no organizational system that humankind can create that will ever surpass the efficiency of search. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, second only to Google itself.

It also provides the front end for a micropayment service for artists of every stripe, and this thrills me for the future of the arts. The whole thing is what many of us envisioned long ago when we first attempted to understand the magnificence of the network and connectivity. This will continue to evolve, and Google continues to prove that what used to be impossible is actually very doable today. It is a breathtaking time to be alive.

The model of YouTube Red works in ways that I don’t even know yet, and it stands as one of the most important applications for study since the advent of the Web itself. My ability to create an endless stream of music videos that play in the background while I’m doing my work beats any mp3 system anywhere, because the cost to me is just $10 a month. Hell, my time alone is worth vastly more than $10 a month. TV viewing comes without interruptions, assuming the programs I enjoy are available on YouTube, and you’d be surprised at the volume of entertaining videos that exist in its library. In my view, this is where the future of video distribution will take place.

Facebook wants to take some of this away from Google, of course, but Facebook’s big weakness is that so far the ease of distribution of its videos beyond the walled garden of Facebook isn’t nearly what YouTube offers. This will eventually work against Mr. Zuckerberg and his wishes to take over the world. Don’t get me wrong; I love Facebook, but I also love the open Web and the idea that I can provide “my” videos anywhere I wish to make them available, including (at least for now) Facebook.

I’ve written previously that YouTube has reinvented advertising for videos via the Web with its 4‑second pre-rolls, but once you experience the same videos without even those, there’s just no going back.

Color me happy and amazed.

We’ve got to do something about pre-rolls

nobody likes prerollsVisual computing expert Mike Sullivan published a piece last week through MediaPost that ought to get every TV executive’s attention. “Why Now Is The Time To Shift TV Ad Dollars To Online Video” is a serious look at the burgeoning market for online video advertising, and it’s straightforward in its advice to advertisers that now is the time to switch. I want to talk about this, because those who aren’t prepared for it have precious little time to get ready. We’re back to talking about digital dimes again, unless we get serious about the whole business.

There is a giant turd floating in the punchbowl of online video advertising that we simply must acknowledge and do something about. It’s called the pre-roll ad. This is one of those “counterintuitive” arguments, so I’m not expecting any great response from the industry of media. As long as we think we’re in the content business supported by advertising, what follows here is meaningless, because our history is to do anything we can to maintain that illusion (hint: we’re in the advertising business).

First, let’s review Mike’s article. He cites new research from Nielsen revealing that during April 2011, Americans streamed 14.7 billion videos, a record for the most streams in a month. YouTube, he notes, likewise had a record month in April. These numbers are headed north in a hurry for reasons often discussed here.

Media buyers commonly believe that online videos can’t be measured with traditional TV metrics such as Target Rating Point (TRP) and Gross Rating Point (GRP). Recently, new technology has emerged that can provide the same rating points and can also accurately determine the content of the video, offering a chance for ad buyers to take early advantage of the 90% of non-premium online video inventory, yet to be claimed.

He goes on to note that targeting options are improving at light speed, and that advertisers can be as specific or even more so than on television broadcasts. Gone are the days when advertisers had to worry about their ads appearing next to questionable content.

Now advertisers can have total clarity about online video content and total control through custom channels that allow them to select the exact online videos where they’d like to advertise. From specific subjects such as extreme sports or wine tasting, to exact channels such as ESPN and TNT, advertisers can now target their ads and engage audiences with the same precision for online video that they have with traditional TV spots.

This poses two significant problems for broadcasters. One, the cumulative money we get for broadcast ads is far more than what we get for online videos and video clips, and replacing that is problematic, at best. Two, most of our online video ad business comes from a corrupt pre-roll ad strategy that’s going to bite us in the butt, if we’re not careful.

The problem is that pre-rolls “work,” but the average is 15–30 seconds in length. People turn away before seeing our content, so the money-making apparatus is significantly borked.

Mark Robertson, writing for ReelSEO.com, a top online video marketing resource, notes that pre-rolls outperform everything else in the online video ad space.

For clients targeting commercial views, pre-roll is by far the best value on a cost-per-view basis. In fact, in-banner video is often 10 times or more expensive on a cost-per-view basis, unless of course it is auto-played which comprises the comparison. For clients targeting clicks, pre-roll delivers five to 20 times the click-through rate of comparable banner or sponsorship units. Lastly, multiple studies of online video have further demonstrated that pre-roll scores strongly in measurements of brand recall and brand lift.

But here, Madison Avenue has its biggest challenge. Despite the fact that they “work,” they are annoying as hell, and that doesn’t sit well with people who want to watch those video clips.

Many studies reveal a depth of anger over pre-rolls. In February, for example, YuMe — a company serving an average of 30 million video ad impressions per day on behalf of the 600+ publishers utilizing its advertising management platform ACE — reported that pre-rolls were the fasting growing segment on its online universe and that ad completion rates, while significant, are no where near 100%.

Format and Completion Rates

  • Pre-roll continues to be the dominant ad format, representing 96.7% of YuMe’s volume in Q4.
    • 15 second pre-roll remains the most common ad length making up 57% of impressions served in Q4.
  • The Female audience continues to have a higher video completion rate at 74% versus 67% for Males.

Over one-fourth of women exit before the ad finishes along with one-third of the men, and that includes 15-second ads. No ad view. No content view. Pissed off people. This is not a scalable strategy, folks, and publishers need to step forward, because Madision Avenue doesn’t give a crap and has no reason to want to change.

Many years ago, Microsoft studied responses to pre-rolls for MSN. The result was accidentally published by Mediapost in an article about online advertising. The optimum length for pre-roll was 7–12 seconds, according to the study. A day after it was published, however, the article was edited to show that 15–30 seconds was acceptable. When I investigated, I was told by Microsoft that 15–30 is what advertisers wanted, and Microsoft had not intended for the 7–12 second reality to get out. Nice.

The problem, of course, is that publishers simply cannot permit ad agencies to dictate whether people view our content. It’s suicide. You can say a lot in 7–12 seconds, and the bonus is nearly 100% fulfillment and satisfied “viewers.” Yet, we insist on forcing what is a broadcasting paradigm on a medium for which it was not intended, simply to take easy money from ad agencies.

There’s a fortune to be made, if we get this right, but, like I said, I don’t really expect any action over this. We’ll once again toss our future to the winds of fate — which is where the disruptors are having a ball — as we try and hold our ground. The Web — the Great Horizontal — is all about people, and people are no longer simply “consumers.” They refuse to be treated like a bunch of captives anymore, and the evidence shows that pre-roll ads are an unwelcome time-waster. If we don’t learn that lesson, we’re doomed.

It’s another form of death by a thousand cuts, something for which media companies are becoming quite famous these days. This is our fault, and yet we are silent. The wounds, it seems, are self-inflicted.