This 30 for 30 movie title also serves as an ironic reality that more than half of the latest batch of 30 for 30's came out in October
I loved Survive And Advance. In fact, this last batch of 30 for 30's starting with Broke and culminating in next month's Elway To Marino have all been stellar. Yes, I'm already counting next month's 30 for 30 as stellar because it was produced by NFL Films.
Upon getting some emails and tweets about Survive and Advance and what lies on the horizon for 30 for 30, a series we've covered, encouraged, and championed, I found myself a bit disappointed to realize that outside of Nine for IX and next month's installment, we're apparently not going to get any new films until October.
This realization got my juices flowing. What is the bottleneck that is causing ESPN to slow the pace of the 30 for 30/ESPN Films releases?
My first thought was the limited amount of stories that could be compelling to a broader audience.
However, that's malarkey. 30 for 30 is extending outside of their 30 year initial scope and as we've seen with Two Escobars, Once Brothers, and 9.79, there is a bevy of interesting international stories that have yet to be harvested to their full potential. Plus, opportunities exist to do more topical films like Broke or document a story unfolding like There's No Place Like Home.
Maybe it's due to not having enough capable filmmakers perhaps?
I'm not really buying that either as the first 30 movies really validated the abilities of a lot of aspiring filmmakers. Also, the model of tapping accomplished Hollywood directors to showcase subject matter important to them was a resounding success. ESPN has also done well partnering with media divisions to produce films which includes the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NASCAR.
At this point, there are multiple guys like Jonathan Hock (Survive and Advance, The Best That Never Was, Unguarded), Billy Corben (Da U, Broke), and Fritz Mitchell (Jimmy The Greek, Ghosts Of Ole Miss) who have proven a certain level of dependability to make a good product.
So how come what most people consider ESPN's top original programming series has seemed to have been throttled down into a 8-10 films a year pace?
Looking at the history of the series, it's pretty clear the bottleneck is due mostly to economic issues.
The most obvious is that with limited commercial interruption, there is a certain level of advertiser scarcity already built into the product. There is most certainly already a nice premium being paid by sponsors of the series and diluting the scarcity of the series by adding additional films would likely cut into the profit margins of the series, although carriage fees and DVD/streaming sales are revenue streams that come into play here as well.
The core issue though is that ESPN is clearly only teeing these up on nights they feel they can really capture a significant seven figure audience, which is pretty rare for original programming on a sports channel. To accomplish this what they've realized and succeeded with includes:
- Releasing the bulk of installments in October or shortly before or after. The thinking here is pretty obvious. Football is only played on certain days of the week and Wednesdays are mostly open.
Waiting until October means you have significantly less MLB teams playing and although MLB playoff games can get ratings, you can potentially avoid them or trust in the fact that most fanbases are fine not watching baseball anymore if their team is eliminated. You also avoid going head to head with basketball, both NBA and college. Not only do you avoid conflict there, but you have more programming hours to fill in this month. The NHL does have some overlap starting later in October but as we've seen ESPN isn't exactly too worried about NHL fans.
Essentially, the window between the MLB regular season and the start of basketball gives ESPN an optimal period to roll out films with less competition and ample programming hours to fill.
- Stacking highly anticipated releases after big drawing shows that are not live games.
You can bank it. After the Heisman ceremony and the Selection Sunday show, ESPN will always use those large lead-in audiences to roll out a 30 for 30 they believe is high quality and has a broader appeal than some of the others.
Looking back post Heisman films have included Da U, Pony Excess, The Marinovich Project, and You Don't Know Bo (all football).
Post Bracket show releases have included Winning Time, The Fab Five, The Announcement, and Survive And Advance (all basketball).
Typically some of the highest rated 30 for 30's have been from the two lists above.
With this in mind, are there any other programs ESPN puts on they control the end time to (so no live games), that they can parlay a large lead-in audience into another 30 for 30 prime rollout date?
Perhaps one of the days of the NFL draft? Unlikely given ESPN likes to follow the draft with Sportscenter and NFL Live and it would be hard from a DVR perspective to seamlessly go from one to the other given it's hard to know when the draft will definitively stop and people could flip away or get a partial recording. I am guessing the same would apply to the NBA draft.
How about the Home Run Derby? Spacing wise it would work quite nicely as a nice summer showcase for presumably a baseball documentary and lord knows MLB could use some additional exposure. Hell, the day after the All Star game is wide open with no significant sporting events being played.
Another idea would be to maybe to do something in August around the Hall of Fame Game or possibly Hall of Fame inductions. Maybe even after the ESPYs could work as well.
The bottom line is that ESPN is scheduling 30 or 30's with optimal ratings conditions in mind. We'll likely hear in 2 months when ESPN has their upfronts more about the next batch. But here is a friendly nudge from us at AA that other than Heisman ceremony and Selection Sunday, there has to be some dates on the calendar that allow for more films to be rolled out. More 30 for 30s on the ESPN schedule would be a win for everyone.