Saturday, July 20, 2013

7/20 (Nate Silver) Quickie

Weekend news that has my attention: Nate Silver -- who took his "538" franchise to the New York Times, which became a huge win-win for both sides -- is leaving for ESPN and taking 538 with him.

I'm presuming he will have a huge role on the new "Olbermann" show -- a great move for both Nate and Keith -- and will get to expand the 538 franchise more into sports (along with keeping attention on the core "politics" franchise for ABC News).

In the end, the NYT just can't compete with ESPN -- for money, for breadth of opportunity and, certainly as it relates to sports, for impact. And, as others have noted, given the impact Silver had on the NYT last fall, this is a big hit.

Meanwhile, expect a ton of discussion about how Silver and the move (his own personal "Decision?") heralds the new era of "power of media talent as individual brands."

I'm not sure about that as some sort of blanket theme, for a couple of reasons:

(1) The most talented (and even less-talented) individual media "names" have jumped around for better opportunities since the beginning of media.

--> Silver happens to be a bigger journo-celebrity than most -- certainly the NYT's most high-profile talent during election season. But this is hardly the first time that ESPN has poached top-tier NYT talent -- most recently, the amazing Don Van Natta comes to mind.)

(2) Silver is a "99th percentile" talent in media.

--> It's like when people cite Andrew Sullivan as a replicable model, as if any journalist can/will do what he did. Same thing goes for SI's Peter King and his new MMQB site, launching on Monday -- there are probably less than a handful of sportswriters who can carry a full-blown site spin-off.

(3) Most media people don't have the stomach to try to build out their own independent brand, as Silver did with 538, before 538 was licensed by the NYT. (For reference: See this Nieman Lab piece by Megan Garber at the time of the 538-NYT deal for good details/foreshadowing of last night's news)

--> The most innovative thing about that deal was that rather than let 538 be "acquired" -- which is the default position of most founders -- he recognized the potential of a short-term license, with a re-negotiation when his contract was up. A deal for Silver-as-talent is fairly typical; being able to offer a known/loved property like 538 -- even if Silver himself is clearly the core feature of the brand -- makes it all the more valuable. Not that Silver couldn't have simply left 538 behind, had the NYT bought it outright, and started a new brand at ESPN/ABC News. 95% of the brand equity of 538 is Silver himself.)

I'm a huge Nate Silver fan for both political analysis and sports, so I am excited for him about the move. It makes a lot of sense for both Silver and ESPN.

And, hopefully, it encourages individual journalists and media talents -- along with the media companies themselves -- to think about investing more in building original franchises like 538 and MMQB. More on that theme next week.

-- D.S.

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