Entertainment, Not Journalism: Athletes, Celebrities Tell Their Own Stories On Media Startup Uninterrupted

Written by Ben Cohen

Uninterrupted, a media startup founded by Cleveland star LeBron James and his business partner Maverick Carter, is being credited with turning the sports business upside down.

It’s the latest evolution of a movement in which athletes, celebrities and other public figures are using social media and other technology to control their images and communicate directly with the public, Ben Cohen reported in the Wall Street Journal. In the process, they are loosening traditional media’s grip on the way sports is delivered and consumed.

Uninterrupted is backed by more than $15 million from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio and Turner Sports unit.

In addition to podcasts hosted by some of the biggest names in sports, Uninterrupted produces full-length documentaries and web series (“Trophies” and “Kneading Dough.”) Some of its shows have been licensed by traditional media outlets such as Fox Sports, which broadcast an Uninterrupted documentary about a mixed martial-arts fighter. Shows also appear on YouTube, Instagram and Uninterrupted’s own website.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green host their own podcasts on the Uninterrupted network.

James, Carter and their partners are betting some of the most compelling sports content in the shifting entertainment landscape will be created by the athletes themselves.

“This is their media company,” Carter said in a Wall Street Journal interview from his office inside a set house on the Warner Bros. studio lot. “This is the place they can come and tell the stories they want.”

From the Wall Street Journal. Story by Ben Cohen.

The company is another potentially disruptive force at a time when established media outlets are under pressure to adapt to declining subscriptions for cable television. ESPN has lost more than 10 million subscribers in the past several years as customers have ditched the pay-TV bundle for streaming services. That cord-cutting was one of the reasons for a big round of layoffs in April.

Ventures like Uninterrupted are limited in their power to supplant traditional media because there is no substitute for live games. That is why fees to broadcast NBA and NFL games have risen even as other forms of entertainment have watched their audiences scatter. Under a deal that went into effect this season, Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner pay the NBA an average of about $2.7 billion a year, roughly triple the sum of the previous agreement. That money also buys the broadcast partners special access to players like James and Green.

But what more players have realized is that the leagues don’t own their personalities and likenesses—and there are now more vehicles than ever to satisfy fans’ craving for an unfiltered view and make money along the way.

“You don’t have to go through the traditional gatekeepers to find an audience anymore,” said Tom Spock, a partner at Scalar Media and former NBC executive. “Anybody can distribute content now.”

Uninterrupted executives say they’re not interested in supplanting the traditional media. They point to James as someone who remains accessible to reporters even if he could bypass them and reach millions of people himself. It was in a news conference and ESPN interview last week—not in a tweet or an Uninterrupted video—that James made his first comments about Los Angeles police investigating a racial slur spray-painted on his home.

“Uninterrupted is not journalism and never will be,” said Adam Mendelsohn, a media strategist who advises James and Carter. “Uninterrupted is entertainment and a way for athletes to connect in new, creative ways with fans.”

Read more at Wall Street Journal

 

 

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About Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen is a sports reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York covering the NBA, college basketball and college football, among other sports. He can be reached by email at ben.cohen@wsj.com and followed on Twitter at @bzcohen.

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