It's no secret that the world of traditional media is changing.
Print media struggles through the dawn of the Internet age. The music industry plods through the era of rip/mix/burn and file-sharing. TV wades through an explosion of niche channels, subscriber fees, on-demand viewing and DVR commercial-skipping. FM radio fights through the era of pre-programmed mega-stations and massive consolidation while satellite radio delivers niche listening experiences and AM radio gains newfound relevance. The Internet itself toes the line between free- and paid-for content.
The media world - sometimes scary, forever changing - can be a tough place to earn a living. And within niche categories, fishing media can be especially tough. You can get so big, you price smaller players
out of your business, but then you're beholden to the handful of fishing manufacturers that can actually afford a six-figure media buy.
Or you can cater to the smaller crowd, but then you'll never land that mega-contract that'll help you capitalize and expand. It's somewhat of a conundrum.
And the fishing-media landscape grew even rockier this year with the Brunswick downsizing, then the Genmar bankruptcy, then the news that ESPN would pull out of outdoor programming. The pie's suddenly smaller than it's ever been, yet more and more folks are at the table with a fork.
Somewhere there occurs a separation - pieces of the media-buy pie are served to some, withheld from others. For whatever reason - audience metrics and demographics, personal relationships, new ideas, network changes - many continue to earn a solid living in fishing media while others fall to the wayside.
Certainly though, ingenuity counts for much in today's media marketplace, and it can still be found across all media platforms. New-concept TV shows, websites, podcasts, video series, mobile content, grassroots efforts - there are plenty of great ideas generated each and every year.
Whether they watch or not, BassFans are likely aware of a new-concept online video series that reached the market this year. Dave Mercer's Facts of Fishing FYI isn't a high-value production. It won't be shown on any network anytime soon. And so far, it hasn't made a dime.
But at its core, the FYI series does show there are new platforms for the bold. And if one Internet maxim has proved true over the past decade, it's that being first matters.
While Mercer certainly isn't the first to break even or lose money with an Internet project, he's certainly the first to produce a weekly to bi-weekly, news-and-humor-centered, digitally delivered show.
Whether that ultimately counts for something - history will be the judge.
Stateside BassFans may not know that Mercer's a successful fishing star across his native Canada. He began his tournament career at the age of 14, then after school ended, he led the meager lifestyle of tournament-jackpotter-slash-guide.
It didn't take long for Mercer to realize he didn't like some of the commitments it takes to become a full-time pro. He wanted a family, thus decided to focus more of his efforts on the media side of the business.
"It worked out perfect for me," he told BassFan. "The two things I loved most in my life were comedy and entertaining people, and fishing. So I started a series of tips in Canada called Facts of Fishing. They were 1-minute fishing tips on network newscasts. It's evolved over 12 years and we now produce a series of tips that air from 200 to 500 times a week on different channels across Canada, and also WFN HD in the States, plus the half-hour fishing show (Facts of Fishing The Show), which we've been doing for 5 years now."
One example of his media penetration: He had a fishing tip air during the Canadian broadcast of the Daytona 500 with just 25 laps left.
Facts of Fishing tips took off in an already saturated media market because Mercer didn't target the high-tech, advanced angler. He targeted the average angler and presented solid, useful tips for folks who may only fish a handful of times a year. In other words, the bulk of the Canadian fishing public - those who don't read fishing magazines, don't study maps, don't purchase expensive electronics, but simply love to fish when time affords.
And with such astounding penetration across Canadian mass media - and a strong focus on the fun that fishing can deliver - manufacturers obviously took notice.
All of which begs the question: Why start an Internet video series?
The Online Project
"We're a small production company - we have six employees," Mercer noted. "And a lot of our decisions are based on what we think the industry needs, what's already out there, and what's not happening. If you speak to anyone who's ever spent any time with me at a boat ramp, or in a fog delay, what I say in Facts of Fishing FYI is no different than the verbal diarrhea that flows out of my mouth at any other time. It's just a platform to get it out there.
Mercer, who dabbles in stand-up comedy, says his Facts of Fishing media ventures allow him to combine his two greatest loves - humor and fishing.
"I found myself filming our half-hour show where I wanted to talk about something current, but 6 months down the road when it gets on the air, it's not relevant anymore," he added. "I wanted a way to get the word out and have fun while doing it. So FYI is sort of a creative outlet for me to have a little fun at the things we see and hear about. And realistically, it's a way for us to get news that's happening out there in a fun way for people to see. It happens in a lot of other sports. Why wasn't it happening in fishing?"
With the FYI concept in place, Mercer decided to distribute the show in the freesphere. It's a common Internet upstart strategy: Gain an audience/user-base first, then worry about the business model. Google, MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter and so many others all started with the same model.
More specifically, his is a YouTube distribution model, buffeted by business agreements with media outlets like BassFan to embed each episode. No bookend commercials, no paid product placements, no brand plugs. Hence, no profit, but again, the goal is to first gain a marketable user base.
"We find out every week that so-and-so posted it, or this bass club posted it, or this private website," Mercer noted. "A lot of people track it through FaceBook and Twitter, and key partners like BassFan share it every week. It's all about sharing and that's what makes the web work."
How about the profit? "That we haven't figured out yet," Mercer said. "FYI has cost us money, and continues to cost us money. We're a production company so we can absorb some costs, but I also live by one rule: Never make any decision solely based on finances. I believe it'll finance itself. When you look at a lot of online things that come out, you build it big, then figure out a way to make it financially responsible. Companies as big as FaceBook and Twitter face that now."
There are intangibles the FYI series delivers. He's expanded into the U.S. market in recent years, and last year emceed the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and served as analyst on the CBS broadcast. He also emceed the recent Oakley KVD Big Bass Classic at Table Rock. So the FYI series is another way to build name recognition in the important US market. It's also a way to link his name with current events via an accessible, on-demand viewer experience. And the online show was covered by CNBC last year, which helped his Facts of Fishing enterprise as a whole.
Mercer said he was approached by a TV network interested in airing FYI in a particular time slot, but he didn't bite. And he's not interested in upping the production value, then selling episodes through iTunes.
Yes, such contracts could make the show "financially responsible," but the delivery model would have been blown.
"Realistically, FYI is the lowest-grade production we've ever done. That's because it's not being monetized. We could have intentionally made it visually better, then sold it. A number of people would have bought it - I'm sure of that - but would as many people have seen it that way? Would I be talking to you about it right now? Maybe it would have been a small financial win for the company, but we're looking for something much larger in terms of the whole industry.
"I'm not sure that anyone can guess how the web is going to monetize itself in the future," Mercer added. "Our biggest goal is to have real content that people appreciate and keep coming after. As long as it continues to grow as it has, and as long as we continue to get the positive feedback we've gotten, it's already paying off if you ask me. Financially it isn't, but one day I'm sure it will."
> Mercer both fishes and emcees the Simcoe Open north of Toronto.
> He can be reached through his website FactsOfFishing.com.
> The most recent episode of Facts of Fishing FYI can be viewed below.