Don Ohlmeyer Ends Stint as ESPN Ombudsman

Former NBC West Coast Prez Don Ohlmeyer has done a lot of interesting things since leaving the network — teaching, mentoring and painting among them — but he has one less job: After an 18-month stint, he’s no longer serving as ESPN’s ombudsman.

The producer and exec was often very tough on ESPN in that role, including his coverage of “The Decision,” the special in which LeBron James announced where he would be playing basketball this season.

Ohlmeyer announced his exit in his latest column, which includes an interesting portion about the lengths to which ESPN goes to solicit feedback from — and know the tastes of — its audience. Here’s a segment of that:

“ESPN is fanatical about listening to the audience,” says Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s senior vice president for research & analytics. “We also know our role in sports is critical in that millions of fans rely on us on a daily basis to satisfy their insatiable passion and their need to know what’s going on in sports at any time. Sports is one of the leading drivers of social currency in this country, and ESPN is a major driver of that dialogue. We have an obligation to take that seriously.”

Bulgrin noted that sports fans tend to be technologically savvy, and, as a result, also tend to consume the most media. With rapid digital media proliferation and advanced television sets (HD, 3-D), he says, knowing what’s next and how to deliver sports best on these new platforms is vital.

“Listening helps us do that,” Bulgrin said. “This is more essential today as we know we will have more competition in the digital space. We have to work harder. There is little room for error, and so we have a saying: ‘Why guess when we can know?’ Listening gives us that knowledge.”

The ESPN research team includes 50 people in five offices, including in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in London, and processes and analyzes media data ranging from TV and radio ratings to online and mobile traffic to magazine readership. Bulgrin says much of the “listening” occurs in the consumer insights area, with a focus on understanding sports fans and tracking ESPN’s brand “health.”

“The ESPN brand is fan-insight driven,” he said. “With fan feedback, both compliments and complaints, helping to shape our daily content. We place a greater emphasis on the negative because we’d rather identify an issue earlier during the research process rather than suffer for it in the marketplace.”

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