Long before she became CEO of Barstool Sports, Erika Nardini had a front-row seat to the early days of the internet advertising world and she has no intention of repeating its errors.
Over a career that saw stops at AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and Demand Media, she watched as the digital powerhouses of yesteryear cluttered the web with enough programmatic promotion to send users running. And now that she has over 30 podcasts in play at Barstool, she wants to make sure this fast-growing medium doesn’t go ad crazy.
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“I have seen the big players in the business over the last 20 years, and we screwed up a lot of things about digital media,” said Nardini on the latest episode of the Variety podcast Strictly Business. “They’ll try to insert pre-produced, highly scalable dynamics ads that don’t require humans. I think that’s counter to the type of medium podcasting is right now.”
What hasn’t hurt Barstool’s booming ad business are the frequent controversies that seem to envelop the brash brand at every turn, including allegations of sexism and harassment aimed at company founder Dave Portnoy and his rabid fan base of “stoolies.” But Nardini nixed the notion Barstool deliberately courts controversy to get attention, even though she acknowledges it can bring benefits.
“Controversy isn’t the intention of Barstool Sports,” she said. “I would say the perception of controversy can be grossly exaggerated. That said, controversy doesn’t hurt us because it helps identify our base.”
Nardini also gives a preview of what will be big growth areas for Barstool in 2020, including a focus on sports betting and more branded merchandise.
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Past episodes include conversations with Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Dana Walden, co-head of 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Television Group. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.
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