Stock Shows Can Learn from Sports Shows

There are a lot of similarities between sports shows, like some of my favorites–ESPN’s Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption, and shows that cover the stock market, like NPR’s Marketplace. Both types cover news about a very specific topic, but that news is infused with connections to broader culture. They feature well-informed people making arguments about relatively abstract or undefinable concepts (like investor confidence, momentum, and metrics designed to capture the complexity of their topics). And they all air daily, providing information and entertainment to millions.

But this daily focus causes some real challenges for both types of shows: How can show producers sort out which daily events are meaningful and which are just noise? The two types of shows have come up with different answers. Sports shows generally feature overviews of the sports world, rather than coverage of all individual games. Of course, sometimes the shows do focus on individual games, but generally only if they truly matter. For example, games between successful teams in the NFL are covered extensively, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays. NBA games can get attention, if it is a key matchup or if the teams playing fit in a broader narrative, like a team doing very well or struggling. That means that most games actually don’t get attention on these shows because most individual games don’t matter very much.

Stock shows, unfortunately, focus on every fluctuation in the markets as if it means a great deal. That means devoting extensive time to how much and in what direction various stock market indices shifted that day. Did the markets shift just a fraction of a percent on a trading day with unusually low volume? This will get the same amount of coverage as a significant gain or drop. The shows put outsized importance on daily fluctuations and provides misleading information to viewers.

Stock shows can learn a lot from sports shows. First, debate and different perspectives on economic issues make for interesting content. One reason professional sports are popular is because they can spark endless debate and conversation. They also generate testable hypotheses and predictions–who will win the upcoming game?, who will score the most points?, what matchup will be the most competitive? This format can be brought over to discussing investing and other business practices–how will battery issues affect investor outlook on Boeing?, how will patent disputes shape Apple’s earnings?, where are oil prices heading in 2013?

Second, money on the line increases the variety of discussion topics. In sports, this means discussing sports gambling as closely related to making predictions about games. Seeing point spreads change as people bet allows for further discussion about the aggregate expectations of bettors around the world. The stock market is closely related to sports gambling, and this framework can improve show content. Talk with some investors who have proven successful over time. What are they doing in the market (no specifics needed, just general philosophy)? What trends are they noticing? What do they predict for the future?

Finally, don’t air a segment on something that people can look up for themselves. Sports shows never review the standings in professional sports. No one reads through the top NBA teams by division. No viewer wants to see this because it is boring, and the viewer can find the information herself. The same thing should be true for stock shows. Why bother going through the individual fluctuations of markets and stocks every day? Stating that Exxon was up .4% today is not informative or interesting. It’s a waste of time that could be dedicated to more interesting segments.

A stock market show that takes up a sports show-style format is unlikely to find immediate success. After all, investing isn’t nearly the hobby and interest that sports are. But that is no excuse to not pursue the most engaging format. Adjusting stock shows to model their more entertaining sports show counterparts will make for better programming. And better programming, regardless of topic, has a chance to succeed.

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