A Bit of Wisdom.
Ever since the trailer dropped last Christmas, anticipation for ESPN's ten-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had been high. Then, once the pandemic hit and live sports froze, that anticipation swelled, causing the network to move up the doc's premiere by two months.
It worked — the series is now ESPN's most-watched documentary ever, as the network capitalized on an unbridled thirst among viewers for something to look forward to by way of sports and pop culture. The doc had its missteps but carried a strong narrative with compelling characters (see: Rodman, Dennis). It also created a routine and maintained deep engagement week after week. While life’s been turned upside of late, for the past month every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, viewers had a plan, and they anticipated that plan. Anticipation, of course, is a key ingredient in selling experiences — higher tension equals better payoffs. And in the age of a pandemic that's wiped the slate clean, it's worth examining how to build anticipation when it's become so rare. The Jordan doc, with its unabashed nostalgia and planned cadence, provided a sense of familiarity and safety. It connected friends and strangers alike and created a shared and cherished experience that was rehashed all week. And that's what was as enjoyable as the doc itself — everyone looked forward to next week's episode, but they were just as excited to talk about it in the morning. So as a new landscape unfolds, what sparks imagination is giving people the chance to hold on to something, to share in, even if that means shorter semesters and virtual tailgate parties. A hotel's swim-up bar may no longer be a top sell, but anticipation for vacations can still grow if guests know the thermostat has been fully sanitized. It is a new, untested world. That doesn't mean we can't look forward to it.