Continuing the trend of new communications technologies empowering the individual, Shaquille O’Neal announced his retirement Wednesday via Tout – the network that “enables people to quickly and easily update their Facebook friends and Twitter followers with real-time short video” — rather than through a traditional media outlet.
In his brief, 15-second message recorded from his home in Florida he spoke directly to his fans:
“We did it. Nineteen years baby. I want to thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first. I’m about to retire. I love you. Talk to you soon.”
Within minutes, ESPN.com reported that O’Neal would hold an official press conference on Friday where such formalities as reminiscing “about his long and prolific career, which produced three championships with the Lakers and one with the Heat” would be discussed. In the meantime, though, it appeared he just wanted to connect with his fans and let them be the first to know of his plans (the Celtics weren’t even aware of his retirement).
However, it became clear that O’Neal’s announcement was also a clever attempt at generating buzz for a new company, conveniently at a time when the basketball world was being spotlighted by the NBA Finals. ”Once a businessman, always a businessman. I am the emperor of the social media network. Why text when you can Tout?” he told ESPN.com.
Certainly, Tout took advantage of the publicity. Within hours of the announcement they updated their site to focus on O’Neal’s retirement, blurring the lines between social media, news site, and advertisement with the headline:
“BREAKING NEWS JUNE 1, 2011: Basketball Legend Shaquille O’Neal Announces Retirement Exclusively Via Tout.”
By evening, suspicions were confirmed when more information started filtering through the media. In an article on GigaOM.com, Tout CEO Michael Downing was quoted, explaining:
“We launched about six weeks ago, and about two weeks in apparently Shaq had stumbled upon [the app]. I got a call from one of his management team — originally I didn’t think it was real — and he said Shaq was going to become an active user and wanted to make a big announcement.”
And a big announcement it most certainly was, reportedly driving 500,000 viewers to the site in three hours. Additionally, according to Downing, “[O'Neal has] told us that this is his personal media network and he’s going to be using us to promote everything else he’s doing,” a commitment that should sustain Tout’s growth in the coming weeks and months.
In context of the last decade of increasing Internet usage, O’Neal’s announcement raises questions about the role of the media industry in the 21st century. With public figures, companies, and private citizens having an increasing ability to bypass traditional media outlets, it opens up the playing field for a variety of viewpoints and new products. And it certainly makes advertising more interesting to follow.