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The Outside-Sized Hole In Outdoor Media

Hellooooo out there?

Want to hear a secret? Then listen to this episode of THE ROCK FIGHT where Colin reveals if he'll be attending the Outside Festival!

He also discusses how the recent article written by Outside CEO Robin Thurston played into his decision and he takes a look at the opportunities that exist in the current outdoor media landscape that have arisen since Outside has shifted their focus.

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to The Rock Fight where we speak our truth, slay sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. This is an outdoor podcast that aims for the head. I’m Colin True and today on the rock fight we’re taking a look at the crater that has been left behind by Outside as they become something other than a media company.  That’s coming up next but first some Rock Fight housekeeping!

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Alright, let’s start the show.

In case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago the CEO of Outside Inc, Robin Thurston, published an article on Outside Online…which is outside’s website.

I’ll link it in the show notes if you didn’t but it was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from Outside in recent years. First they gobbled up a ton of relevant outdoor media titles only to effectively shut them down.  Last year we got a full episode of sponsored content for their new fake AI chatbot on the Outside Podcast. And of course let’s not forget the whole NFT debacle (long live the Outerverse!) 

I have it on good authority from sources I won’t name that internally Outside no longer thinks of itself as an outdoor media company. Publicly they’re obviously straddling that line so they can maintain the audience they built over 4 plus decades but like I was once taught, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. So yeah, Outside isn’t a media company anymore.

But back to Robin’s big debut as a writer for Outside. Even if they are no longer a media company they are still the legacy media brand that currently matters most to the outdoors.  Talk to anyone working in outdoor PR and they’ll tell you that everyone, brands, personalities whatever, they all still want to be featured in Outside.

I mean this is the title that used to mean Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm. Now it’s the title that gives you the adventures of the heli-skiing rich guy.

In his piece Robin does his best to relate to the adventure crowd. Opening with his exhaustion after a fall in deep snow and trying to convey awe at the peaks of British Columbia while invoking the fact that he hikes, bikes and skis near Boulder, which of course he tells us is, where he lives. 

But before too long we get the whole picture and this is big heli skiing trip included names like Shaun White and Nina Dobrev. So this was little more than a rich person boondoggle being covered by what many consider to be the holy grail of media for the outdoors.

Now I’m not going down the rabbit hole that is heli skiing but I will mention that it has a tough reputation. There are those in our community who have a real problem with heli skiing's environmental impact. So that right there makes this a bad PR move. Whether you like heli skiing or not, by putting your little ‘what I did on my spring break’ report in a public place like Outside’s homepage you’re inviting criticism.

Outside of that (and did see what I did there?) this mostly felt like an opportunity to brag about the celebrities he got to run laps with while avoiding the uphills via chopper.  

Personally I’m glad that Robin Thurston got to have this experience. It sounds super fun and he clearly took a lot away from it. He says it’s Outsides mission to get everyone to go outside, and if this was a life changing experience for him that is awesome. Because we all know how those experiences impact our lives. But the essay and the pics that went with it, are something that would be more comfortable in the Park City winter tourists guide than in the pages of Outside, back when you know, Outside was a media company.

So all of this to say, that this article by Robin, plus some other reasons, is why I won’t be attending the outside festival this summer. 

If you haven’t heard, Outside is putting on a festival in Denver on the first weekend of June. There’s going to be panels, and music and some form of a movie festival along with a climbing wall and other outdoor stuff.

Yeah ok, let’s get this out of the way now. Did I put up an episode of this podcast a few months ago with the title ‘will the outside festival actually happen’? Yeah I did. But to be fair given the start/stop nature of what Outside has been up to lately I don’t think it was wrong to think that maybe the outside festival wouldn’t go off as planned.

But they’ve been selling tickets and announcing lineups so it looks like they're actually going to make this a reality and I’m happily eating my plate of crow. Well done, Outside. You proved me wrong.

But I won’t be there. And I really did think about going for the following reasons.

  1. To put my money where my mouth is.  I talked a large amount of shit on the topic so I kind of felt obligated to show up.  

  2. The Big Gear Show is happening at the same time. I’ll be recording interviews at GOA Connect (the trade show for the retailers of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance) and then Justin Housman and I have been invited to do a live edition of Gear & Beer at Outdoor Retailer.  So if you’re heading to either of those events, make sure to say hello and expect to hear more details about both of them down the road. So with those plans in mind, I was thinking that if I hit Big Gear I could complete the trifecta.

  3. Lastly, Outside announced an industry day called The Summit to take place before the festival itself and I thought that may be kind of interesting.

But I’ve changed my mind on all fronts. 

First, I talk a lot of shit about a lot of stuff. If every time I did that I needed to get on an airplane to Denver I’d be flat broke and never home.

For Big Gear, I love what those guys are trying to do. But I haven’t seen an exhibitor list yet and again, given the distance to get there and what I would do once there, I’m not sure it’s worth the expense for this edition. I’m happy to wait and see how that show grows. But I definitely hope that Kenji and the big gear crew have a successful show.

And regarding the announced industry day, the summit? It won’t shock  you to know that I’m dubious. It feels like an attempt to cram the value of peak outdoor retailer into the day before the festival.  When the summit industry day was announced a ticket went for $495. A couple of weeks later? The price had dropped to $395 and today it sits at $325. Historically when we get closer to an event the price goes up…not down.  So my guess is that more folks are feeling how I’m feeling and not rushing to buy tickets. Maybe if it had been a free entry with a cap of how many could attend I wouldn’t mind spending the travel expense to check it out. But even at $325, that’s an expensive day before travel expenses.

The fact is that much of the core human powered outdoor industry has lost faith in just about anything when it comes to Outside. So trying to cram in as much as they are during the first iteration of this festival it’s too much for me to believe it will be worth going. I’d rather go to a place that has like 3 items on the menu but will change your life because those 3 things are so good than go to the cheesecake factory where there are 1500 things on the menu but none of them is even above average. 

Also the timing of the first weekend in June  kind of sucks for an event where you need people to come in from all over the country. My oldest daughter graduates from high school just a couple of days afterwards which was another reason I didn’t want to head anywhere the weekend before.

As for the festival itself? I hope it goes great. I love live music and music festivals if they're my taste in music.  The lineup here is definitely not for me. But if the Outside Festival ends up being nothing more than a cool outdoor themed music fest for folks in the front range, that’s great.  Seriously they should have just focused on doing that for the first year.  Pull off the music. Create the fomo because the amount of stuff they’re packing into this thing is kind of crazy.

So what does all of this amount to when it comes to human powered and adventure media? 

Well a cynic would say that it will never be the same and it’s awful and whatever. I am not a cynic. In the face of all my rock throwing on this show I’m eternally optimistic and see where we are as a place of reinvention.  

If you haven’t been paying attention, print is starting to thrive and Titles like escape collective have proven that we seem to have gotten over our reticence to pay for digital content. This particular time in our media history has allowed for the podcast you are listening to and all of the Rock Fight Universe right now to grow in a major way. Do I think Rock Fight is the one to fill that Outside sized hole in the outdoor media landscape? My short answer is no because that’s not the mission of Rock Fight. But I do know that there is nothing that is standing in our way to prevent us from doing what we want to accomplish and who we want to be. 

The business of going outside is simply another form of entertainment like sports or music or movies.

 But the archetypes of sports and pop culture consumers is a pretty small list and the archetypes of those who go outside is vast. Huge. Everything from the person you see every day walking the same loop in the park to Cole Brauer who just sailed around the world.  And even though those two people choose to engage with the natural world in radically different ways my guess is that if you sat them together they would find ways to relate to each other through their outdoor experiences.  

And that’s the beauty of the outdoors and the shared secret we all have by prioritizing going outside. And yes that even includes a media tycoon who thinks they’re being hardcore and not disconnected and aloof by recapping their fucking heli ski trip that they took with celebrities. 

The reality is that we don’t need Outside to be what Outside used to be anymore.  The demand for their coverage is the antiquated thinking of the brands and personalities that are looking for it. It’s a classic example of ‘we’re doing that because that’s what we’ve always done’ and it’s going to be the brands and personalities that realize there is a world of new and authentic media titles, both in print and online, that shape where our industry goes.  

Anyone seeking coverage by Outside is a dinosaur that hasn’t heard that the meteor has hit the earth. And look Outside has earned the ability to refocus however they want but their choices are showing that they are not in line with what outdoor consumers are looking for.  I sincerely hope that the Outside Festival goes well because that feels like the perfect spot for them.

For those of us who are actually covering this space here in 2024? Let’s just keep doing what we do to fill in that big hole that’s been left behind.


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